CMO ClubHouse Conversations with Peter Markey, CMO at TSB Bank

Peter Markey shares his thoughts on how the role of CMO has changed, realizing your true potential, and how comedy improvisation helped his marketing career.

Peter Markey, Chief Marketing Officer at TSB Bank in Redhill, UK, has been in marketing since 1995. He’s held leadership roles in many UK brands, including TSB Bank, Aviva, and Post Office Ltd.  Peter has won numerous marketing awards over the course of his long career, and was named Diversity Champion at the European Diversity Awards for his work at TSB in 2019. He lives in Redhill, UK, south of London, with his wife and two teenage children.   

CMO Club —  Welcome. Can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up?

Peter Markey — “I lived all over. My dad worked as a manager for the National Railways, so our home moved around with dad’s jobs. I was born in Amersham, a town about thirty miles north of London. Most of my formative years were spent in Bristol.” 

CMO Club — What kind of kid were you?

Peter Markey — “Very creative, actually, shy, with a huge imagination. I always like creating and writing. I still have tons of stories I’d written when I was a kid. Science Fiction powered much of my childhood. I loved Star Wars. I saw the first one when I was four. It literally captured me. Later, it was Star Trek, Dr. Who, and Buck Rogers, shows that took me away to another world and set my imagination free.” 

CMO Club — So your writing all of these Science Fiction stories as a young, shy kid, and you’re celebrating this fantasy world of heroes and villains far from where you found yourself through these stories you wrote. What did you dream of becoming, then?

Peter Markey — “Mostly, I wanted to be an astronaut, or even more, a helicopter pilot. There was an American show on television called, “Airwolf,” about a very fast helicopter. It really captured my imagination, flying a fast helicopter in a suit. That would be pretty damn cool.”

CMO Club — Who had the most influence on you as a kid?

Peter Markey — “Outside of my mom and dad, I was involved for about ten years with something called the Boys Brigade, similar to the Boy Scouts in the US, camping, hiking, learning skills, doing altruistic works for charity and causes, stuff like that. The guy who ran Boys Brigade was a guy called Mr. Durnell. He was profoundly influential in backing me, teaching me, and helping me learn how to believe in myself. He encouraged me to be a better person. I even learned to sew from him. I now am the chief tailor in our family. When something needs sewing, I’m the man.” (laughter)

CMO Club — Is there one piece of advice that Mr. Durnell gave you that still resonates?

Peter Markey — “His ethos was all about realizing your potential and knowing that your life has value. That was and still is very powerful to me, knowing we can all make a difference, however big or small, knowing the impact we can have on others.” 

Peter Receiving his Duke of Edinburgh award with Mr. Durnell, left, and Pete’s Dad, on the right.

CMO Club — Taking this a step further, with what’s happening here in America in regards to issues like Black Lives Matter, do you think this same ethos could help make an impact here? 

Peter Markey — “The big thing is knowing that we all have value, we all can make a difference, and that we all can have a voice in driving positive change. What we’ve gone through in the past few weeks, they are moments when we can have that conversation, moments when we realize that there’s the desire within us for real change, moments when we can really listen. As leaders, if we create the right kind of culture, those around us will follow that lead and respond to it in the right kind of ways. It’s all about walking the talk, not just giving the talk. I do feel that here at TSB we really believe in that, that all people should be free to be themselves, regardless of their ethnicity, their background, or their sexuality. 

The scenes of what is happening in the US, they have resonated here in the UK, and many other places as well. Business does have an important role to play in understanding how to drive the right kind of change and have that hard conversation. It’s a really important moment for everyone.”

CMO Club —  Do you believe that corporations in general have a social responsibility to issues other than shareholder value? Have they done enough to facilitate that change?

Peter Markey — “There’s always going to be more to do. I feel that way about all inclusion. The job is far from done. The more we can do to represent the customers we serve and what the fabric of society looks like, the positive values they hold, the better it will be. Creating advertising can be very powerful in showing the reality of what we are.  With both the UK and in America, what will be celebrated are the corporations that deliver on their purpose, and use that purpose to deliver on the greater good. For us as a bank, we are absolutely focused on helping our customers and the businesses we serve in this moment, whatever that takes, whether it’s repayment holidays, or reducing overdraft limits. I’m a firm believer that businesses have to make a profit, but that the societal purpose is vital as well. The businesses that succeed coming out will be those that have managed to balance the two, maybe even tipped to the social responsibility side for the short term to help their business in the long term. It’s quite a telling moment for brands to deliver on their true purpose and help at a time of exceptional need. CMOs can be the drivers of that conversation.”

