The CMO Files: Clive Downie, Unity
Name: Clive Downie
Job title: CMO
Location: San Francisco, CA, US
- Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Plymouth, a town in the southwest of England. I lived there until I was 16, when I moved to London to chase my dreams.
- What was your first job?
I was a QA and customer service rep for Electronic Arts. There was no email then, this was in 1992, I received letters in the mail or phone calls from EA customers all around Europe, telling me they couldn’t use our games for various reasons or were stuck in games and needed hints. That was half the job. The other half was testing in-development games. That involved running the Amiga, Atari ST, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis or PC through a video recording device and playing the games. When I found a bug, I’d write down a time code and description of the bug on the front of the tape, and then at the end of the day I’d hand the video back to the developers, who’d then try to reproduce them.
- What was the first product you got really excited about?
Hi Fi. Really great components from Technics back in the '80s. Cars really excited me, I always found their brands and marketing very evocative. The first game I ever got excited about was Elite, on the BBC Micro. That was just a space training game, but it promised and delivered on this truly expansive universe where you could be whoever you wanted to be.
- Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
I’ve had some very good mentors at various stages in my career, I can’t name just one. But I would say most influential have been the people who have posed questions to me, the ones who have put opportunities in my way that had been scary and audacious but pivotal to my career. The people who said, “why don’t you leave QA and come into marketing and be an assistant product manager on Prince of Persia 2? We think your communication style is really good, and you know about gamers, why don’t you give it a go?” And eventually, it was “would you like to move to America and lead marketing for a large component of EA?” It’s the people who placed a big bet on me that helped me get where I am today.
- What has been your greatest achievement?
Being a dad, that’s huge. Professionally? Seeing people who have been in my teams go on to be massively successful. I take a bit of pride in that.
- What has been your biggest mistake?
Not speaking up enough on occasions, when I simply know things are wrong. This happened recently; we launched new pricing and subscription products and hadn’t spent enough time talking to customers. They spoke, we listened, and we made some changes to address their concerns. We’re fortunate to have a passionate, vocal community who are truly invested in the success of our company and who provided very thoughtful, thorough feedback. The end result is even better than our initial plan, we’re in a great place now.
- What is your greatest strength?
I like to make decisions quickly; I think leaders that don’t make decisions can paralyze organizations.
- What is your biggest weakness?
I like to make decisions quickly...which means sometimes they’re not the right ones.
- What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers?
In general, I think people don’t employ common sense enough. In our field especially, I think there’s a tendency to overcomplicate things, with our focus on messaging and positioning. Of course it’s neglected across the board, but it’s something I aspire to and encourage my team to do as well.
- Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?
I try and treat others as I would like them to treat me, respect is crucial. People who say to me, “to be honest,” or “let me just play devil’s advocate.” Veiled challenges with that caveat, pretending to challenge you? Those phrases feel insincere, just be consistent and constructive in your commentary! It’s much more productive.
- What makes you stressed?
I’m annoyed when people are not doing what they told me they were going to do. Not thinking things through, a lack of detail, especially in communication and even more so in written communication, add to that. All irksome. But as the years have gone by, I don’t get stressed at work, life’s too short. If you’re stressed about work, and it’s overtaking you and overpowering you, then you’re not doing something right. You should be enjoying it; it’s through the enjoyment of it, rather than stress, that helps you get better and grow.
- What do you do to relax?
I do many things. I run, I hang out with my sons, I play games. Lots of them. And laughing. Just having fun!
- What is your favourite song?
Too many to mention! If I was to only ever choose one song to listen to on repeat forever, I couldn’t do it. Frank Sinatra’s Sinatra at the Sands live from Las Vegas with Quincy Jones conducting and with Count Basie and his orchestra accompanying, is one of the greatest records of all time. That I can probably listen to in any mood.
- Which book taught you most?
Most of my learnings have been practical learnings and not practical. I’ve had the fortune of have many experiences, across many countries and different types of teams. I read a lot, but I read for pleasure.
- Do you have a team or sport that you follow?
Absolutely. Manchester United. I love mostly all sports, and have a favorite team in every single one of them. I try and go to a San Francisco Giants game whenever I can.
- Which country would you like to work in?
I’m working here! I always wanted to work in America and have been for 10 years now.
- Which company do you think has the best marketing?
I think Nike are simply exceptional in the way they blend heroes with poignant life lessons to drive emotion, they generally always hit the mark and resonate...they’re really clever. From a car perspective, I like Ford. Ford’s marketing is honest and straight up, clearly knows its market. I kind of like how they have taken the brand to new places in the last decade. Honda also does a good job, not about selling the car, but by selling life and the car’s place in it. Worth mentioning Virgin America, too, they’re just bold. I love marketing, seeing what people do.
- What do you love most about your job?
This is the best thing I’ve ever done. I love it because of the opportunity ahead of us, the ability to make a difference every minute of every day, the product and our passion of our consumers, and the people I get to hang out with. We have a shot at being a truly consequential product and company in the next era. I think we can define an era for creatives around the world.
- What is your favourite book?
Can’t tell you a favorite, but I read a lot. What I’ve liked: Barbarian Days, a surf adventure that just goes around the world, it’s just wonderful. I like biographies, recently read The Lost City of Z, about an English explorer’s obsession about finding an abandoned city in the Amazon that quite simply opened my eyes to South America’s history. Another was Sky Faring, about a commercial pilot’s life.
- What keeps you awake at night?
I’m worried about my sons. Their future, their safety, the life they’ll have...I want to be sure they understand what's important and fight for it.