• Nelly Rinot

The "go-to's" every startup CMO needs

You are a startup CEO, and you just hired your first marketing leader - let's call this person your CMO or marketing leader.


If you're like most startup CEOs I've ever worked or consulted with, you are impatient and have specific growth and company goals you need to achieve (after all, the board is sitting on your neck). The plans are aggressive and require swift and flawless execution. You don't have time for long games. You need to create wins in the short term.


A good marketing leader will come to the role with a set of resources they can tap into when needed. She probably doesn't have a team yet, so her ability to produce and deliver depends on her ability to activate her trusted resources. Fast.


If you're a marketing leader with years of experience, you may already have your go-to list. If you don't, I strongly recommend starting to build the relationships today so that you'll be able to activate them in the future quickly.


What's a go-to list?


A go-to list includes the talent and agencies a marketing leader can call upon when needed. These are resources outside the company that you may have worked with in the past or cultivated a relationship with.


For example, I have an exceptional creative agency that supported all my projects and roles in the past ten years. We went through a lot together, and I know they will be there for me whenever I start a new project or role. When it comes to a creative agency, I found that my "to-go" has already developed an understanding of how I think, what I like, what's important to me, and how fast I expect them to deliver. Sometimes I use them as the talent to create branding guidelines, and occasionally I hire them to be the company's creative studio until my team, and I can build one. I know my go-to will be available and will do above and beyond to ensure success no matter the project. That's the power of a long-term, trusting relationship.


Hiring a marketing leader? Make sure they have a list


I'm often asked what questions a CEO should ask a future CMO or marketing leader. I write about it in another post, but one of the questions is: "Do you have a go-to list, and how quickly can you activate it?"


I would expect a good marketing leader to list the resources immediately, give me examples of how he used them in the past, and show me their portfolio.


Here's an example of the top-5 resources on a go-to list every CMO should have:




  • Copywriter - A marketing leader needs to have someone who can crystalize, edit and create marketing copy. Especially in the early days, when the CMO is working closely with the CEO on the company's narrative, a good copywriter will take all the thoughts and ideas and create a copy masterpiece. A good copywriter may not be an expert or have experience in the area in which the company plays. Still, they should be able to translate technical and niche-specific terms into a value proposition. If they have ad copywriting experience - even better. You will need it soon.

  • Communications specialist - This could be an agency or a freelance PR manager who could help the CMO start the communications infrastructure for the young company. You will soon be fundraising or would like to increase your company's profile by pitching stories to the press or industry bloggers. A comms specialist will create the stories, build your initial outreach list, pitch and emails story ideas, and will also serve as an extra copywriter if needed.

  • Operations or marketing automation specialist - This, too, could be an agency or a trusted freelancer. Your marketing leader will assess what marketing infrastructure is already in place and what fundamental components are missing when coming on board. You probably already set up some CRM and email automation tools in the company early days. Now, it's time to set up complex outreach automations and campaigns quickly. A good operations specialist will immediately set up lists, email templates, nurturing streams, and basic reporting. Your marketing leader will need them almost immediately.

  • Photography/videography - Startups need to differentiate themselves from the get-go and show their culture in stories, social posts, and... visuals. You can't show culture with stock images and videos. Culture is communicated through authentic photography of your employees, customers, office, or product. You will probably want to have clean, quality photos of your growing leadership team or include a few videos snippets of your employees talking about their experiences on your website. I can always assess the company's marketing standards and quality by looking at the company pages on the website. Marketing excellence is all-encompassing and doesn't end with your product. A good marketing leader will have a local photographer and videographer on speed dial.

  • Creative agency - Almost 100% of marketing's work ends up as good copy and an image. Creating the initial visual identity of a company is one of your CMOs top initiatives. We don't do it because we like playing with pretty colors and fonts. We need an excellent visual identity to guide our teams in creating marketing materials, assets, web pages, etc. Marketing's final product is always copy+image. A good creative agency will know what to focus on and what's nonessential to your company's maturity stage. They will be able to quickly come up with great creative ideas, show you examples of what your brand will look like, and create basic web pages templates for your team to work with. I always have them create ad templates, slide deck designs, basic brand images, and more (look for the post where I discuss the basic visual identity materials a startup should develop from day one). An experienced marketing leader will already have prepared their go-to agency before coming on board, ensuring they have capacity and talent available for your project.

One last note - in essence, a good marketing leader could run marketing for six months or so just by activating their go-to list. This is important because their most important job is to hire the marketing talent that will drive your company's growth. The go-to resources could handle the day-to-day needs while the CMO is hiring and onboarding talent and will create the basic infrastructure for your brand. When the marketing team is set up, they could take it from there.


Good luck!