When in April of last year, the photo-hosting service SmugMug acquired the photo-hosting service Flickr from Verizon’s digital media subsidiary, SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill said he was committed to breathing new life into the service, calling it “core to the entire fabric of the Internet.”

MacAskill didn’t reveal at the time how much SmugMug — which is itself an independent, family-owned operation — paid for Flickr. But it seems now that SmugMug may have underestimated its carrying costs. In an email tonight to users of Flickr who pay roughly $50 annually for the service, MacAskill has basically asked them if they know anyone else who might be interested in a yearly subscription to Flickr, explaining that it “still needs your help. It’s still losing money.”

Adds MacAskill, in terms that Flickr fans should find worrying, SmugMug “cannot continue to operate it at a loss as we’ve been doing.” (To sweeten the deal for new subscribers, SmugMug is offering 25% off a Flickr Pro account for those who visit this link and input the code 25in2019.)

This editor happens to be a Flickr Pro user and shudders to think how many photos will need to be moved if the service shuts down. At the same time, no one who uses the service can be terribly surprised by the development. Just months after SmugMug acquired Flickr, it curbed free use of the platform to 1,000 pictures per account holder. In fact, it threatened to actively delete the photos of users who did not sign up for a subscription if they exceeded that number.

Beyond its operating costs, SmugMug, like so many other companies, also found itself engulfed in controversy recently when The New York Times reported that millions of Flickr images dating back to its 2005 founding had been sucked into a facial-recognition database called MegaFace to “train a new generation of face-identification algorithms” and “track protesters, surveil terrorists, spot problem gamblers and spy on the public at large.”

Ben MacAskill, Don’s brother and the company’s COO, said at the time that the flaw “potentially impacts a very small number of our members today, and we are actively working to deploy an update as quickly as possible.” He also noted that the images that had been accessed pre-dated SmugMug’s involvement with Flickr by several years.

Either way, it sounds like the future of Flickr — founded by entrepreneurs Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield in 2004, sold to Yahoo the following year, and later swept into Verizon as part of its 2016 acquisition by Yahoo —  is again up in the air.

Either more people subscribe to the service, or someone — or some outfit — swoops in to save the day with the capital required to keep it up and running. In the worst-case scenario, it disappears, along with a whole lot of pictures.

Here’s the full text of Don MacAskill’s note to its customers:

Dear Flickr Pros,

First, and above all else: thank you. Thank you for being a part of our community. Thank you for caring about Flickr. Thank you for supporting Flickr. Thank you for being a Flickr Pro.

Two years ago, Flickr was losing tens of millions of dollars a year. Our company, SmugMug, stepped in to rescue it from being shut down and to save tens of billions of your precious photos from being erased.

Why? We’ve spent 17 years lovingly building our company into a thriving, family-owned and -operated business that cares deeply about photographers. SmugMug has always been the place for photographers to showcase their photography, and we’ve long admired how Flickr has been the community where they connect with each other. We couldn’t stand by and watch Flickr vanish.

So we took a big risk, stepped in, and saved Flickr. Together, we created the world’s largest photographer-focused community: a place where photographers can stand out and fit in.

And yet, Flickr—the world’s most-beloved, money-losing business—still needs your help.

We’ve been hard at work improving Flickr. We hired an excellent, large staff of Support Heroes who now deliver support with an average customer satisfaction rating of above 90%. We got rid of Yahoo’s login. We moved the platform and every photo to Amazon Web Services (AWS), the industry leader in cloud computing, and modernized its technology along the way. As a result, pages are already 20% faster and photos load 30% more quickly. Platform outages, including Pandas, are way down. Flickr continues to get faster and more stable, and important new features are being built once again.

Our work is never done, but we’ve made tremendous progress.

Flickr still needs your help. It’s still losing money. You, and hundreds of thousands of loyal Flickr members stepped up and joined Flickr Pro, for which we are eternally grateful. It’s losing a lot less money than it was. But it’s not yet making enough.

We need more Flickr Pro members if we want to keep the Flickr dream alive, and we need your help to share the story of Flickr.

We didn’t buy Flickr because we thought it was a cash cow. Unlike platforms like Facebook, we also didn’t buy it to invade your privacy and sell your data. We bought it because we love photographers, we love photography, and we believe Flickr deserves not only to live on but thrive. We think the world agrees; and we think the Flickr community does, too. But we cannot continue to operate it at a loss as we’ve been doing.

