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Establishing an AI Council for Marketing Teams: A Speech From VMware

The founder of VMware’s AI council walks us through how she created the group at the cloud computing company.

Published on Dec 12, 2023

SaaStr is an annual cloud computing conference with hundreds of workshops and speaking sessions over three days in Silicon Valley. One speaking session at the latest SaaStr in September was particularly near and dear to our hearts at Jasper: Establishing an AI Council for Marketing Teams

During the session, Jasper’s Head of Enterprise Marketing, Samyutha Reddy, introduced Jessica Hreha, head of global integrated campaigns and content strategy at VMware, who spoke about her experience founding VMware’s Marketing AI Council. She described the council as “a cross-functional team dedicated to educating and empowering VMware marketers to use genAI tools responsibly and effectively.” We firmly believe that essentially every company needs some sort of internal AI governance team with a clearly defined mission statement (we also have our own AI council at Jasper.)

Below is the transcript from Hreha’s deep dive on how and why she founded VMware’s Marketing AI Council, edited lightly for length and clarity.

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Hreha’s key takeaways on how to establish an AI marketing council

  1. Take initiative 
  2. Prioritize grassroot involvement and visibility
  3. Develop an AI policy 
  4. Recruit an executive sponsor 

Samyutha Reddy:

I'd love to take us all back in time. About a year ago, generative AI had just become mainstream. ChatGPT became a household name virtually overnight. And all of the media headlines, the Twitter gurus, the tech pundits, all they could talk about is how the marketing profession would be changed. It wouldn't be recognizable after AI came into the picture. Some of that has been true. AI has changed marketing irrevocably. 

But what I think marketers have done a really good job at is reclaiming our power within the generative AI narrative that we're victims. We're not victims. I actually think that we're stewards of generative AI within the enterprise because of all of the tools available to us. The strategies we choose and the pilot programs we run largely determine how our organizations think about AI as a whole. 

Fast forward to today. Any given marketer has hundreds of tools to choose from when thinking about how they're going to incorporate AI into their strategy. But which tools are ready for enterprise use? What guidelines do we put in place to ensure AI is used ethically? Who makes those decisions? 

Jessica Hreha, an early customer of Jasper, was able to work through all of these questions and more at VMware through establishing an AI council. So I'd love to hand it off to her to talk through her story a little bit more.

Graphic showing the basic principles of VM Wares Marketing AI Coucil Charter
Image source: VMware

Jessica Hreha:

Thanks, Samyutha. So we thought we'd share with you today how VMware established a marketing AI council. Our origin story and inspiration really starts last fall [2022] in a small pilot team with Jasper AI. We brought Jasper on my team to pilot content. We create promotional content and bill of materials for our geos to execute on in the field. We wanted to improve our content quality and speed time to production. We spend so much time waiting for agencies to get started on projects that by the time projects come to us, we can’t spend enough time editing it to make it what we really wanted. We also wanted to cut agency costs by half. 

All that was happening in the fall. And then in November, ChatGPT launched. And we had some individual marketers across our large global marketing team, which is over 700 employees, dive in deep on generative AI. We came back from our break in January and I was starting to hear conversations — “silos of swirl” I call it. We had some interest, some excitement, some intrigue, and some outright fear for jobs and what was going to happen with generative AI. 

People were going to brand [VMware’s team of branding experts] saying, “Can I use ChatGPT to create new content?” Brand was trying to figure out what our point of view was. I saw this happening and brought everyone together for what I call “grassroots coordination” of people in early February. I called the group the Marketing AI Council. 

[Hreha asked the emergent council] “Is this a good idea? Are you interested? Do you want to be part of this? How often should we meet? And by the way, I'm going to throw up a draft charter that we should get organized around and the AI pilots we want to prioritize. We should figure out what our point of view is on using ChatGPT or other tools. We should figure out what those guardrails are and we should figure out how we want to educate our marketing team.”

So in February, we started meeting weekly and the team started growing. Initially it was eight to 10 people. In March, we established our first guidelines for using generative AI tools at VMware. So in addition to telling people what not to do, we had to tell people what they could do along the way. So it was like, “Don't use ChatGPT to publish content. Don't share confidential information. But do experiment in drafting content with publicly available information.” And our guidelines continued to flesh out from there. And we iterated them on a weekly basis when we first started.

