The Insights Blog

2023 Advice from Yahoo SVP Jen Whelan

2023 Advice from Yahoo SVP Jen Whelan


We’re leaving behind a crazy year and need to turn our attention to a new year with both new and continuing challenges. What should we be focused on as marketers as we approach the new year?

To answer that question, we spent time with our friend (and Yahoo SVP Marketing) Jen Whelan. It’s hard to nail Jen down as she’s constantly in motion! This past year found her speaking and interacting at Cannes Festival, AdWeek APAC, the Marketing Society’s Pioneering Spirit Awards, the 2022 DIAL Global Summit, Innovate@UCLA, GalsNGear Global Tech Summit, and Stanford’s Continuing Studies program. Her amazing career has included key roles at Qualcomm, T-Mobile, Microsoft, Intel, Criteo and Innovid.

Jen generously shared her views and opinions on a number of key trends marketers should be considering as they approach the new year. Let’s dive in!

What key trends do you believe that marketers need to be most aware of as we approach the coming year?

Jen: There is so much going on. Here’s how I would summarize a wide range of factors impacting marketers:

  1. Employees rule – – No matter how tough the marcoeconomy is, that doesn’t give companies the right to treat employees poorly or take their foot off the gas when it comes to genuine retention activities. Humanity needs to be top of mind and people need to be our first priority. Customers are important, but without rockstar employees you won’t have any customers.
  2. Boutique engagements are where the cool kids hangout – – Gone are the days of real value coming from noisy shows. Note, I didn’t say “big” shows because there are still a few that I would say are on the larger size, but still maintain a boutique atmosphere and provide real space for genuine connections. Marketers still need to engage, but they need to be responsible about where they show up and who they talk to in order to maximize value for the business.
  3. Hybrid is a real thing and it’s here to stay – – We are never “going back” to the way things were before Covid lockdowns. This is a positive. It might still feel odd or hard and we might not have figured out the perfect future balance, but we need to recognize the change and understand the silver lining. There is an entire workforce of people who will be more productive, more engaged and happier when they work from home at least a few days a week and some may never need to come into the office. Companies need to capitalize on the additional talent they can attract and be grateful for those additional hours each week when people aren’t commuting. And don’t forget about the younger employees who DO need to be in the office to socialize with each other and learn from mentors. Remember – you can’t aspire to BE what you can’t SEE on a regular basis.
  4. Don’t under value existing employees – – The new shiny toy is very expensive and frequently isn’t nearly as cool as the advertisement made it out to be. The time alone it takes to ramp new employees should cause companies to rethink their annual merit increases. If you have happy employees who are doing a great job and positively contributing to the culture, go out of your way to let them know they are appreciated and hold on to them because they typically provide more value to the company than you think.
Jen presenting at Ad Week

Jen presenting at AdWeek APAC in Sydney in early August

The media landscape continues to change and there has been an explosion of properties and media types available to marketers. How can a marketer optimize their effectiveness given these changes?

Jen: Think like a customer. This doesn’t require loads of data – just monitor yourself for a day and understand all the intersection points you have with media screens and channels. We need to think about “a day in the life” and simplify it down. We don’t need more fancy terminology, buzz words or slang, we just need to understand what happens minute by minute and when people who we want to talk to are open to a conversation. Keep it simple and make the technology work for a better process, not a more complicated one so we can track to some crazy level that only has one objective – to prove we should keep our jobs.

What are the most pressing challenges that you are hearing about from marketers?

Jen: I’m routinely hearing three challenges:

  1. Attracting and retaining top talent
  2. Having a seat at the executive table and contributing to the conversation
  3. Marketing NOT being the first thing on the chopping block during tough economic times.
What new or old school marketing tactics may be reaching a tipping point where they become either absolutely essential or largely irrelevant?

Jen: It’s always about the right mix and never saying never to any particular tactic. I realize there is a finite amount of money, but bringing in new channels like DOOH doesn’t mean we have to say Print and Radio are dead — why can’t it be more of a philosophy of “the more the merrier” when it comes to channels? As consumers when we buy a new TV streaming service we don’t sit in our cars in silence, I’m pretty sure we’re still listening to tunes. The goal is to constantly be shifting and optimizing the mix of all the tactics/channels and maximizing the touch points with the right audience. Nothing should become irrelevant – everything should be considered… sometimes with a new, creative spin!

If you were a CMO today, what would you do differently?

Jen: It all starts with the power of the team and maximizing their potential. The job of the CMO is to craft the most perfectly designed org structure that takes into account customers, business objectives and challenges, innovation windows and the current talent across the team. The team needs to be able to develop and execute seamlessly and much of the friction can be removed with the proper, customized org design. Once this inner bullseye is put in place, it’s about key stakeholder connections and intersection points across the organization. Marketing leaders need to have relationships across Product, Sales, Business Operations and the Executive Team. Companies that operate as truly one team are the ones that succeed long-term. And last, but not least…. get out there. Be there in real life, talking to real customers. Test and learn from real examples and projects. Make a quick hypothesis and go for it. Make decisions based on Customer feedback from real examples – not posturing and the loudest voice in the room.

Knowing what you know today, what advice would you give to 30-year old Jen?

Jen: Relationships are the most valuable thing you will ever have in your career. The people you meet and engage with have more influence on your career than any logo on your resume or example in your portfolio. Be appreciative and nurture your squad. Have a personal board of directors and get their advice often. Technology might be cool, but humanity is what really matters. So, if you’ve never really met someone and don’t know who they are – don’t accept their LinkedIIn request – – it just dillutes your true connections.

Jen Whelan is SVP of Marketing at Yahoo where she loves telling tech stories without the geek-speak. Jen joined Yahoo in 2020 following 24+ years of marketing experience; having led successful growth initiatives in advertising technology at Criteo and Innovid and across global brands such as Qualcomm, T-Mobile, Microsoft and Intel. In addition to B2B marketing, Jen has driven key consumer strategic initiatives and integrated marketing campaigns for Office 365, Windows Phone and T-Mobile flagship devices. Jen recently published an article “Asking for help isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength,” which followed her AdWeek APAC Keynote on the same topic. She is a judge for the Marketing Society’s Pioneering Spirit Awards and has spoken at the 2022 DIAL Global Summit, Innovate@UCLA, GalsNGear Global Tech Summit, the Stanford’s Continuing Studies program and at Cannes Festival 2022. When Jen isn’t busy driving new Yahoo initiatives, she cultivates the advancement and professional development of women within the tech industry. Jen was a 2021 AdColor judge in the “Change Agent” category.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.