CMO Club —  It seems such an important time to be a marketer. Can you tell us how you first became interested in marketing as a career? 

Peter Markey — “I didn’t really know what a marketer was when I went to University. I originally wanted to be a journalist and a writer. I studied in a broad program of corporate communications covering not only journalism and public relations, but also advertising and marketing as well. It was a very practical-based program in the business world, and I ended up falling in love with the craft of marketing and advertising, and the role it played in shaping what people do and how they think about things in a positive way. I felt myself, for the first time, really coming to life in that world.”  

CMO Club — Did the storytelling you loved so much as a kid find a place in your marketing career?

Peter Markey — “Definitely, particularly when I was writing lines of copy and presentations. I learned how to be confident in my presentations. I was quite shy in school. It was the writing that served as an outlet in those first moments. I remember begging my professor to not put me into the role of presenter, how scared I was at the thought of it, but I owe so much to that professor for pushing me to do it. It was the making of me, taking those words off the page and learning how to make them real.” 

CMO Club — Fast forward to today. How do you think the job has changed since you first started?

Peter Markey — “I think it’s changed for the better. The jobs I have now are way more interesting, way more focused outside just communications. I’m much more focused on the customer experience these days. It used to revolve around delivering advertising campaigns, whereas my role these past few years incorporates the full breath of the marketing mix. It covers what we do in our branches, on the phone, digital, ads, even the early stages of product development. Marketing’s impact on a business is now seen as much wider that it used to be. We now have financial conversations on the value investing in marketing brings as a revenue driver, and not just a cost line. There’s still much more we can do as marketers to help drive the business.” 

CMO Club — “What are the kind of issues the next generation of marketers will face?

Peter Markey — “It’s all about how specialized roles are becoming, and the disadvantage of not seeing the full breath of the marketing experience, moving to the different sides of the experience. I worry about people becoming deep specialists in, say content, and realizing how hard it would be to them become a CMO after that. If I was to give anyone advice, it would be to try and move around as much as you can between different roles and experience, even volunteer for those roles to get that full experience.”

CMO Club — “When you look back over your career, what’s the thing your most-proud of?

Peter Markey — “I love seeing the people I’ve worked with go on to flourish, and do bigger and better things. I love that.  I’ve been lucky enough to win a few awards in my career, but one of the ones I’m most-proud of was a non-marketing award I received. It was the Diversity Champion Award at the European Diversity Awards last year. I won the award for the work I do on behalf of TSB Bank with the LGBTQ community. For me, it was all about my personal ethos of having a bigger, more personal impact on people’s lives, and helping to change culture in positive and inclusive ways. I’m a straight, married guy with two kids, which for some might make me an unlikely person to be working with the LGBTQ community, but that’s one of the things that’s made it work. Getting to know and understand colleagues who are part of that community, which can allow me to make sure that we are creating the right environment that embraces and allows people to be themselves every day is a great reward in itself. It’s all about listening and truly understanding that we all have different life experiences and that we can work together for the good of all people.”

CMO Club — Great. Can you tell us something about yourself that not many people know?

Peter Markey — “Well, for the last year and a half, I’ve been learning improvised comedy. It’s not stand-up. You do it in groups of two to six. In January of this year I managed to rope nine other CMOs into learning the basics of improvised comedy for eight weeks and put on a show for Comic Relief, which happened in early March. We raised thirty-thousand pounds for charity. I love improvised comedy, the skill and the craft of it. It’s really helped me with presenting, but also with being more spontaneous and creative in life and in business. We hope to do the same next year. I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, making people laugh and have a good time. Pete Krainik has been a real big supporter. He’s had me talk about it at a summit in London last year because of how it’s helped me in my business life.”

Peter’s Improvisation Group

CMO Club — “What gets you angry?

Peter Markey — “It’s more frustration than anger at getting stuck. I like to see momentum and progress and those times when I can’t see the way forward get frustrating for me. I always believe you can find your way around or through things and those times when you feel like banging your head against the wall are the most frustrated I ever feel.”

CMO Club — What gives you the most joy?

Peter Markey — “When you see break-through, when things get released and you can see positive changes coming.” 

CMO Club — Can you tell us something you tell your own kids about success?

Peter Markey — “My daughter is thirteen and my son is nineteen. Both have this amazing self-confidence. It’s not an arrogance, but a true happiness within themselves, at peace with who they are. One of the things we always taught them is to celebrate who they are. It brings us great joy to see that.”

CMO Club — When all is said and done, what’s the one thing you’d want to be remembered for?

Peter Markey — “I’d love to be remembered as someone who made a positive difference. That I created a culture and environment that made things better. That would be my hope.”