Ann Lewnes: Silicon Valley’s Real CMO

By Hilarey Wojtowicz

It’s not too often that someone can hack it in Silicon Valley for more than a decade, but that’s just what Ann Lewnes has done. As Executive Vice President and CMO at Adobe, she’s already accomplished so much during her tenure leading some of the world’s most creative marketers to push boundaries and take risks. But after 13 years, she’s still facing challenges every day in an ever-changing industry.

A secret to her success? According to Lewnes, “With a lot of innovation and a good sense of humor, I‘ve discovered how to overcome failures, advocate for myself, and still make time for a good blowout.”

Many have highlighted your long tenure at Adobe. How does the job still challenge you?

It’s pretty unusual for anyone in Silicon Valley to be at a company for 13 years, let alone as a CMO. I feel really lucky. From a business perspective, Adobe’s business has completely transformed during that time, and marketing has played a critical role. I’m really proud of where we are, but there’s lots more to do. People want more from brands today than ever before. The challenges and opportunities are bigger and every day is new.

Today’s CMOs must have a growth mindset, be agile, and push the boundaries of innovation. This means celebrating risk-taking — whether it’s with new channels, partnerships, or experiences—and instituting a culture of testing where you can constantly iterate and improve the customer experience. We can’t stand still.

How do you stay on the cutting edge of an ever-changing industry?

Working in Silicon Valley, I’m constantly exposed to new technology, emerging media types, and new business models. It’s just the way it is here. From a marketing perspective, we have — and will continue — to push the envelope. The world’s best creatives and digital marketers are here. We make the tools they use every day and they want to do stuff that nobody’s done before.

How and where do you find inspiration to fuel your creativity?

I get my inspiration from media and culture — music, TV, film, fashion, design—and I try to stay current. I spend a fair amount of time on Instagram and Twitter, soaking in what’s going on. And I try to hang out with young people.

What innovations excite you at the moment?

I would say the democratization of creativity. Today, anyone who has a phone can be a creator. There’s literally an explosion of creativity as a result. We are very excited about facilitating global creativity through our online community challenges. Through these challenges, Adobe has received 425,000 submissions of amazing original work in the past year. We’ve done challenges with incredible musicians like Billie Eilish, Vampire Weekend and Twenty One Pilots, and brands like Reddit (in its biggest activation ever). One of the coolest challenges we just did was in India. On the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth, we asked students from 20,000 schools to depict how his values can help the world today. That’s something we really need right now.

How do you care for yourself, so you can show up to what matters in the most powerful way?

Blueberry smoothies, beach days, online shopping, and a good blowout.

What’s the most recent lesson you’ve learned?

I need to learn how to say no. I have a tendency to overcommit — both personally and professionally.

How do you define failure and success?

I’ve always been a risk taker, so I’m not afraid to fail. My boss says there are “road builders” and there are “flag planters.” I’m the latter and I have come to realize you just can’t reach every flag. And how do I know we’re succeeding? It’s all about the data. We need to quantitatively demonstrate the impact of every marketing dollar. We have the most amazing marketing and customer insights organization and we are laser focused on marketing performance—from advanced-mix modeling to real-time media attribution analysis.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Advocate for yourself. This is something I tell my sons all the time. Also, always focus on results, innovate, work well with others and have a sense of humor.

What does this Matrix award mean to you?

I’m truly honored and so grateful to be receiving this recognition.

To learn more about Ann Lewnes, read her NYWICI Profile here.


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