The Insights Blog

Three Books CMOs & Agency Leaders Should Read in 2021

Three Books CMOs & Agency Leaders Should Read in 2021

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CMOs and agency leaders have much in common. A shortage of free time and difficulty adding to their own skillsets is one of those similarities.

To help, here are three books that we think all senior marketers and agency execs should read early this year.

how not to plan by Les Binet & Sarah Carter

Want to be a better marketer? Start here.

Sarah Carter and Les Binet know more about effective marketing than… well, just about anyone. They each have distinguished careers in the UK marketing scene (BMP, DDB and now adam&eveDDB). They have published far and wide, including significant contributions to the world’s marketing knowledge base through Admap, WARC and APG. They have written more than 50 award winning IPA Advertising Effectiveness papers. In the world of what works in marketing, they are royalty.

This book is both a great read and an amazing resource. I dare marketers to not have it handy and close by at all times. The authors combine wonderful little case stories with “2 minute checklists” that teach us everything we need to know about how marketing works – and doesn’t.

Topics like messaging, loyalty, conversion, distinctiveness and brand leadership are covered with wit and insight. The book is available from the APG at or online at Amazon. 

Hacking Marketing by Scott Brinker

This one is several years old, and most CMOs and agency leaders would benefit by catching up and reading (or re-reading) it. This book helped give birth to the agile marketing movement.

In our work with major marketing organizations, we often find structures and processes that were designed for a different time and era. The executives often talk “agile”, but rarely have they built their organizations to succeed via the agile processes and training that enable a company to move at the speed of digital.

Most CMOs, senior marketing executives and agency leaders would benefit from reading this book. Very few organizations are very far along in their agile marketing journey, and leadership is a key ingredient to the success of agile marketing.

Author Scott Brinker is the long time author of the Chief Marketing Technologist blog at, program chair at MarTech Conference, and head of Platform Ecosystem at Hubspot. He simplifies complex ideas that emerged from software development and shares the history of why and how we should execute marketing in similar ways.  

You can get this fine book at your favorite bookstore.

It’s Not About The Coffee by Howard Behar

Howard Behar helped shape the culture at Starbucks that put the partner first and drove the amazing success of the third place. This book was originally published in 2007 and is every bit as important today as when it was written.

Howard shares his Ten Principles of Personal Leadership with memorable storytelling. The book forces us to rethink leadership. Try reading about Wear One Hat, The Person Who Sweeps the Floor Should Choose the Broom, or Think Like a Person of Action and Act Like a Person of Thought without these philosophies impacting your own leadership behaviors – I doubt you can!

Great marketing leadership starts with leadership – not marketing – and Howard’s book is a book about how servant leaders can transform their organizations and drive success by helping their people succeed.

Steve Boehler, founder and partner at Mercer Island Group, has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Nokia, HP, Microsoft, Sprint, Nintendo, Abbott Laboratories 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 Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles and Jif.