Tom Wentworth Finds the White Space in Marketing

The Gist

  • Balanced approach. Effective marketing requires a balance between short-term tactics and long-term brand building strategies.
  • Learning from mistakes. Past marketing failures can lead to better strategies and prevent future missteps.
  • Media utilization. Building in-house media capabilities can significantly enhance brand trust and market presence. 

Tom Wentworth, chief marketing officer at Recorded Future, shares his unconventional approach to long-term marketing success.

In this episode of CMSWire’s The CMO Circle, Wentworth digs into the importance of balancing short-term marketing tactics with long-term strategies to build a sustainable brand. And gives viewers an inside look at the steps he’s taken at Recorded Future — such as building an in-house news organization — in a move to establish trust and credibility within the cybersecurity space. Wentworth reflects on past mistakes and offers valuable lessons for CMOs aiming to make impactful, lasting changes in their marketing efforts. 

Table of Contents 

Episode Transcript

Michelle Hawley: Hi everyone, and thank you for joining me on today’s episode of the CMO Circle. I’m your host, Michelle Hawley, Senior Editor at CMSWire, and today’s guest is Tom Wentworth, Chief Marketing Officer at Recorded Future. He’s here to talk to us more about his unconventional thoughts on marketing.

Hi Tom, thank you so much for joining me today.

Tom Wentworth: Hey Michelle, happy to be here.

Michelle: So, I’ve heard that you have some outside-of-the-box ideas when it comes to marketing, so I’m excited to dig into your thoughts a bit today. One thing that you’ve mentioned to me is that people tend to underinvest in building a brand. Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean by that and what you’re doing differently over at Recorded Future?

Tom: You’ve heard correctly.

Yeah, I think the biggest challenge that CMOs face is wanting to show value. We join a new company and want to prove our worth, which for most of us means influencing revenue. At the end of the day, I only keep my job here, and we only keep our jobs if we can help the company grow faster. So there’s immense pressure on CMOs to focus on short-term results.

Which is important because we do want to contribute right away and obviously have a positive impact on revenue. But it’s so easy to over-rotate on putting all your brain power and all your budget behind short-term tactics because short-term tactics can certainly help accelerate revenue growth. My take today will hopefully show that over-rotating on short-term tactics is, in fact, the absolute fastest way to get fired.

It’s the fastest way to not generate the kinds of results that you want to generate for your company, but it’s the pressure that we all face.

Michelle: So tell me a bit then, I know you have some things that you’re doing differently, what are you doing over at Recorded Future that’s not necessarily a short-term tactic?

Tom: Yeah, it’s important that we balance these things. I think about two-thirds of my time should be spent thinking about how I’m going to help this company hit our quarter, hit our number this quarter and maybe next quarter, in 2024. But about a third of my time is spent thinking about what are things I can do in marketing that are going to have an unfair advantage over multiple years. It takes a lot of discipline to do that.

I’ve only learned this because I’ve made this mistake in my past. I’ve worked at a company where I spent all my time and all my money on short-term numbers. And that worked well until it didn’t. I can tell that story if you’d like, but I vowed never to repeat that mistake. So what we’ve done at Recorded Future, and it’s going to be different for everybody, I can’t tell you on this podcast exactly what tactics will work best for you, we started with a hypothesis that we wanted to build a relationship with an audience in a different way.

For Recorded Future, we’re a cybersecurity company, a threat intelligence company. One very simple comp to think about is what Bloomberg does for financial traders providing intelligence so you can be a better commodities trader or a better stock trader or a better bond trader. We do that for security professionals. We provide them with threat intelligence so they can better defend their organizations. So we said, if our product is kind of like Bloomberg, why don’t we kind of build our go-to-market like Bloomberg.

Bloomberg is most well-known for their news organization, Bloomberg News. And we thought, well, why don’t we sort of build our own news organization as a way to build trust with our audience? And if we did this, and if we’re able to successfully do this, we can start really building a relationship that would be almost impossible for anyone else to replicate. And it was hard, I can tell you the story of exactly how we got there, but we decided to build brand through news.

And I would argue it’s been very effective for us.

Related Article: Are Your Brand Marketing Strategies Outdated?

Michelle: So going back a bit, if you’re willing to talk about it, you’ve mentioned working for a previous company, learning from your mistakes. Are you able to tell us a bit about what happened?

