Airbnb Marketing Chief Jonathan Mildenhall Steps Down

Airbnb Marketing Chief Jonathan Mildenhall Steps Down

Home-sharing site searches for successor as Mr. Mildenhall exits to set up his own marketing consulting firm

After more than three years as the marketing czar of Airbnb Inc., Jonathan Mildenhall is departing the online home-rental company where he was known for promoting diversity in advertising and guiding the brand through controversies that attended its rapid growth.

The 50-year-old ad executive is leaving to start a consulting firm to help companies navigate an increasingly complex marketing business.

Airbnb, a closely held company valued at $31 billion, is working with search firm Spencer Stuart to find a new chief marketing officer. Mr. Mildenhall said he would continue to work with Airbnb on a consulting basis.

Mr. Mildenhall said he decided to start a new firm, called 21st Century Brand, after being approached by many high-profile startups and venture-capital firms seeking marketing advice.

“I am 50 and I probably have one last chapter of my career left, and I feel I could make a bigger contribution to the marketing industry,” said Mr. Mildenhall, whose career has includ ed stints at Coca-Cola Co. and ad agencies.

Mr. Mildenhall said he wants to help fix marketing, which is having a “crisis of confidence” because of the changes in media consumption and the growing importance of data and technology.

During his time at Airbnb, Mr. Mildenhall helped build the company’s brand awareness, drawing on a much-increased advertising budget. The company’s ad spending in the U.S. rose almost 60% last year to $64.7 million, according to estimates from Kantar Media. The spending figure doesn’t includ e some forms of digital advertising.

This year, Airbnb ran it first Super Bowl commercial, titled “We Accept.” The ad, which featured a montage of people of different nationalities, promoted ethnic diversity and inclusiveness as the country was embroiled in a debate over President Donald Trump’s proposed travel ban.

During Mr. Mildenhall’s tenure, Airbnb’s promotions have also relied on marketing partnerships, including a recent tie-up with Vice Media to offer custom-made travel packages to consumers as well as a new print magazine created as a joint-venture with Hearst Magazines.

Mr. Mildenhall said that joining with relevant brands is critical for companies today if they want to stand out in the advertising clutter that exists across most media.

His time at the company wasn’t without controversy. In 2015, Airbnb and Mr. Mildenhall apologized for the tone of an outdoor ad campaign in San Francisco that offered up various suggestions for how San Francisco could use the company’s tax payments. The effort struck the wrong chord with consumers and was eventually pulled.

For Airbnb, filling the marketing vacancy is critical, as the company faces increased competition from travel sites such as Expedia, which are moving deeper into the vacation-rental space. The company also continues to be challenged by the hotel industry, which is calling for the short-term rental market to be regulated.

“The tailwinds and headwinds have increased, so the responsibility with partnering with our public policy team is greater today than it was when I got to the company,” Mr. Mildenhall said.

Mr. Mildenhall’s departure comes weeks after the company selected Wieden & Kennedy as Airbnb’s creative agency of record, replacing Omnicom Group ’s TBWA.

The changing of a chief marketing officer can frequently lead to the selection of a new agency, but Airbnb said there would be no change and noted that Airbnb Chief Executive Brian Chesky was deeply involved in the selection of Wieden & Kennedy.

-The Wall Street Journal