cmo of the month


“As a CMO, you get one shot, then you’re pushed out,” said Tony Pace, CMO at Subway.

The tenure of the average Chief Marketing Officer has been increasing, but it’s still the shortest tenure of any executive role. As recently at 2006, the average CMO lasted only 23 months. Starbucks replaced their head of marketing five times in seven years. Coca-Cola replaced theirs four times in six years. FedEx Kinko’s changed theirs three times in five years.

The average CEO lasts 8 years and the CFO lasts 10 years, but the CMO is out after 2-4 years. Why is there such a revolving door at the most senior marketing position?

One underlying factor is short-term thinking. Brand building doesn’t happen overnight and many marketing programs take time to incubate. Traditionally, it has been a challenge to prove the immediate ROI of many marketing programs. If CMOs don’t have a long enough runway, they can get pushed out before their initiatives bear fruit.

This can create a vicious circle, as each CMO change can give whiplash to the rest of the organization.

The good news is that CMO tenure, while low, is starting to rise and the role of the CMO is evolving. Analytics, technology, and mobile are all expanding the impact of marketing on a business. As CMOs embrace these new opportunities, their value in an organization will only increase.

Hopefully, over time, this will decrease the CMO Of The Month phenomenon.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the CMO role and tenure.

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

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17 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    I think this has to do with bad corporate culture and that business is results driven and senior management blame the marketing when business strategies go wrong and want the glory when strategies go well. We live in a short term culture in the west and this is just yet another example of short-termism.

  2. Hugh Griffiths says:

    I’m with Steve – at least partly, I think that it is a culture issue within larger companies and organisation. Communications and, probably to a greater extent, marketing is still seen by too many senior executives as a ‘service-role’ not a ‘strategy-role’. Despite the now complex landscape of media, communication and marketing functions needed senior teams have not always reconfigured their style of operation or pecking order of C-suite personnel.

  3. Louise says:

    Tom, as often your cartoon is poignant to something I am seeing right now.
    Firstly, marketing is being asked to deliver where sales have failed, and to deliver right now – no time for a real strategy (though the strategy presentation needs to have bells & whistles on there) – just more sales now.
    Secondly, there is still the feeling among execs that anyone can do marketing, (bigger logo, brighter colours, right).
    The combination, leaves the CMO vulnerable in the boardroom where everyone will have an opinion about what marketing should be doing, what is wrong with the latest campaign etc . So the CMOs position is a defensive rather than an offensive one.
    CMOs in this situation tend to have to navigate two extremes – either try to only go for marketing that can be measured with ‘hard data’ OR to dazzle with ‘feel good’ campaigns that make the company and its executives look good, at least for a while, while not yielding tangible results
    Unless marketeers manage to redefine the expectations of marketing in terms of the role in driving results for the organisation, CMOs will find themselves in this situation, at the bottom of the pecking order and on the back foot in the board room.

  4. Mark says:

    There is always a tendency to blame others rather than look closer to home. As the new boy in the board room there are a myriad of political and practical issues to overcome in order to become an established member of the team. Just as there are for the new guy in any department at any level of business. It is at least as important for CMO’s to engage in internal marketing as it is for them to market externally.

  5. Mark de Leeuw says:

    The fact that marketing results can not be fully measured makes it harder I think. I think that the people on top who “pay” for the marketing campaign expect results for their money. If no visible increase in (for example) brand recognition is achieved within a (probably too short) amount of time, they want to point fingers and say “you are to blame for this”. Even when some campaigns take longer to kick in in terms of measurable results. At the end of the road, people want to blame someone else for “failures” and who else than the person who is in charge of something…

  6. David Sprogis says:

    Every executive team needs a whipping boy and a scapegoat to throw to the board. The team member must be sufficiently senior to make an impact and sufficiently senior to take the blame. Because the CMO role is as much “art/fashion” as it is “science”, it is the role with the least number of facts and figures to back success or failure.

    As analytic techniques facilitate earlier trend detection, the CMO might soon have a fighting change.

  7. Jen says:

    I think the prior commenters are right on. I also think its interesting (and probably contributes to the short tenure of CMOs) that at some organizations, the lower levels of the organization “own” the P&L, and then all of the sudden, at some level it’s a division president or something of that ilk depending on the company.

    So in these cases you have this sr person in marketing without firm P&L ownership, and like other commenters mentioned, the board level P&L owners all think anyone can do marketing, plus the short term results mentality… and whamo… being the CMO starts to look like a hazardous position!

