How to survive and thrive as an elite marketer


By Jeff Beer


When Visa hired Frank Cooper III as its new chief marketing officer in March 2022, it was a sign that the financial services and payments company was ready to make significant changes in how it operated as a brand.


Cooper joined after five years as CMO at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager and, before that, a career as a leading marketer in music with Def Jam and Motown, CPG at PepsiCo, and media at BuzzFeed.

What makes Cooper such an interesting executive has been his ability to apply a strong belief in the role that purpose and culture can play in achieving a brand’s overall business goals, and he’s been doing it long before they became marketing buzzwords.

Last year, Visa CEO and Chairman Al Kelly called Cooper “a rare mix of creative brand strategist with strong business acumen and a leader who understands the deeper brand opportunity that comes from leading with purpose.”


In early April, in one of his first interviews since joining Visa, I spoke to Cooper about his first year at the $470 billion market cap payments giant. In our wide-ranging conversation, edited here for length, we discussed what made him want to take the job, the most significant challenge facing all CMOs, how that role has evolved most, and why the death of brand purpose has been greatly exaggerated.

Fast Company: You’ve talked in the past about how your sweet spot was working across tech and entertainment, and that your career has been marked by going into areas of change. How is that point of view reflected in joining a brand like Visa?

Frank Cooper: What I’ve always tried to do or look at is, where is there significant change happening? Not a superficial trend, but a foundational shift. Where is there a company or brand that wants to be a part of that change, that wants to be a part of inventing that future?


I was fortunate to be at PepsiCo when CPG companies—and beverages in particular—were going through massive change. You couldn’t just have Britney Spears in a drink shot, and that would be it. That era was over. 

BuzzFeed was about setting up an incredible process of creators and data scientists, sitting side by side, and leveraging technology to understand how you could repeat and scale content.

At BlackRock, it was at a time when people were rethinking their relationship with money. So, even the companies that historically thought that they would have little contact with broader society, now that door is wide open.


What got me very excited about Visa is that there is massive change happening in the payments ecosystem. What resonated most with me was when [Visa founder] Dee Hock said, when you remove friction from money and give people access, the people you think are ordinary will be able to do extraordinary things. It’s about removing friction.

That’s where we are today. When I look back at the various places I’ve been, it feels like it all comes together here. It’s about figuring out where we fit in gaming, sports, and music—and how to leverage those spaces to drive brand and commercial value. It’s exciting.

FC: You’re a year into this job. What’s been the biggest surprise or difference between what your preconceived idea of Visa was and how you see it now?


FC: The biggest surprise is just how complicated the business actually is. It’s a very complex business, and there is so much changing all at once.

We’ve got QR codes, tap to pay, and other contactless approaches, and part of it is the value being exchanged. Yes, you can transfer money, make a payment, get paid, exchange NFTs, exchange anything of value within the gaming world. But the whole idea of value exchange and what is exchanged is also evolving rapidly. There are so many layers.

FC: Visa is such a compelling brand because, on one hand, your job is to tap into and articulate that complexity to the world, while on the other be a ubiquitous sponsor at major global events such as the Olympics and World Cup.


FC: One of the things I really want to do around the sponsorship side of things is move away from what I’ll call cultural adjacency, where we’re borrowing equity and trying to get a halo off that, and creating awareness by being the proud sponsor of something. I’m not dismissing that, I think it has a role, but can we actually add value to fans’, the athletes’, or artists’ experience? Can we figure out ways that are less interruptive and more about creating momentum around things people want to do? Otherwise, you start to fade into the background and become wallpaper if people see it too much. There is value in traditional sponsorship, but there’s more value in delivering something that would not happen unless we were there. 

FC: Chief marketing officer has long-been the shortest-tenured job in the C-suite [about 18 to 24 months], and the role has evolved significantly beyond creative and performance marketing. What advice would you give CMOs and aspiring CMOs for how to thrive so it’s not such a short-term job?