Tom: For sure. So I worked with a company called Acquia, in the CMO role, about 10 years ago. And love Acquia to death, great experience. I made the tragic mistake of just only committing to hitting the number in the short terms. Every quarter, me and our head of sales would sit down and we would, you know, wonder why we weren’t hitting our numbers or why we weren’t growing faster.

So I spent all my time and all my budget doing things that would help us hit the number this quarter. I didn’t think for a moment about, well, how do I build a better brand for Acquia? How do I think about getting Acquia in front of the kind of people who think about Adobe? Our biggest competitor was Adobe. Everybody knows Adobe. No one, relatively speaking, knew about Acquia. And I never spent a minute thinking about how to solve that problem.

Had I spent time thinking about how to do something there, I think Acquia would have gone public and would have been maybe, you know, even bigger than they are now. And it was the biggest mistake I’ve made in my career by far.

Michelle: So you get to Recorded Future, you decide we’re going to build a media company from the ground up. What did that process look like? Did you just go all in on the investment? Was it something you kind of built little by little?

Tom: Yeah, so we built it little by little and it was because one of the hardest things you have to get is a CEO who gets marketing and a CEO who’s willing to make longer-term bets. And I have one of those here at Recorded Future in Christopher Ahlberg. He also is a huge fan of Bloomberg like I am. So it was a reasonably easy sell. And it wasn’t that we set out to build a media company. It was we set out to build a relationship and build trust with our audience. And we thought that news was the best way to do that.

So the whole genesis of this was there’s just so much happening in cyber and there are so many interesting stories that just weren’t being told. So we said, why don’t we just go out and hire our own reporters and go do this? And this wasn’t ever meant to be a marketing investment. This organization we call Recorded Future News does report into me technically, but I don’t think of them as marketers, we don’t involve them in team meetings, like they don’t think of themselves as marketers at all. They have their own separate entity actually, at Recorded Future.

But we went out and hired an editor-in-chief. And this gentleman, Adam Janofsky, is a saint because he came over with a 100% leap of faith, and we said, Adam, we’re going to build a news organization, trust us, it’s going to be great.

And he came over and started doing editor-in-chief things, some reporting himself, bringing on some freelancers. And we had some success and we hired some more reporters to the point now where we have, I think, eight reporters, seven full-time in three different locations across the world out there putting out 10 to 15 stories a day on topics that we think are relevant to our audience.

So we started with one person. But now we’re maybe the biggest cyber news reporting team on the planet. And these people who work at Recorded Future, they all came from places like Bloomberg or Wall Street Journal or Politico. These are seasoned cyber and security reporters.

Related Article: Building Customer Trust: The Only Currency in the Age of AI

Doubling Down in the Podcast Space 

Michelle: But then at some point, you guys decided to step into the podcast space. You have a pretty successful podcast going on.

Tom: Yeah, we’d always had a podcast. I did not start this podcast, but the person who did was a visionary and we’ve done, by the time I started at Recorded Future four and a half years ago, we had already done like a podcast for three years, I think. Every single week, 52 times a year, you know how hard that is. Even when no one was listening, the podcast had an audience, but it wasn’t a massive audience, but it gave us enough confidence to say, well, what if we really double down?

Now we have this news organization called Recorded Future News. Why don’t we double down on the idea of also having a podcast? So instead of doing what everyone else does, like what you and I are doing now, two people interviewing each other, which is fine. That’s really hard to pull off because it’s so crowded. We decided to build sort of a narrative documentary style podcast. And to do that is hard because you have to have a showrunner, you have to write a script, you have to set up interviews, you have to do a different level of production on it. So in order for us to do this, we went on and hired a real legit podcaster. We went on and hired Dina Temple-Raston, who was a very well-known podcaster on NPR. She has a voice like an angel. Not only is she a brilliant storyteller, but she just sounds like a podcaster. It’s incredible how good she is.

And we gave Dina a production team. She brought over some of her team from NPR and we now have built, so we call this podcast Click Here. And it isn’t just this interview every week. It’s these real cool stories. Like Dina, her team flew into Ukraine right after the war and sat down on the ground level to figure out what’s happening and did some incredible reporting. And now this podcast has become, we’re in the tech news category. And it’s essentially every week like Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, Recorded Future.

We’re in the top 10 of this tech news category and getting over a million downloads a year at this point and growing. It’s been an incredible success.

Michelle: Yeah, I think the stories are what draw people in. They want to hear what’s going on around the world. Even when you’re talking about B2B, they want to hear about other companies and what they’re doing and the mistakes that they’ve made. So I think that’s definitely a great approach.

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