WHY CMO Tenures Are So Short

Posted by: David Kiley on June 20, 2006

The recent study by recruting firm Spencer Stuart showing the average tenure of a chief marketing officer to be just 23.2 months, down from 23.6 months in 2004 is sobering and troubling.

At a time when companies are bending over backwards to measure return-on-investment, and when the media landcape is changing almost hourly, one would think that smart companies would want to maintain some continuity in their marketing department. Or, is it that measures of ROI are getting so good that bad CMOs are more readily “found out.”

Here are a couple of other scenarios to consider. I know a global CMO who is very close to leaving his post. A big reason is that his CEO has structured the job so that he has no budget to control. He is supposed to operate as a global orchestra conductor with no power to fire bad violinists and trumpeters in the various operating regions. In a big global operation with regional profit-and-loss centers, a person with no budget and no hiring and firing capacity has no carrot and no stick to motivate people. At his company, he bis treated like a roving marketing consultant who can be easily ignored.

Here is another scenario. Another CMO I know who tells me he is very frustrated in his job has responsibility for North America. He came from the sales side of the company, though he held some lower level marketing jobs along the way. The company he works for is making noises, he says, about rotating him to another job after just 30 months in the CMO job. He isn’t being demoted. In fact, on his company’s ladder, the job they have in mind for him is a promotion. The trouble is that he likes being CMO, and doesn’t want to go to the new job. Morever, the guy they have in mind to succeed him as CMO has been toiling away in finance. That guy is being rotated to the CMO job to give him experience, not to help the company or its brands.

Clearly, part of the problem with the CMO position is that some companies have created the title out of a sense of fashion need. Creating the title all by itself communicates to the world, goes the theory, that you are a company serious about marketing. Talk and titles are cheap, though.

Until the CMO job is viewed as a legitimate road to the CEO’s office, it will be a step-child position. The alternative is to create the position and fill it with a person who wants to be a marketer, and is good at it. Create the pay-scale around the job that will reward a marketing professional for doing good work. And at a company that is heavily dependent on its brand value, that person should be a legit candidate to be CEO. If the CMO hasn’t the breadth of operations experience a company likes to see before promoting them to CEO, then why not allow the qualified and superior CMO-turned CEO to recruit and hire from within or outside the company a first-rate chief operating officer to work with.

A friend of mine who has always worked in investment banking told me more than 20 years ago that marketing wasn’t something you had to study in college. I was trying to chart my academic career at the time. A B-School graduate himself, marketing, he maintained, is something to learn at a two-day conference, not study in school. That mentality is still found far and wide in big business, particularly among the “masters of the universe” who started out in business in the mid to late 1960s and early 70s. In other words—many of today’s CEOs. Thankfully, that school of thought, we hope, is headed into retirement along with that generation of management leaders.

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Reader Comments

Liz Glagowski

June 27, 2006 05:21 PM

It's true that a CMO has the potential to carry an organization forward. But it's also true that many of these positions within companies don't have the authority to actually make a difference. Having a seat at the boardroom table isn't the same thing as running the meeting.

Ted McConnell

October 31, 2006 11:12 PM

maybe trial and error is a good strategy to find the right person. Or... maybe.. hype has become so commonplace in marketing that 23 months is the average time between the introduction of an idea and the trough of disillusionment.

A good CMO should be good at making a difference with a minimum of formal authority. The power to persuade, I would think, is an important job qualification. t.

Ted McConnell

October 31, 2006 11:24 PM

maybe trial and error is a good strategy to find the right person. Or... maybe.. hype has become so commonplace in marketing that 23 months is the average time between the introduction of an idea and the trough of disillusionment.

A good CMO should be good at making a difference with a minimum of formal authority. The power to persuade, I would think, is an important job qualification. t.

darryl

November 5, 2006 08:41 AM

I agree with the points you raise about the need for the CMO role to be appropriately structured and positioned in the company. As a CMO of a large american subsidiary of a global company, I have seen the role evolve and go through it's growing pains. (I am in the position 14 months, so I suppose I am in my mid-life).

However, another consideration which may be contributing to this phenomena is that CEO tenure itself is getting shorter and shorter. Often times when a new CEO comes to town the marketing person is the first to go. This may be because changing the whole marketing and branding game is a gooway to visibly show that with the new CEO there will be a "brand new day." It may also be, as you point out in your post, because of the CEOs lack of understanding of the proper positioning of the role. Of course, it may simply be the case that when the change of CEO is caused by lackluster performance of the company, it is often the case that the marketing has been lackluster as well.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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