Flickr is the world’s largest photographer-focused community. It’s the world’s best way to find great photography and connect with amazing photographers. Flickr hosts some of the world’s most iconic, most priceless photos, freely available to the entire world. This community is home to more than 100 million accounts and tens of billions of photos. It serves billions of photos every single day. It’s huge. It’s a priceless treasure for the whole world. And it costs money to operate. Lots of money.

As you know, Flickr is the best value in photo sharing anywhere in the world. Flickr Pro members get ad-free browsing for themselves and their visitors, advanced stats, unlimited full-quality storage for all their photos, plus premium features and access to the world’s largest photographer-focused community.

Please, help us spread the word. Help us make Flickr thrive. Help us ensure Flickr has a bright future. Every Flickr Pro subscription goes directly to keeping Flickr alive and creating great new experiences for photographers like you. We are building lots of great things for the Flickr community, but we need your help. We can do this together.

We’re launching our end-of-year Pro subscription campaign on Thursday, December 26, but I want to give you a coupon code to share with friends, family, or anyone who shares your love of photography and community so they can enjoy the same 25% discount before the campaign starts.

We’ve gone to great lengths to optimize Flickr for cost savings wherever possible, but the increasing cost of operating this enormous community and continuing to invest in its future will require a small price increase early in the new year, so this is truly the very best time to help everyone upgrade to a Pro membership.

If you value Flickr finally being independent, built for photographers and by photographers, we need your help.

With gratitude,

Don MacAskill

Co-Founder, CEO & Chief Geek

SmugMug Flickr


The role of the CMO has evolved massively over the past 15 years. In fact, at some high-profile companies, it seems to have evolved itself to the point of obsolescence. As reported in Ad Age this past July, “Several big-name companies have recently done away with the CMO position altogether—including Johnson & Johnson, Uber, Lyft, Beam Suntory, Taco Bell and Hyatt Hotels, accelerating a trend that began a few years ago.”

My experience leads me to a contrarian point of view. The CMO role has evolved so significantly that a number of alternative titles are emerging – Chief Growth Officer, Chief Commercial Officer, Chief Experience Officer among them. (Whether or not any of these monikers stick, they certainly express our unrepentant love of C-titles!)

However, this advent of new titles is driven not by the diminished import of marketing or need for marketing leadership, but rather a trend that actually does warrant consideration and exploration: integrating marketing functions with sales, commercial and even product functions – in effect broadening the CMO mandate in the quest for growth.

What’s far more noteworthy to me, though, and much more the case at the many companies I come into contact with is this:

With key imperatives spanning customer insight, customer experience, digital transformation, data and analytics, brand, demand, purpose, creativity, content and thought leadership, marketing technology, sales alignment and enablement, etc., the vast majority of companies are not only maintaining the CMO position, they are expecting more from their CMOs than at any time in the history of marketing.

So, provocative headlines aside, CMOs at the helm of large, thriving multinational brands remain integral members of their respective businesses – and with expanded roles and greater complexity to manage. Their success is buoyed by a number of factors – company cultures that are pro-marketing, fit-for-purpose budgets and strong, multi-dimensional teams. Their challenge is to achieve differentiation when the world is so awash in innovation and disruption that the risk of “innovation fatigue” and rapid commoditization is great. Most importantly, their mandate is to master the ability to operate across a business: cross-functionality in factmay be their most priceless asset.

The roadmap to CMO used to be predictable: work your way up the ladder within a marketing department, eventually heading the department. But not today. Being a great marketer is simply not enough. Cross functionality is a necessity as is evident in the most successful CMOs. Beth Comstock of GE went from CMO to Vice Chair.

The importance of cross-functionality is apparent in three separate conversations with marketing leads at some of the world’s most consequential brands: Rishi Dave, CMO of Vonage, Victoria Keese Morrissey, Global Brand and Marketing Director (CMO) at Caterpillar and Toni Clayton-Hine, CMO at EY Americas. Resoundingly, cross-functionality is a key part of how they define their roles and their day to day:

CMOs today are responsible for more than marketing alone. The role requires liaising effectively with departments and functions across a business, sometimes even acting as facilitators or a buffer. 

“Building relationships with rest of organization and other C-level executives to drive company strategy is the most important skill,” according to Dave. Within marketing and across a business, the need for “excellent operational execution” as Dave puts it, is critical.

Caterpillar’s Morrissey echoes Dave’s sentiment but with a slightly different spin: “The ability to truly listen to your customers, in realtime…and being able to socialize those insights across all groups within your company is key to preventing a ‘marketing only’ view. In one way or another, every person touches the customer and needs to understand them…to best serve them.”

As such and as noted previously, the resumes of today’s CMOs look vastly different than they did even a decade ago. Technology is the biggest propellant of that change.

