How to Extend the CMO Lifecycle

Fortunately, Button Bell knew she had strong support from Emerson’s CEO, and she paid personal visits to senior executives across the company to explain the reasoning behind the changes. “I got on an airplane and went to the squeakiest wheels first to try to bring them on board,” she says. “I also had tons of research into what our customers wanted. In the end, we became more unified as a company, and it helped us grow toward our brand promise.”

That was nearly 20 years ago, and Button Bell has served as CMO at Emerson since establishing her credibility with the rebrand, but such a long tenure is exceedingly rare in the marketing field. Indeed, the average CMO tenure is only around 43 months, less than half the average for CEOs, according to a recent report by Winmo.

With CMO tenure stuck in neutral, the onus is on CMOs to have a sharper sense of urgency.

“CMOs have a much bigger bulls-eye on their back in comparison to their C-suite counterparts,” says Jennifer Groese, CMO at Winmo. “Not only do CMOs have to be very intentional about what they do, but they have to do it with a high sense of urgency. It’s almost like the clock starts ticking after they take their seat.”

The Winmo report finds that CMOs “must show a positive impact in half the time of their C-suite counterparts.” When CMOs are under the gun to succeed, they are more likely to make choices based on short-term gains rather than long-term strategic growth, leading to a vicious cycle that may shrink their tenure even further.

“It’s hard to argue that fast timetables and rapid-cycle executions are a good thing,” says Peter Horst, a former CMO at The Hershey Company, TD Ameritrade, and other companies, and founder of CMO Inc., a consultancy for boards of directors and senior executives. “Most things that really matter take some time to develop, implement, and then take root in the marketplace.” To get a better sense of how brands and organizations spur longer CMO tenures, ANA magazine reached out to marketers and marketing experts for insights about how to bring more stability to the CMO position.

Take the Job with Eyes Wide Open

CMOs often fail to live up to expectations, experts say, because the bar is set impossibly high — or worse yet, there is no clear bar at all. “It’s often the case that CEOs and boards of directors don’t have a great understanding of marketing, and that leads to some dangerous disconnects,” Horst says. “Sometimes there’s magical thinking: CEOs will say, ‘Let’s bring in a marketer, we’ll do some of that cool viral digital stuff and it won’t cost that much, and we’ll double our growth.'”

To avoid this scenario, incoming CMOs have to be deliberate in laying out what they — and the marketing department — can and cannot do. For example, when Raja Rajamannar became the chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard in 2013 he reached out to other leaders for input before articulating marketing’s goals.

“In any organization, the first thing the CMO has to do is clearly understand what the expectations are from different parts of the company, starting with the CEO,” Rajamannar says. “Really talk to each one of them, say, ‘Why in your mind does marketing exist in the company? What is its role, and what is the accountability of the function?’ This seems like a simple question, but the answers are profoundly different from person to person and from company to company.”

Rajamannar translated what he heard into a clear brief on marketing’s purpose, which he shared across the company. “Re-articulate for the company and for your colleagues in the C-suite, ‘Here is what marketing will be responsible and accountable for,'” he says. “Through this process, you will have co-opted the other C-suite executives and members into the agenda creation for marketing and, at the same time, the [executives] have more clarity in what to expect.”

CMOs who are moving laterally should also be aware that expectations vary from one industry to another. According to Winmo’s research, for example, CMOs at financial services firms tend to have longer tenures than at digital business providers. “CMO roles are like snowflakes,” Horst says. “They vary so widely across industries and organizations, and even within the same industry.”

Before they take on a CMO role, executives can avoid a potential mismatch by ensuring they are on the same page with their boss. “Make sure that you have absolutely crystal clear, explicit understanding around what the role is, what is expected, what success looks like, and what resources are there,” Horst says.

 Cultivate the C-Suite

Marketing budgets are often high relative to those of other divisions, and when the ROI isn’t clear or returns don’t come fast enough, boards and executive leaders tend to grow restless.

