Business management has a history of popularizing new concepts and then demonizing them with the same energy when they appear to not deliver the spectacular results originally promised. The chief marketing officer is becoming a poster child for this phenomenon and is in danger of becoming more road kill on the highway of discarded management ideas. In fact, when Verizon eliminated its company-wide CMO position in 2007, the claim was that the restructuring aimed to move marketing execution closer to customer-facing operations.
There is a pattern involved here, one that must be broken to achieve the benefit that originally spawned the CMO idea. The revolving-door phenomenon exacts an enormous price on the organization in terms of:
- Cost of hiring and firing
- Cost of productivity lost by changes in leadership
- Cost of staff turnover associated with changes in focus
- Continued deterioration of one’s competitive position
- Waste of marketing resources that are misdirected
- Loss of credibility for the CMO position no matter who is hired
- Erosion of company brand due to the revolving door
- Short-term orientation that prevents sustainable, longer-term marketing initiatives, such as competency development and aligning marketing to enterprise strategic objectives, from getting needed attention.
The first step to breaking the pattern is to recognize that a CMO is not a rock star or a senior vice president of marketing with a fancy new hat. The CMO is a partner with the CEO in terms of the creation and execution of strategy. This position is critical because the market, media, and customer environments are becoming too complex; CEOs and their boards need insight and ideas that pertain to business models, not just brands. The reality is that most marketing executives have not pursued a career path that qualifies for this role.
On the other side of the spectrum, CFOs are concerned about the economic value of marketing spend. The irony of these twin needs is that it suggests the CMO is bipolar and can simultaneously deal with macro and micro issues (assuming the knowledge to do both). To accomplish both objectives, the CMO needs a chief of staff similar to the role one often finds within sales in a sales operations position. In this manner, both needs are served without dilution of focus.
Thus, to end the revolving door:
- The strategic purpose of the position must be recognized and serve as a basis for hiring.
- A CMO charter document must be created and serve as a source for setting expectations.
- The CMO must be supported by a chief of staff representing marketing operations to complete the balance required for the position.
Whether it’s the economic climate or a growing recognition that scalability and sustained growth initiatives require continuity of marketing executive leadership, the average tenure for Chief Marketing Officers of leading consumer brands has increased nearly two-fold in the past five years to 42 months, according to Spencer Stuart.