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Embracing AI: Three CMOs on How to Cultivate an AI-Friendly Workplace


"AI isn’t about cutting jobs. It's about improving the product experience, boosting efficiency and helping our team do their jobs better."

- Sara Varni, CMO of Datadog

As AI becomes more widespread in the business world, it brings exciting possibilities and a few challenges. AI can revolutionize how we work, with faster processes, sharper customer insights, and less mundane tasks. On the other hand, these changes can scare the very people they’re supposed to help. But, there’s an opportunity to re-frame this thinking. Encouraging teams to experiment with AI and explore its possibilities can help them see its widespread potential. 


Recently, 621 Consulting's Founder and CEO Scott Kabat and CMO-in-Residence Simon Fleming-Wood spoke with three accomplished CMOs about the AI revolution. The big takeaway? Success with AI is not just about setting up the tech and letting it run. It's about building a supportive environment where everyone, from top executives to new hires, can embrace the value AI brings. 


 

We’ll dig into each CMO’s insights on how to do this effectively. But first, let’s introduce them:


Heidi Browning, CMO of the NHL Joining during the league's centennial, Heidi has played a critical role in directing its marketing into the next century. Her career includes leadership roles at Pandora, MySpace and Fox, contributing to broad experience in customer retention and acquisition, media transformation, and fan engagement. 


Sara Varni, CMO of Datadog Sara has a rich background in enterprise software and marketing leadership, with past roles at Salesforce and Twilio, where she served as CMO during its pivotal public offering. At Datadog, she’s leading innovation in the observability space with deep expertise in product engineering and technology.


Melissa Waters, CMO of Upwork

Melissa is an accomplished marketing leader, currently serving as the CMO of Upwork, the world's largest work marketplace. With over two decades of experience in tech, she’s led marketing and GTM at companies like Lyft and Instagram, building strong expertise in marketplace businesses and digital marketing.


 

Now, let's explore the unique perspectives these marketing leaders bring to the table on building team adaptation and integrating AI into business strategies. 


Integrating AI with a Clear Purpose 

Instead of ad hoc trials and experimentation, each CMO agreed that it is critical to bring AI into the organization with a clear directive, aligning teams as early as possible. 


Upwork decided to fully embrace AI and build it purposefully into their product and internal processes. Melissa said, “When AI came onto the scene, we made a decision, led by our CEO, that we’re going all-in. For our clients, we worked to get expert vetted AI talent very quickly merchandised on the platform. And internally, we aligned from the top to get people access to all the tools. We provided access, security clearance, had policy teams looking at all the terms and conditions. We wanted everyone to use the tools.” 


Sara went on to say that AI is more than a technological upgrade for a workforce – it’s a strategic enhancement across product and business operations. “We were able to build some really compelling campaigns and copy using AI that performs well within our product." Sara elaborated:


"For us, AI isn’t about cutting jobs. It's about improving the product experience, boosting efficiency and helping our team do their jobs better.”


Going Beyond Automation to Empowerment 

While AI is predominantly seen as an efficiency or productivity tool, the CMOs agreed that it should also be seen as a powerful way to encourage creativity. By using AI for routine tasks like writing case studies or crafting outbound sales messaging, for example, the team is able to take some of those manual tasks off their plate and focus on more strategic aspects of their jobs.  Melissa said,


"AI isn’t just for automation; it’s a catalyst for innovation. It frees up our staff to dive into more complex, creative work that adds greater value to our services." 


Heidi sees AI as an opportunity to level up employee skills, both in their current jobs and for the future: "We're going to all upskill together and you're going to take whatever you learn here forward for whatever chapters will come down the line." Sara added,


“I think it just makes people's jobs easier. It makes us able to do more things faster and it opens up new opportunities."


Building an AI-Savvy Culture 

Introducing AI can drive innovation, but it requires intentionality and thoughtfulness. Start by building a clear plan to successfully integrate AI into your culture – the CMOs recommend a few key steps:


  • Educate your teams not just about how AI works, but about how it can make their workday easier and their output more impactful.

  • Integrate AI into daily workflows in a way that supports existing jobs. Show real examples of AI at work, demystifying it.

  • Communicate openly about AI’s role and its benefits, and listen to employee concerns. Make it clear that AI is a tool for everyone, not a replacement for anyone.

AI can be as useful as any other tool at work that helps us do our jobs better. If you’d like support in learning how to integrate AI within your business, reach out to us at 621 Consulting anytime. We’re happy to share our learnings and connect you with supportive talent and AI thought-leaders to help you craft your approach and embrace this new technological wave.


 

Watch these video snippets from our panel of CMOs


Melissa Waters on building cultural permission. Watch video.


Heidi Browning and Melissa Waters talk about embracing change and moving past fear. Watch video.


Sara Varni and Melissa Waters on the perceived cost of failure and how to build controls. Watch video.


Heidi Browning, Sara Varni and Melissa Waters share their top advice for marketers. Watch video.


 

Reach out to us at 621 Consulting.

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