As part of WARC Marketer’s Toolkit 2023, PWC’s Chief Marketing Officer, Antonia Wade, shared her thoughts with WARC’s Anna Hamill about the challenges clients are bringing to the business, forays in the metaverse, and the dangers of short-termism.

WARC subscribers can access the full Marketer’s Toolkit 2023 here. Non-subscribers can access a sample version here.

Antonia Wade

Antonia Wade, Chief Marketing Officer, PWC

Economic challenges are impacting a lot of major markets. What changes have you seen over the last 12 months in terms of the problems clients are bringing to you?

I think that it's fair to say that clients are dealing with a whole range of problems – not just economic. The war in Ukraine, the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, rising inflation, an energy crisis, supply chain disruption and the pressing needs to address climate change combine to produce some of the most difficult sets of global circumstances that business leaders have seen in their careers.

When we do our annual CEO survey, what we see is that CEOs are balancing near-term risks with longer term aspiration. They are managing top line risks: the ‘great resignation’, cyber crime and other things that affect their success today, whilst transforming their businesses, embarking on the journey to net zero and meeting changing consumer demands.

This desire to implement technology solutions, to discover new markets, and to seize opportunities faster means we continue to have conversations with clients about how they can transform their businesses and make them fit for the future, both short and long term. We’re seeing a lot of flux and a lot of change but also an ongoing commitment to improving shareholder returns, finding new markets and delighting customers.

As a huge company working across so many markets, how have you built a cohesive response  both internally and externally  to changing conditions?

We exist at PwC to build trust in society and solve important problems. Clients have come to us for over 150 years with complicated, difficult issues. Honestly, I think that's where PwC really thrives.

We have a strong track record of helping clients navigate complex regulations and tax situations. We have a $20bn+ consulting business, helping customers with strategy and transformation of their back and front office functions, as well as being one of the world’s largest legal business services. We are used to working with local startups through to some of the world’s largest corporates. 

What we did last year, in response to market conditions, was to refresh our strategy: The New Equation. This recognised that managing tough global challenges is only possible when we come together to solve the complexity of the problems our clients face. Specifically, we focus on how companies can build trust with their stakeholders and society, how they build a productive workforce, how they can transform for enduring success and how they can do the right thing on environmental, social and governance issues.

The New Equation has provided a common language for us to articulate how we solve these challenges, as well as a way to galvanise our energy to support our clients. Response internally and externally has been extremely positive. Externally we’ve seen unprecedented engagement with our advertising and content. Internally, being part of a “community of solvers” has helped us recruit great talent, have new conversations with clients and forge even stronger relationships with our alliance technology partners.

Two of PwC’s core values are marking a difference and reimagining the possible. What does that look like now versus in the past?

We see the market growing for things like strategy transformation and technology services such as the cloud or AI, as well as clients working out how they will achieve their net zero goals. These are really high risk/high reward decisions for our clients. Much has been spoken about in B2B marketing that these are career making or breaking decisions. People are making choices about who they want to partner with to transform their businesses – this can instrumentally affect whether their companies succeed or fail – the stakes are high.

Building relationships and feeling like you can really trust the people that you're working with to do what they say that they'll do – to deliver the work to the time and quality that they're committed to – is critical. We see that the buying groups are expanding in professional services, more people are involved in every decision that our clients are making.

We have a legacy of being able to solve difficult, complicated problems. But I also think that our history and commitment to building those relationships creates an environment where you trust each other to do the right thing and are aligned on outcomes.

How are you thinking about marketing investment right now across all of the channels that you work in? Is there any specific approach that you're leaning into?

Firstly, investing in our digital properties continues to be very important as this is how our buyers discover thought leadership, investigate suppliers and understand what we offer. We're also looking at how we want to realise our brand and make connections with our clients in the metaverse.

Then there's been a lot of movement in the job market – last year we recruited 32,000 people – and there's been lots of movement at our clients too so we spend time articulating our purpose and strategy. We want to be really clear in the market, our clients and our employees – what we stand for and who we are. And we’re a people business so we continue to invest in skills, for example 93,000 PwC people took ESG training in FY22.