“Technology and information infrastructure, and how these significant investments must work in a unified manner, is an entirely new set of skills that marketers must not just understand, but quickly become proficient at,” advises Morrissey. “Marketers must possess a unique blend of art and science when it comes to using technology as a means to drive more personal engagement, not simply for the sake of technology.”

Understanding the latest technologies, and how they can be leveraged to achieve a business’ objectives, also means CMOs must adapt quickly.

“As the pace of change accelerates, CMOs need to keep on top of alternative business models, how that affects the marketing mix, and be able to flex their investments to accordingly,” says Clayton-Hine. 

This often plays into cross-functionality, as these decisions tend to reverberate across departments. It’s why many CMOs, as Dave says, “spend most of their days managing the team and relationships with the rest of organization.”

This requires a deeper understanding of every part of an organization, and the role each plays in achieving a common goal.

“About half of my time is spent internally, working with the strategy team to understand future plans, the business units to understand short and midterm priorities, sales enablement to align marketing efforts to sales efforts, and with the field to connect brand with demand generation,” said Clayton-Hine. “The other 40-50% of the time is spent externally: listening to clients, analyzing the competitive landscape and connecting with peers to understand what marketing trends and innovations others are leveraging that may apply to our business.”

It is in understanding the various functions of a business, and integrating them into marketing efforts, that sets today’s best CMOs apart. No matter the industry, it’s clear that the ability to operate across a business is crucial to success.  It’s why when asked what their titles might be, if not CMO, Dave said “Chief ‘Everything Else’ Officer,” Morrissey said “conductor,” and Clayton-Hine responded “Chief Dot Connector.”

Cross-functionality – connecting the dots to achieve differentiation and internal-to-external impact – is at the core of what makes CMOs successful in their roles and what makes that role as important as it has become.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author


When I think of today’s CMOs and the vast amount of consumer data at their fingertips, I envision children waking up on Christmas morning to discover the gift of their dreams — only to find out they can’t play with it.

For a number of reasons, the reality of Big Data hasn’t lived up to its hype:

  • In many organizations, the data was collected by different departments through different channels for different reasons, and no one is sure how to combine it into a unified whole.
  • Even experienced analysts aren’t sure what to do with this much data, especially when it comes to what’s called “unstructured data,” like social media posts, emails, images, videos, etc.
  • Consumers are becoming more aware of the amount of data businesses collect and, while they’re often willing to share it, they expect something of value in return.
  • Governments around the world are enacting legislation to make data more secure and to limit the ways organizations can use it without consumer consent.

And that’s just today; we haven’t even started talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) yet. With the International Data Corporation (IDC) predicting that, by 2025, there will be 41.6 billion connected devices generating 79.4 zettabytes of data, we’re just getting started.

Back to our Christmas analogy, it’s kind of like getting the bike you wanted and then realizing your feet can’t even reach the pedals! Today’s CMOs need a growth spurt — fast!

Developing CMOs for tomorrow

If you’ve got to learn a lot in a short amount of time, it’s always nice to know what’s going to be on the exam. Here are the things I think CMOs need to be working on to be successful over the next few years:

Finagle your way into the boardroom

Everything businesses thought they knew about customers has been totally disrupted, and somebody has to tell the CEO (who probably has a finance or operations background and equates marketing with advertising). Today’s CMO needs to be part reality-checker and part soothsayer, helping the board accept these new realities:

  • It’s all about customer experience: Having the right products at the right price matters far less than it used to. Customers want to feel like the stores they visit care about them. They want a relationship and the personalization that follows.
  • The secret is out: Customers know businesses are tracking their every move, and most are willing to accept it if they get something of value in exchange and are comfortable that their data is secure.
  • There’s a wealth of insights to be gained from all of that data, but extracting those insights is exponentially harder than it used to be and requires new approaches applied by people with new skills.
  • Some competitors are already pushing the envelope. If their initiatives succeed, we’d better be prepared to catch up fast — so let’s lay the groundwork now.

CMOs who focus only on the next marketing campaign will fail, and so will the organizations they work for. You absolutely have to be part of setting your organization’s strategic direction. If you need help getting a seat at th table, find an ally. The CIO is a good candidate, as are executive-level leaders from operations and product development.

Consolidate and clean up the organization’s data

This one takes some legwork, but it’s important. Businesses already collect more data than they can analyze effectively, something made even harder when that data is scattered in different departments, collected and stored in different formats, etc. John Hernandez, CEO of the Selligent Marketing Cloud, put it well: “The biggest data-related challenge will be consolidation and a full 360-degree view of the customer relationship.”