“When the CEOs are seeing that the CMOs are not able to clearly establish a link between the significant marketing dollars being invested and improvements to their business, they get very impatient, and rightly so,” Rajamannar says. “If you are not able to justify where the money is going and what benefit they’re getting, they’re going to find somebody who knows how to do it.”

The first few months are critical for CMOs to forge strong working relationships with other senior executives in-house. “Make sure you learn the company and culture, including how decisions are made, and develop your agenda thoughtfully but reasonably quickly, so you can begin validating it and enrolling people in it and getting them on board,” Horst says. “There are tough decisions that will come and resources will be needed, so you want to make sure people understand what you’re trying to do.”

Getting senior-level colleagues involved in the ongoing work of marketing can also help generate buy-in from the top. When developing a new sonic brand for Mastercard, for example, Rajamannar reached out to his C-suite peers for their opinions. “When the final output comes, they feel a sense of ownership about it,” he says. “You’re not saying, ‘Here’s the sonic brand for Mastercard and now you all have to live with it.’ You pre-align with them, involve them, socialize your concepts with them, and very often you’ll find they have fantastic ideas.”

He adds, “When you involve people, they appreciate it quite a lot, and then they support you, and when a moment of support is needed, they are there for you, and that is extremely crucial.”

Button Bell agrees that CMOs should get their C-suite colleagues involved, but in a limited fashion. “Never take creative into a group situation for any kind of approval,” she says. “Making people part of the process does not mean everyone gets to vote on creative; marketing is not a democracy. But you have to make people feel like they participated somehow so they’re not surprised. You want people to care enough that they don’t resent you for spending a budget on something that might seem nebulous to finance guys and engineers. It’s care and feeding of people who are taking care of you.”

Scratch backs early and often while building rapport with other senior executives, but marketers also need to make sure they have data and market research to support their strategic and creative decisions. “Research is your sword and your shield,” Button Bell says.

Build a Strong Team, Inside and Out

Developing a high-functioning marketing team is essential for any CMO’s long-term success. “If you go out and find top talent, you’ll be orchestrating fantastic players and they will hit the ball out of the park,” Rajamannar says. “Many times, you’ll see that many CMOs may not necessarily want to hire top talent because they feel that their position becomes more dispensable. They should not have that kind of insecurity.”

Along with building a strong internal team, finding the right agency partners is pivotal for CMOs hoping for longevity. “The more successful the agency relationships, the more successful the CMO,” says Lisa Colantuono, president of AAR Partners, a national agency search consultancy based in New York City.

“Longer-tenured CMOs have solid partnerships with a best-in-class agency, or maybe two or three,” Colantuono adds. “They bring everybody to the table, and they help keep focus. CMOs can get a lot out of an agency — probably more than they might expect — by treating them as part of their marketing team, and not holding things close to the vest, but sharing and getting in the weeds with them.”

Don’t take lightly the importance of bringing in top people — and invest time and money to find the right agency partners. “Every CMO should be involved in the pitch process, from beginning to end,” Colantuono says. “CMOs who do well are those who allow their teams to do their jobs. They’re not micromanaging, but they’re listening carefully, and helping keep focus and sail in the right direction with the north star ahead.”

Keep Learning and Adapting

CMOs face a constant challenge to deliver growth in an increasingly complex, data-driven landscape, which can be a major source of stress.

For instance, a recent Marketing on My Mind survey of 558 CMOs by Brand Keys asked CMOs what keeps them up at night, and the top responses were ROI, big data, big tech, and big security issues.

“The role of the CMO has transformed drastically over the last 10 years with the explosion of digital,” says Ann Lewnes, EVP and CMO at Adobe for the past 12 years. “CMOs are caught between two divergent forces during this transformational time — managing expectations from peers and stakeholders around ‘traditional’ marketing functions, while evolving the role to drive the business growth that is expected of the modern day CMO. Reconciling the two can be challenging and result in overall shorter tenures.”

