Laying the foundations for transformational change in marketing

By Jodie Byass


Few people know what it takes to deliver successful transformations in marketing and operations as well as Norma Abeyasekera, founder of Abey & Abey Consulting and former Director Operations, External Relations at UNSW. She shared some observations on how to successfully negotiate transformational change with Simple ahead of her presentation at our upcoming panel discussion event, Delivering Value in a Disrupted Marketing World.


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Norma, thanks so much for agreeing to be on the panel at our event! Tell us about your experience with marketing transformations.

I’ve been involved with transformation projects at a number of organisations including a major marketing transformation at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), an organisational and retail transformation at St Vincent de Paul and a two-year transformation project at the University of New England.

I joined UNSW as it was undergoing a massive centralisation and transformation of its External Relations activities. This included transformation of operations including marketing services. At this time, faculty and divisional marketing resources had been centralised and the university was in the process of creating a shared services model. The challenges there were about transforming from a decentralised marketing model to a centralised approach while maintaining the level of service that our clients expected.

When I was at UNE, the organisation decided to undergo a major transformation in response to the Bradley Review to reform higher education. My role was as Program Manager and later as Director of the Project Management Office (PMO) which involved the delivery of over 60 projects that needed to be delivered over two years. Many of these programs and projects focused on transforming the business to meet the needs of our internal and external customers (students) to prepare for the reform that was coming. Prior to the PMO, I was brought in by UNE to review and advise on the development office and fundraising activities, which was within their marketing portfolio.

But one of the biggest transformations I’ve been involved with was a major Not-For-Profit (NFP), where we transformed one of their under-performing central councils, or divisions, into a profitable one. They had been planning to amalgamate this council with another, but we were able to completely transform their services, create a central distribution hub and remove a lot of the cumbersome processes — particularly within their retail store operations. They’d been doing it the same way for decades, but we able to transform it within 2 years. This kind of transformation takes a toll. We had over 1000 members and volunteers in that area and they saw it as a moneymaking exercise. We really had to take them on a significant journey of change.


What do you understand by the word ‘transformation’? Do you think it’s well understood?

Transformation is fuelled by the changing nature of technology. It’s understanding something can be done more efficiently and effectively than how it was done in the past. It’s about adapting to a changing environment, being agile and moving to new ways of working.

The big drivers, particularly in marketing transformation, are that customers are more connected, and they want a genuine, continuous and relevant experience. The growth in digital marketing enables the organisation to scale rapidly and compete like never before.

Transforming a service or an organisation is not for the faint-hearted. If the leadership of the organisation is not driving the agenda – you’re on a rough road. You need a strategy and a clearly defined roadmap, which is the plan that you use to takes your community on the journey with you.

Meeting resistance and hearing ‘No’ from your community is to be expected. With grace, and loads of patience, you can work through it. But the leadership must set the tone at all times.


How did you come to be in operations, and more particularly, in marketing operations?

My parents were small business owners and I grew up helping them out with their business operations, unpaid of course. Later I moved into student recruitment, development and marketing in the education sector, and then into program and project management. I soon discovered that I had a knack for strategic and operational management particularly in delivering transformation. I was very fortunate to be mentored by a former colleague and joined his boutique consultancy firm where I helped others through the delivery of transformational change. My roles in the NFP sector were very much a combination of operational and strategic management. More recently, I was in operations at UNSW when I got the tap on the shoulder to step into the role as Director of Operations – External Relations at UNSW, which was a combination of marketing and operations. My primary focus was to assist DEX, as the Division of External Relations was known, in developing its service delivery model.


You’re going to be talking about delivering change and value in complex marketing organisations. What sorts of things will you cover?

Transformations in complex marketing organisations such as decentralised corporations or universities typically involve moving to a centralised model and delivering shared marketing services from a central hub, using technology as an enabler. However, you can’t just move to a centralised structure. There’s a whole lot you need to do to build the foundations for successful implementation.

It’s important to meet the organisation where it is at, because they are all different. Sometimes that means adopting a hub-and-spoke service model before centralising completely. You’ve got to build trust that you can deliver the service… or you will lose your community before you even start. The key foundational elements are equally as important to put in place – systems, structures and processes, and so on. Technology is the key to help you manage organisational requirements and to enable you to best service your community.

To learn more about delivering change in complex marketing organisations, register to attend our panel discussion event, Delivering Value in a Disrupted Marketing World, in Sydney on October 30.
Norma Abeyasekera is an experienced business leader who has successfully led diverse teams of professionals in a variety of highly competitive industries. Norma has an impressive track record and hands-on experience in strategic planning, business and commercial management, program and project management, and change management. Throughout her career, Norma has led the implementation of large transformational programs with extensive experience in service delivery and organisational redesign.

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