FC: My advice to any CMO—particularly to someone who might be a first-time CMO—is you have to first and foremost build an authentic and deep relationship with both the CEO and CFO. In order to do that, you cannot speak in the language of marketers only. You have to speak in the language of how you are driving growth and translating what you’re doing into a language they understand. 


It doesn’t mean sacrificing any activity; it’s just the translation layer. Those relationships are important. The biggest challenge that I’ve seen is that either the expectations of the CEO and CMO are very different, or the outcomes expected from finance are very different from the outcomes that marketing is delivering. It’s rare that they’re doing nothing. They’re always doing something, and sometimes they’re doing great things, but it’s like the Tower of Babel: No one is able to talk to each other in ways that are meaningful.

[CMO is] the ultimate marketer’s job. You’re trying to change perception and behaviors. This is what marketers do for consumers, but you need to apply that same logic towards the C-suite. It’s the marketing of marketing within the company.

FC: How has the job of CMO itself evolved most over the past decade?


FC: It’s been massive swings. A lot of people see the CMO’s job as creating topspin: Create the heat, create the sizzle, create lots of awareness, build broad relevancy, get people talking about you. Over the past decade and a half, that’s quickly become the source of the problem, where the C-suite members are asking how that creates value. “Show me the correlation.”

That drove everyone to the other end, and performance marketing became the only pathway for many marketers. Then there was this realization that while that might create short-term benefit, there are other long-term opportunities to create value, including the brand.

Over the past 5 to 10 years, the most remarkable change I’ve seen is the increasing overlap between brand and reputation. There was always this separation, where the brand was focused exclusively on the customers and building commercial value, and reputation was about legitimacy in society. I think the overlap between these is almost complete. 


People want a brand to deliver on their expectations as a consumer, but they are also interested in the values of that brand. How are employees treated? What does [the company] contribute to society? You don’t have to be solving all the world’s issues, but are you making a positive impact of some kind?

FC: What do you make of the many declarations that “brand purpose” is dead?

FC: I remain a deep believer in purpose-driven leadership and purpose-driven branding. But along the way, as these things happen, people started misinterpreting what it actually means. The biggest challenge that anyone who believes in purpose-driven leadership and branding has, is that some people believe that it opens the door to a company or brand having to solve every single social issue that exists. 


The whole idea of purpose to me is to tie it to your operating models, to the core of what you do making a positive contribution to people in some way. It can be simple, like convenience. If you’re Amazon, you’re providing a service that saves people time, and what more important currency is there to people than time? Or you can go as far as Patagonia. There’s just been a lot of confusion as to what purpose actually means.

Second, unfortunately there’s been a misunderstanding that this is some kind of anomaly in business. But the anomaly really was from the 1960s to the 2000s. Everything before that had some notion that everything was in some way for the public good. All the way back to the Romans. The East India Company had to petition the Queen to state the public good of its business.

Even though we’re having these swings, what we are seeing are changing expectations of people across almost every community around the globe, that the role of companies and brands is to improve our lives. Otherwise, why are you here? To demonstrate how you’re doing that is your purpose, and companies and brands have to be able to express that.


FC: In such a rapidly changing environment, where are you seeing things headed now? What are you most excited about?

FC: I’m excited about video gaming, overall, and in particular the value exchange that happens there. I’m excited about it being the side door to what will ultimately become the metaverse.

But I’m most excited about the creators in gaming, because what we’re seeing across multiple dimensions is that the creator community is happening in social, gaming, and music. What are some of the challenges in being a creator and monetizing it? That’s one of the most interesting opportunities I see in the marketplace. I think I understand creators pretty well—their motivations but also their sense of vulnerability.


What I love about this generation of creators is that they’re willing to share the good, bad, and ugly. They will tell you about their mistakes and give you a look into the lessons they learned. That’s true of big stars and emerging ones—that willingness to be transparent. So, for me, the creator community is top.


How to survive and thrive as an elite marketer

Fast Company