Exclusive: Q&A with Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO of Airbnb, our 2016 Marketer Of The Year!

Last week we held our annual Ad Person of the Year event, where we celebrated not just one esteemed honoree, but six influential advertising and marketing executives in five categories, including: Marketer of the Year, Industry Legend, New Yorker, at Startup and a Young Pro.
We sat down with our Marketer of the Year Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO of Airbnb and asked him a few questions about what makes a better leader in the industry, how he fosters creativity and innovation at Airbnb, what people coming into the industry should know and more. Let’s see what he had to say…
Jonathan Mildenhall

Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO – Airbnb. Photographed at the Airbnb Sydney offices. 26/2/2016 Photo credit – James Horan for Airbnb.

What are the most useful resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain perspective on becoming a better leader? 
When I started my career, I followed in the footsteps of some world-class marketers and ad agency execs who taught me valuable lessons about leadership:  build trust in teams, create a culture of respect and cultivate creativity. As mentors, — most of them hugely talented and inspirational women — they helped stir my sense of self and my sense of creativity.  In doing so they pushed me to achieve accolades beyond what I could have imagined.   
For all great marketers, the best resource is right in front of us: the world. You have to be curious about people. Dive into the world of media, fashion, art, culture and find out what you love. Read, travel, explore — and most importantly become your own vision. By doing so, you will paint your own definition of authenticity and create your signature of leadership.
As an industry what should we stop doing? What should we start doing? 
The industry fears the unknown. To be effective marketers, we need to jump into the unknown – with both feet!
We should also lean into the uncomfortable truths that consumers think about a brand. In our first-ever global advertising campaign “Never a Stranger,” we addressed the fear of staying in a stranger’s house.  That’s right front and center.  The campaign worked brilliantly and changed the brand narrative and began to turn the fear of strangers into an unexpected sense of belonging.    
How do you foster creative and innovative thinking in your organization? 
To be honest, my mum helped me understand that a world full of humanity and creativity is what we should all aim for.  Her early lessons in humanity and creativity continue to inspire me and influence the work I do on a daily basis. Also, as a company that is all about experiences, we are focused on creating enriching experiences in a workplace that foster creativity. Finally, I truly believe we are all born creative. I love it when the best ideas come from unexpected places.  In truth, I jump on them and over protect them so that they manifest into the world.
What one thing do you anticipate will affect your business or industry in the next two years that could have an impact on your marketing?
The ways people consume content will be a huge change; social media has fundamentally shifted the consumer mindset, and emerging technology, such as VR and AR in addition to ad tech solutions such as programmatic, native, real-time and addressable, mean that the existing rule book on marketing needs to be ripped up and shredded.  As a marketer, I believe what was good for business two years ago is probably bad for business today. That’s certainly the case at Airbnb.  
What do you feel are the benefits of working in your industry that you would relay to young people coming in to your industry today?
It’s just utterly cool.  Why?  To succeed, you have to develop expertise in three areas:  creativity, technology and humanity.  I mean, what other industry offers such a perfect combination of subject matter expertise?  Exactly.
Thank you to our sponsor Yahoo! and to all who made this event truly a night to remember.
See photos from the beautiful evening at the High Line Hotel, and a video montage of this year’s honorees edited by our friends at Man-With-A-Cam.