  8. Michael Boamah says:

    “When I got fired by my CEO, I told him: Mr President, as it seems that you think that no one is good enough for the job, why don’t you do it yourself ? And when you will fire yourself eventually, I will be more than happy to replace you as CEO”

  9. Christian says:

    At the risk of appearing cynical, I’ll say that 2–4 years can be the time it takes for the CMO to be found out. While there are undoubted marketing geniuses out there, too many others rely on hunch and hope. “Anyone can do marketing”, as Louise notes, and the amateurs know it. Worse, in a field where measurement and attribution are often problematic, failure is not always immediately obvious.
    One answer is to put the CMO at the heart of strategic decision-making, where her capability will be more rapidly assessed. The higher up you are, the harder it is to conceal your shortcomings. It’s where marketing belongs, anyway.
    Another factor is the rise and rise of targeted marketing, where results are far more transparently linked to marketing activity. Leaving fewer places to hide.
    CMOs will last longer in post when, as a profession, they deserve to.

  10. Francis says:

    Blah blah brand equity blah blah living the values blah blah social blah blah big data blah blah digital strategy blah blah… I think it’s easy to fire the guy who doesn’t speak a language anyone else around the board table understands. And if they can’t demonstrate ROI or explain the link between brand and financial value etc or what the benefit of that big data agency appointment is, it makes them even more vulnerable. The nail in their coffin is that CEO’s expect their CMO to be a certain type of person but, because there are at least three documented sorts of CMO, all with the same CMO moniker, 66% of the time they hire the wrong guy.

  11. Thebe Magapa says:

    This sound more like we have been witnessing about the roles of soccer coaches around the world. The role of CMO as part and parcel of the real long term strategy shouldn’t be treated on short term agenda. As previous people have mentioned, it is easy to blame CMO without really looking at the facts. Every day customers are bombarded with a load communication and it doesn’t take a weekend for them to change from Joe to Peter. They need to see and feel value perceptually before they switch and that is build over a period of time. Like in any organization is a team/multi-departmental issue rather than handling it in a Silo mentality.

  12. Woody says:

    While this CMO turnover dilemma is real…what is worse, it is happening at the next level down within marketing organizations as well. One leading Fortune 1000 company has had 4 CMO’s in the last 9 years … but equally worse, the department has had 52 direct reports in this same timeframe … 19 are still there in similar capacity, 22 are gone and 11 are working elsewhere in the company. The typical product line has had at least four different brand managers representing them…a couple as many as 9 different managers in 9 years! This type of turnover makes it almost impossible for anyone or any company to succeed in generating and delivering a consistent positive brand message.

  13. Peter says:

    Part of the problem is that marketing and corporate strategy overlap – CEO sees marketing as execution of his/her ingenious strategic thinking. If results do not appear – it’s not a wrong strategy – it’s bad marketing execution. So we find someone else who is able to deliver. CMOs need to reed Machiavelli and be very skilled in manipulation to be able to manage their bosses and stay in the saddle… ;-)

  14. Jim Foxworthy says:

    Thanks for another great cartoon and for stimulating good dialogue. I come to your website regularly for both!

    While I can relate to this blog post and the comments from others, I think we are all missing a big point: marketing is more than “go-to-market”.

    As Peter Drucker famously said, “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product fits him and sells itself.” This process begins before the product is built. CMOs who want to have a strategic impact, who want credibility at the executive table, must embrace their role in discovery of unsolved market problems, market sizing and product direction.

    The pressure to support sales will be exponentially lower when the product successfully addresses a problem that the buyer already believes they must solve.

  15. Chris says:

    Wow, I didnt know this. from a graphic designers point of view, this break neck swapping of CMOs in large corporations explains why theres so much unengaging content/marketing in the world. If you’re CMO of Starbucks for 2 years, what on earth could you actually get done that would save you job or have any real impact?

  16. Mark Olivito says:

    Great post, and cartoon to boot! All good points. One of the key gaps in not just the CMO slot, but the entire marketing FUNCTION, is more of a general management skillset. Many marketers cringe at the thought of a P&L, and it should be their greatest comfort. All businesses have 1 scorecard (the P&L) and the quicker marketers embrace it, the longer the CMO tenures will become.

  17. Leigh says:

    At the end of the day, much of a CMO’s success relies on his/her ability to articulate a vision and then execute on it. What I’ve seen firsthand is that a CMO will set the pace, but the organization is unable to follow the vision.

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