From a marketing perspective, we are also investing in skills and sharing best practice. We've got some great technology and brilliant talent, and want to be able to maximise convergence of both those things. All marketing roles these days require an understanding of data and how to use our technologies. Similarly, creativity is what will differentiate us, and clients look to us to provoke their thinking through insightful thought leadership.  Making sure that we are really investing in our marketing teams – i.e. training them and making sure that they have interesting work to do – will always continue to be a priority.

So it's not just about how much you're spending on external communications, it's also about how you're investing in marketing talent.

Exactly. We want to make sure that as we have great digital technologies and new tools that our team is well equipped and confident to use them to their best advantage. We are spending a lot of our time thinking about how we target and distribute our messages to our client and prospect base versus spending a lot of time on production and not making sure that they really get into the hands of the people that we want them to.

As a B2B company, how do you see media platforms and tech playing a role in how you move your brand forward?

We think about this in several ways. Firstly, some of the challenges that clients have in real life carry forward into the metaverse. So, if you sell something to somebody in the metaverse, how do you know how to tax it? Some of what we do in real life carries over to the metaverse – it just gives us a new set of problems to solve.

Then we see clients wanting to create new markets in the metaverse. We've been doing some interesting work, particularly with clients in the retail, fashion, and consumer goods sectors, in terms of how they bring to life new experiences to attract new customers in the metaverse and realising the commercial possibilities.

We also have a great opportunity to create richer journeys for some of our amazing thought leadership in the metaverse which is exciting. We’re also using it to supplement the recruitment and client relationship building experiences.

How important is measurement in an economic downturn? Are you seeing more pressure to be able to draw a line between your marketing activities and impact?

That’s always there. You always have to share return on investment for marketing, so that's not new.

One of the things that I have been talking about with marketing leaders at our clients, is that as budgets get squeezed or frozen, they experience a real scrutiny on a single part of the marketing cycle. For example, just lead generation or just conversion rates. That tends to push marketing more towards sales enablement because it’s where you can really feel the return.

My message to them – and other B2B marketers – has been to be very balanced about the long-term and short term return. I would counsel any business leaders against taking a more short-term view, because when that happens you will pivot a marketing function to become focused on today’s conversion rates rather than building future pipeline. The advice I would give marketers would be to be very explicit and confident about talking about the trade-off of future pipeline versus today's demand generation.

How are you approaching segmentation and targeting as a B2B marketer? How has your strategy evolved over the last few years?

We spend a lot of time thinking about who we are targeting. A few years ago, the number of people involved to purchase decisions for our services would be around four or five. Now it’s up to 14 or 15 people involved in the decision-making process. That means that they're all coming into it with a very different perspective of what the value is that they're looking for out of the conversation. You might be catering to some people who are the direct buyers, who are making decisions on behalf of their function; as well as critical enablers or influencers, like IT or finance who will be responsible for the success of any project. Each brings a different perspective to the decision – and a different set of priorities or things that matter to them.  As a marketer, you need to cater to all of these groups…also allowing for them to have individual preferences over channel or content format.  And of course, these decisions aren’t made quickly, so you need to maintain the conversation with your buyers over the course of months – sometimes even years.

Being very targeted about what information you're giving people and when, particularly as you're looking to get on the shortlist for a contract, remains acute and has become more complicated in B2B over the last few years.

When it comes to that process, how do you draw a line between your strategy and marketing effectiveness? Is it just as easy as the sale coming in or not?

It depends on which part of the buying cycle you're marketing into. We look at five different phases of a decision making process that a buyer will go through, and it really depends on how your objectives aligned to what the buyer is trying to do. So of course, yes, ultimately it will be about whether you sold work or not.

But for some of our clients that are really speculating over the longer term, it can take years to make a decision. You need to be able to be much more segmented further up the funnel in terms of tracking buying cohorts and decision-making processes. If we just look at sales conversion, that pushes you down to that part of the funnel which means you're not creating new markets.

In consulting, I would say that your biggest competitors are procrastination and inertia. if a company thinks that they can put something off then they might well do that. Creating urgency or creating a reason why people should act and prioritize decision-making… that's quite an intricate conversation that happens over months and years.

At the point of which clients are initially engaging with some of our thought leadership, they may not be in the market to buy anything at all. It would be foolish to start then going ‘okay, well, what's the sales conversion rate?’ I think that if you do just focus on that, over time, those are the companies that then start to really lose a lot of market share because they're not able to understand the dynamics of engaging with clients very, very early.