A successful CMO has many roles, including leading an organization's marketing department, establishing marketing strategies, and tracking successes and failures. How can a CMO create a highly successful career? What tools, strategies, and approaches can a CMO use to be successful? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Gerber.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you share a bit of your personal 'backstory' and how you got started?
After growing up outside of Baltimore, Maryland, I played D1 lacrosse and earned an economics degree from UMBC. As a college intern, I started working for fitness industry leaders, Victor and Lynne Brick – thinking it was just a summer job. Twenty-one years later I am still working for them!
I started with their Brick Bodies chain of gyms. My responsibilities grew and I rose to Vice President of Marketing. In addition to creating and implementing digital and social media strategies, I played a critical part in helping re-shape the Brick Bodies brand identity that helped increase sales annually.
While maintaining my position at Brick Bodies, I added responsibilities with the Bricks’ Planet Fitness franchise group. I became Vice President of Marketing in 2016, moved to the Planet Fitness side full-time in 2018, and was promoted to CMO in 2020.
What do you think was a pivotal moment that led you on your path to becoming a CMO?
After about a year working as an accounting assistant for Brick Bodies, I realized how much I dislike accounting and decided to apply for another position as a project manager for a local builder. I was one of the final two applicants and, fortunately, did not get the job.
The Bricks saw the value in me and told me about an open position as a marketing coordinator. I read the job description, was very intrigued and thought, “Hey let’s give this a try.”
I immediately fell in love with the job and, for the first time, felt like I was in the right seat of the bus. I had a passion for marketing that I did not know existed and thought if I stick with this and work hard enough, I can make a career out of this.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Shortly after I was promoted to CMO, our business, the fitness industry and the rest of the world shut down in March 2020, due to the COVID pandemic. We went from arguably having the best January and February in the history of the company to a complete shutoff of all revenue for the foreseeable future.
We had to figure out our next steps and how we would save the business. Our group started meetings with other planet operators to protect cashflow, cut cost, defer payments to vendors, determine marketing and operations strategies, pay our staff and figure out how long we could survive without revenue.
Through these meetings and with the help of the PPP, our group never had to lay off a team member. Once we reopened, we did not lose one single club. We had made it through this period of unknown and worked together to overcome the largest obstacle we had every experienced in business and in life.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
It is not possible to name just one, there are a few that have been an integral part in helping me achieve success.
First off, I am extremely grateful to Victor and Lynne Brick. They took a shot on a lacrosse player out of college who they believed one day would be an integral part of their company and culture. Without their influence, guidance and teachings, there is no way I would be where I am today or have achieved this level of success.
Next is Glenn Norris our CFO, who gave me my first lacrosse stick when I was eight years old. He not only got me into the sport of lacrosse that I loved, but also hired me as an intern for the company. Without Glenn and his continual willingness to listen to and help guild me through some very tough times, there is no way I would have found my passion that led to my success.
Finally, I am also very grateful for my former business associate and good friend, Jeff Order. Jeff owned a media company that was super influential in helping get both our Brick Bodies and Planet Fitness brands off the ground in the early days. Jeff who did all our media buying was the master negotiator and taught me everything I need to know and how to be successful in any negotiation. I use a lot of what he taught me today in just about everything that I do. Jeff is also someone who will tell me what I need to hear and over the course of our 15+ year relationship he has helped me so much both personally and professionally.
Can you please share your favorite 'Life Lesson Quote' and how it has been relevant to you in your life?
“Be Kind and Have Courage,” is a quote that my 7-year-old daughter and I say all the time and resonates with so much of my life. Through the years, I’ve learned it is important to always show kindness, but equally as important to be brave enough to stand up for what you believe in and take on any obstacle no matter how hard or difficult it may be.
Can you share with us three strengths, skills, or characteristics that helped you to reach this place in your career? How can others actively build these areas within themselves?
- Strong Negotiator
- Strong Communicator
- Build Relationships
You need to build these fundamentals every day and continue to refine and improve them. You must realize it’s not a sprint: it’s a marathon. You will have ups and downs, but you will always have the fundamentals that have made you successful to fall back on.