The first step is to make allies in every department. You’re going to need their help, so before you ask them to take on such a big task, spend some time hanging out in each functional area. Find out what kind of data they use, how they collect it, where they store it, and what they do with it. This step is critical to laying the groundwork for developing a holistic approach to data management.

(The consolidation itself — gathering all of that information into one database, correcting errors, eliminating duplicate records, etc. — is beyond the scope of this article, but may I recommend taking your CIO to lunch?)

Hire the right talent

The traditional approach to analytics was based on structured data stored in precise fields: name, email, phone number, etc. While that information is still valuable, it’s only a tiny part of the picture in today’s world, where about 80% of the new data generated is unstructured.

Many of today’s organization lack the skill sets to work with unstructured data, and that’s especially true when it comes to pairing unstructured data with structured data and deriving actionable insights.

Machine learning and AI, on the other hand, can do things like combining historical weather patterns with CCTV footage to determine the effect weather has on the way customers shop. They can withdraw sentiment from social media posts and compare it with purchase history to determine the emotional factors that drive purchasing behaviors.

If you haven’t already changed your job descriptions to accommodate this new skill set, I’d advise you to do so right away. Look for developers and analysts who not only have experience in AI and machine learning but who also understand the type of information business leaders need to make good decisions.

Get ahead of legislation

So far, technology has been advancing so quickly that legislation can’t keep up with it. Expect that to change. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) set the expectation that consumer data belongs to the consumer, not the organization that collects it. It also foreshadowed the fact that, as consumers become more aware of just how much of their data is out there on the internet, they’re becoming more proactive when it comes to protecting that data.

And, while the GDPR may hog the spotlight, it’s far from the only legislation regarding data privacy and security. In the U.S., California has passed the California Consumer Privacy Act, which, in some instances, is just as strict as the GDPR, and in others (e.g., the Internet of Things) even more so. Other countries with similar legislation include Argentina, Canada, Brazil, and Denmark, just to name a few. I’ve created an interactive map with the list of countries with privacy legislation, as well as those where legislation has been proposed.

Adopt privacy by design

It’s almost impossible to keep up with pending legislation, especially if you operate globally. It’s much easier to adopt a policy of privacy by design, meaning that the highest standards of privacy are built into your data collection and analysis processes. (One such step, for example, may be to use only data that you collect yourself rather than data you collect from a third party.)

Adopting privacy by design is a dual win: You won’t have to be constantly scrambling to keep up with changing legislation, and your customers will love you. Privacy by design sends a strong signal to customers that you value them and their data and are not trying to exploit them for your own gain. (Note: If you need a hand getting started with a programmatic approach to privacy management, join my Martech workshop in Boston on Sept. 16.)

As a bonus, an ethical approach to data is likely to appeal to Millennials, who tend to be values-driven. And, since they make up 35% of the workforce, you’ll likely be looking to millennials to find the skills you need.

Spread the word!

Once you’ve completed all of the other steps, and you feel confident that you’re compliant with current legislation and that you’ve addressed consumers’ concerns, it’s time to make data privacy and security part of your branding. 


How do you do that? By being transparent with your customers: sharing information about your use of consumer data and making it easy for them to find that information. Whether it’s a tab on your navigation menu or a link in your footer, give it a label that clearly states, “This is where you come to learn more about our use of data.”


Another good way to earn trust is by giving consumers a choice in what data they’re willing to share and when/how they’re willing to do it. One approach is to design a toggle list that lets consumers know what they’ll gain by sharing a particular type of information, then leaving it to them to toggle “on” or “off.”

When it comes to email campaigns, remind customers that they can choose to stop receiving emails at any time. Give them a toggle board where they can let you know which types (if any) of emails they want to receive. 

Social media and blog posts

Consistently sharing your commitment to data privacy and security shows customers that you’re really committed and aren’t just pencil-whipping some compliance requirements. Write a blog post updating them on the latest developments when it comes to privacy and security, and point them to your own policy if they have any questions. When you see posts about privacy and security on social media, share them with a comment that reiterates your own commitment. The more you do this, the more consumers will associate your organization with privacy and security, until they become as much a part of your brand as your logo, trademark, etc.

CMOs for 2019 and beyond

CMOs play a much more strategic data role than they used to — or, at least, they should. I challenge you to do a quick self-assessment. If you see that you’re lagging behind in any of the skills discussed here, take the time to catch up while you still can. There’s a really exciting future waiting for CMOs who are ready for it. And your organization is counting on you (even if they don’t fully realize it yet).

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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