- Airbnb's chief of marketing Jonathan Mildenhall is leaving the online home-sharing company after over three years to start his own consulting firm, The Wall Street Journal reported. He plans to continue working as a consultant to Airbnb, a private company with an estimated value of $31 billion.
- Mildenhall said his new firm, 21st Century Brand, is the result of being asked by high-profile startups and venture capital firms for marketing advice. His career includes previous stints at Coca-Cola and ad agencies.
- The former CMO wants to help fix marketing, which is having a "crisis of confidence" due to changes in media-viewing habits and the growing importance of data and technology, the Journal said. At Airbnb, he helped to boost the company's brand awareness with an ad budget that rose 60% last year to $64.7 million, according to estimates from Kantar Media cited by the Journal.
Mildenhall oversaw marketing at Airbnb during a time of rapid growth and the occasional controversy. The hotel industry has lobbied against the company in several major cities, seeing the short-term home-sharing service as a major competitive threat. Two years ago, Airbnb and Mildenhall apologized for an outdoor campaign in San Francisco that offered suggestions for how the city could use the company's tax payments, which sparked backlash among local consumers. His departure after only a little more than three years points to the often volatile nature of the CMO role, which is quickly shifting to meet the demands of digital disruption and inevtiably producing a lot of turnover.
Airbnb under Mildenhall's stewardship also strongly promoted diversity in its marketing and hiring strategies, particularly in the wake of President Donald Trump's proposed ban on travel from a handful of Muslim-majority countries. The company this year ran its first-ever Super Bowl ad titled "We Accept" that showed a montage of people of different nationalities to promote inclusiveness. In June, at the Cannes Lions advertising festival, Mildenhall put out an open casting call for women and people of color to meet with him for possible jobs.
The company's recent promotional campaigns have also included partnerships with companies like Vice Media to offer customized travel packages and a new print publication created with Hearst Magazines.
The marketing role at Airbnb is a key position as the company confronts greater competition from online travel sites like Expedia that are also getting into home-based vacation rentals. Recently, it's rolled out new features such as luxury rentals, restaurant reservation bookings, a Trips tool designed to serve as a more comprehensive travel planner. It's also been rumored to be working on flight booking feature.
The company has experienced strong growth since its 2008 launch and proved to be disruptive to the hotel and travel industry with the help of mobile tech improvements like better browsing, booking and payment. But as top competitors follow suit, Airbnb must continue to innovate to foster growth, which signals that its head marketing position likely won't remain open for long.