Which skills are you still trying to grow now?
I am still trying to refine my interview and presentation skills. There is something very rewarding to putting a good presentation together and delivering it flawlessly. Doing so gives me a similar type feeling to when I was playing lacrosse competitively in college. While I have presented and given many interviews of the course of my career, I know I can still improve.
Having reached this space, what do you believe are the five things you need to be a highly successful CMO?
1. Take care of yourself both physically and mentally. I work out four to five times a week doing HIIT training, read as much as I can, meditate and do yoga to help keep me at peak performing levels. There are big decisions that you need to make, and you must be in a top mental and physical state in order to make the correct decision and perform this job at a high level all the time.
2. Be willing to pivot. Marketing is a fast paced industry and there is never a day that is the same as another (one of the reasons that I love this job). It can be stressful and challenging if you let it. You need to try and anticipate change when possible, but also handle the adjustments no matter what the situation or circumstance so you can do what’s best for your company. Utilize data to make decisions, follow up with peer guidance and then do what your gut says.
3. Be a servant leader. You cannot just bark orders; you must be willing at times to do the dirty work that your team must do. Celebrate victories together and show how much you care about them and how much they are part of something bigger than just a job.
4. Exude tenacity and passion. You need to be able to have difficult conversations, fight for things you believe and push the envelope to achieve success. No one is going to give you anything. You have to chase what you want and set goals for how you will get there.
5 . Sharpen the Saw. You must be a student of your craft and be up on the latest and greatest in marketing as well as developments in your industry. I do this through relationship building, reading marketing-related publications, attending webinars, seminars and speaking engagements. Victor Brick told me many years ago, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you should go to another room!”
Are there any underrated skills or qualities that you encourage others not to overlook?
Your work ethic. It is easy to show how hard you are working when the lights are on you, but not as easy to do when no one is watching. You need to put the work in when no one is watching: this is what separates those who choose to be good and something and those who choose to be great at something.
What are some of the main issues that other CMOs commonly struggle with? What can be done to address those challenges?
I think a lot of it comes from stress. When things are not going well, the two departments that get looked at the most are sales and marketing. We are constantly getting scrutinized from our boards about decision we make and how those decisions affect both long- and short-term success of our companies.
We exhaust ourselves looking at data, creating new ideas, running in between meetings, working with our team and handling tasks. We have a hard time separating our personal and professional lives. We are so passionate that we obsess over performance of our companies and how we compare to others in that industry. It’s not always a bad thing, but we need more mindfulness and the ability to find ways to unplug so we do not experience burnout.
What do you believe is the most effective way to stand out and make an impact as a CMO?
There is no “I” in the work we do it is all about “WE.”
CMOs are only as good as the team around them, so we need to encourage and empower them to make big decisions, thank them for the work they do, reward them for a job well done and show you care about them as people.
Your team is probably the best way to stand out as a CMO because at the end of the day, they are doing a lot of the execution from the strategy you have created. When you make everything about “we” instead of “I,” you cultivate a culture of growth and inclusion, they feel part of something bigger than a job and your impact as a CMO will be ten-fold. I always say to my team, “You don’t work for me, you work with me.”
If you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
This world is so fragmented, disconnected, distracted and filled with instant gratification. We have everything we need at the touch of our finger-tips with the use of social media and digital technologies. While this is good for business and a lot of things, I think we have lost the ability to authentically and organically connect in real life. I would like to inspire initiatives and events that take technology out of the equation and breed in the moment, real life meaningful connections.
Lastly, is there a person with whom you would like to have a breakfast or lunch with, and why? They might just see this!
Tiger Woods. I love golf and it would be wonderful for Tiger to teach me how I can hit the ball as clean and flush as a PGA pro does. I am fascinated by his physical and mental preparation to a golf tournament and ability to make critical decisions amongst the toughest competition while under great pressure. Understanding his edge is something that we all can utilize in our professional lives.
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