Life can be tenuous at the top for marketing executives. An “unusually high number” of well-known brands have replaced their CMOs this year, according to leadership consulting firm Spencer Stuart. The CMO tenure curse has become a perennial topic. High CMO turnover creates a gigantic ripple effect across agency partners and internal marketing teams.
Spencer Stuart cites several reasons for instability in the top marketing role:
- Poor alignment between the CEO and CMO on marketing’s mission and timeline for results.
- Unrealistic expectations for the executives who are often expected to blend “magic” (creative) and “logic” (data).
- Lack of clear priorities for the position, which leads to poor job assessments.
- Failure to recognize the new challenges CMOs face, which prompts a mismatch between the executives hired and required skills.
- Industry consolidation due to corporate acquisitions.
A new breed of CMOs is emerging in response to the changing landscape. Those who succeed typically demonstrate outstanding communications skills needed to drive positive change, team-building skills, and a commitment to ongoing learning combined with a willingness to drop preconceived notions.
A Question of Delegating and Leadership
High CMO turnover is not surprising, says Keith Ferrazzi, CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a consulting and training company and a former CMO. Executive leaders still seem to think CMOs must have expertise in every aspect of their role, “In most cases that is a prescription for failure,” Ferrazzi writes in Harvard Business Review.
CMOs who try to improve all areas under their jurisdiction or focus only on their strengths will likely find their jobs in peril. Success requires delegating responsibility and even leadership of some functions. It also calls for building a multi-disciplinary team that includes other executives in the organization, including the CEO, in addition to marketing personnel they oversee.
“If you are a modern CMO, your ‘team” (in quotes deliberately) may include the chief product officer, the head of sales and sales support, the chief strategy officer, those responsible for data and analytics, and the most creative people in the company who have a sense of the brand,” he says.
The best CMOs overcome dynamics and conflicts within their team. They understand that individuals need varying degrees of coaching, cajoling, and encouragement, and they can enlist and engage their peers.
Good Data Can Help
Many challenges that CMOs face can be solved or alleviated with the right data, argues Jeff Pruitt, chairman and CEO of Tallwave. While companies increasingly turn to data analytics to reach decisions, many grapple with outdated, inaccurate or inaccessible data, Pruitt writes in Inc. Legacy systems and department silos pose challenges. Integrating systems requires gaining support from all players involved, from upper management to those on the front lines. A data analytics system that is accessible to and tailored for all departmental functions works best.
“Focusing on the benefits — increased retention, company alignment, improved marketing and product decisions — will be essential to gaining buy-in,” Pruitt asserts. “Marketers have to advocate for clean, accurate and current data. It will be the only way to tie customer experience to innovation, drive the alignment you need to execute on your goals, and demonstrate the return on your efforts.”
Bottom Line: CMO turnover is increasing as the executives endure intensified responsibilities and sometimes unrealistic challenges. Those who succeed form mutually beneficial partnerships with other executives across the organization and facilitate rather than accomplish goals themselves.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.