That same month, we also hosted our first global marketing enablement session. We brought in Paul Roetzer, CEO and founder of the Marketing AI Institute. By the way, if you're not following the Marketing AI Institute, I highly, highly recommend it. [It has a] very vendor neutral approach and they have a podcast every Tuesday that we live and breathe by on our council that sums up the past week's news. 

A graphic showing the responsbilities of VM Ware's Marketing AI Council
Image source: VMware

So we brought him on and started to talk about generative AI for the first time and we've been having monthly global enablement sessions from there. Between February, March, and April, we were still trying to figure out who our exec sponsor would be. And for us, I knew that we needed leadership's alignment. We needed the runway. We needed to make sure that we were driving in the right direction. And it was trying to figure out: is that through the strategy and operations [teams]? Is that global web and digital services, our tech team? Is that global demand, which is my team?

But in May, we were lucky enough to confirm our CMO as our exec sponsor and that really catapulted the visibility, the runway, and the body of work that the council was able to get done. And we formalized this charter that you see here [see image of VMware’s Marketing AI Council Charter]. So it's now a cross functional team — [we have] over 30 people in our Marketing AI Council representing every single function across marketing as well as, legal, product marketing, and sales. A really great tip that we learned along the way was to bring in legal from the very beginning. We were able to walk with them hand in hand throughout the process. 

Our focus is educating and empowering marketers. When our CMO came on board, it wasn’t just about ensuring that marketing is leading internally and that VMware is leading externally, but that we're offering an opportunity for our individual marketers to upskill and take advantage of this transformational opportunity. Think about marketing before the internet, and after the internet, and how much has changed. What are we doing to make sure that our marketers understand the opportunity and can leverage that effectively? So we're really passionate about this upskill opportunity and offering that from an educational standpoint across our team.

A graphic showing the intiial results and learnings in the global marketing division from 3 months of using AI
Image source: VMware

[We’re also] making sure that our marketers are using gen AI tools responsibly and effectively. What does responsible AI adoption mean? What are our ethical principles, which comes down to governance as well? What are we focused on? 

You all [the audience] have a brand, a documented mission, an ethos, a North Star. What is that from an AI perspective? What is your risk tolerance? Are you sure that your teams are using gen AI the same way you want them to be using it? Are you all on the same page, and what does that look like? And how will it iterate over time? Who's responsible for that? 

From an educational standpoint, it's not just onboarding new tools and ensuring that our teams know how to use them, because there's a learning curve. So you have to ensure that there's a really broad educational plan for those tools that you're using. But also, I'm really passionate about foundational understanding of generative AI. What is it? Why is it different? How did we get here? What are the differences between traditional AI and ML [machine learning] and what is generative? What does it mean to have predictive text and why is that not plagiarism? And how are you looking at how tools and models are trained? It’s understanding how to spot bias in the outputs that are coming along. All of that makes you a better marketer. And, experience in those tools creates understanding and those two things really go hand in hand. 

So these are the responsibilities across our Marketing AI Council. Your marketing AI council, your group, may look really different than ours. It may not be as large, but all of these are aspects across the team that I think are really important. We have an AI newsletter. We had our first marketing leadership AI summit. We workshopped use cases and prioritized what our second half roadmap was going to be for the council and from an AI piloting standpoint, driving enablement, promoting those best practices and managing these workstreams.

I want to leave you with four key takeaways. They could be in any order and I could do this presentation three more times with these in different orders. They're really all about the same from the standpoint of importance. 

Recruiting an executive sponsor

You may be the executive sponsor for your company. So support your team and get this started.

Prioritize this grassroots opportunity

It’s important to make sure that the people who are passionate about generative AI are the ones doing this because it's probably above and beyond their daily jobs. And you need to have people who want to put in extra time and effort to figure this out. 

Develop an AI policy

If you don't have an AI policy today, this is really where you need to get started. Most companies don't but it's the first place you need to start to get everybody on board and on the same page. Luckily our friends at Jasper have created an AI policy template that you can download here to get you started. It's great because it's on Jasper's value prop of getting past that blank page allowing you to customize this template for your teams. 

Take initiative 

The big takeaway here is to take action and get started. I know that in a conference full of SaaS startups, you all know how to get started. 

Thank you!

Get started on your journey toward greater AI governance and transparency with our AI policy template.

Meet The Author:

Alton Zenon III

Alton Zenon III

Jasper Content Marketing Manager
All Things AI

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