The key for CMOs to keep their job is to constantly invest in learning and experimentation, and to foster a culture that stresses innovation and accountability. “Learning is very critical, whether it is blockchain, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, or whatever,” Rajamannar says. “The CMO has to constantly reinvent himself or herself to stay relevant and drive effective campaigns. Keeping yourself at the cutting edge is a big deal.”

It’s also crucial to build a marketing function with the capacity to measure progress on many fronts. “It’s critical for every CMO today to be able to prove the value of every marketing dollar and its impact on the business to give marketing the seat at the table it deserves,” Lewnes says. “At Adobe, we measure everything through sophisticated econometric modeling, media attribution, and a data-driven operating model that gives us real-time insights across the customer journey. … Know your numbers, institute a culture of testing, and use data to iterate and continually improve upon the customer experience. Embody the growth mindset by taking risks and innovating; and be sure to celebrate not only the successes, but also the failures, because those will be the experiences that teach you the most. Above all, focus on results — this will be your best asset in the long-run.”

Of course, there are short-term tenure cases that stem from good reason: when the CMO leaves voluntarily to take on a bigger and better opportunity. “While there are the inevitable changes within our study each year, one of the messages that often gets lost, given the fixation on the current tenure number, is that many of the changes are a result of marketers being asked to take on roles and responsibilities beyond the marketing organization,” says Greg Welch, a member of Spencer Stuart’s Consumer Practice who created the first-ever annual survey of CMO tenure (see sidebar). “This, of course, is good news.”


The CMO’s First 100 Days: Action Plan

Companies invest significant time and energy in hiring a new CMO, but then offer little guidance for how to have a successful first 100 days and beyond, according to Greg Welch, a consultant at executive search firm Spencer Stuart, where he has worked for 20 years, and who created the company’s annual CMO tenure study.

The firm’s 15th annual study, which will be released in the first half of this year, is expected to show that the average CMO tenure is roughly 44 months. That’s more or less in keeping with the findings from the most recent study. Welch says that to extend the CMO lifecycle, Spencer Stuart strongly advises CMOs to create an onboard plan for the CMO’s first 100 days.

Below, Welch provides a blueprint for brands and organizations.

  •     Before Day One: CMOs need to think about what they need from the organization. Who in the organization can help provide guidance for the 100-day plan? Understanding the wisdom inherent in the company is critical. Who should the CMO meet in the organization prior to day one?
  •     Align Expectations: What other relationships are especially critical in terms of establishing expectations for the position? Asking the other C-suite leaders what they want and expect from the marketing team is critical.
  •     Shaping Your Marketing Team: CMOs need to be thoughtful in how they present themselves to the team. What is the tone marketers want to strike? And CMOs gets to know their teams, what are the appropriate questions for CMOs to ask to assess the team’s capabilities? In addition, how does the CMO determine appropriate changes to make to the team? It is not uncommon to see a new CMO come in and change the team’s roles and responsibilities entirely.
  •     Craft Your Strategic Agenda: CMOs should consider who will be involved in helping create their strategic agenda. Then, how broadly does the CMO communicate his or her agenda and what are the most appropriate platforms to execute?
  •     Keep Culture Front and Center: Speed is a must when it comes to corporate culture. What initial steps can be taken to help transform the marketing culture? As part of this equation, how does the CMO assess who is aligned with the target culture and who is aligned with the current culture? Particularly when someone is new to the organization, it is a perfect time to find out people’s hopes and dreams as part of the onboarding meetings.
  •     Spread the Word: As part of the first 100 days, CMOs need to identify the critical audiences they must communicate with, and once these audiences are identified, what are the appropriate platforms and frequency to communicate with these audiences?

By Chuck Kapelke

The following is republished with the permission of the Association of National Advertisers. Find this and similar articles on ANA Newsstand.


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