Chief Executive Article on Executive Fit

How to Help Your CMO Survive and Thrive

Posted by: Matthew Sawyer August 21, 2014, Chief Executive Magazine

CMOs are often hired to lead the company to new heights through marketing, but rarely is their role well-defined. CEOs can and should help.

Chief marketing officers are perishing at a fast pace. Headlines such as “The Most Dangerous Job in Business” and “The Disposable CMO” are flooding the news.

“A SpencerStuart study found the average CMO tenure is 45 months.”

Starbucks replaced their marketing head five times in seven years; Coca-Cola replaced theirs four times in six years. Recently, a SpencerStuart study found the average CMO tenure is 45 months, which is an improvement over 23 months in 2006, but it’s still only half as long as chief executives.

Why is this happening? One reason is because marketing is increasingly complicated  and dynamic, subject to perpetual change. An article in the July-August issue of The Harvard Business Review stated, “Tools and strategies that were cutting edge just a few years ago are fast becoming obsolete, and new approaches are appearing every day.” Growing volumes of data from more sources needs to be validated and analyzed. New marketing communications and distribution channels must be mastered. Plus the CEO, along with the entire organization, expects to see metrics and results almost immediately.

CEOs can help these marketing department casualties be avoided through the following steps.

1. Clearly Define the Role

“A big problem is CEOs’ difficulty articulating what the role is,” said David Edelman, global co-leader at McKinsey Digital Marketing and Sales. How much central accountability and budget control should there be? What channels should he/she orchestrate? How much power is the person given to define the brand experience, etc. “Few executive teams are aligned enough on what the full role would be for someone to succeed.”

“CEOs should hire someone whose values are consistent with the organization but bring a style and mindset that complements the team and sparks new thinking and innovation.”

2. Set Realistic Goals and Expectations

CMOs are often tasked with the difficult jobs of delivering both short-term revenue growth andincreased long-term brand equity. “I ask our CMO—just as we do for all managers— to set realistic goals and be accountable for them,” noted Michael Hansen, CEO of Cengage Learning. “If she succeeds, we all succeed.”

3. Be Prepared to Feel Uncomfortable

When looking for a CMO, companies often hire someone who will “fit in” with the culture. That encourages status quo thinking. Chuck Presbury, executive leadership assessment expert and coach, explains, “CEOs should hire someone whose values are consistent with the organization. But in addition, they should bring a style, and mindset that complements the team and sparks new thinking and innovation. The CEO’s job is to nurture their difference in “fit” so the spark takes root and elevates everyone’s thinking.”

4. Give Them Time

Counter to the business mantra to “hire slow and fire fast,” CMOs need time to learn the nuances of the business, industry and organization. “Companies are too quick to pull the trigger,” said the CMO for a high-growth technology company. “If a CMO feels there is only a short window to prove themselves, they’ll focus on quick wins rather than marketing innovation and sustainable growth.”

Following these 4 tips in your hiring/integration process will help ensure that your CMO succeeds for both him/herself and the company.

Matthew Sawyer is Managing Partner of Rocket Market Development LLC, which helps small and medium-sized businesses find new paths to revenue. He also is an Adjunct Professor teaching business strategy at Parsons, The New School for Design.