CMOs: How To Cheat A Quick Death

The marketing industry loves gossiping about the short tenures of chief marketing officers (CMOs). An over-cited backdrop is a stat from a 2004 study by recruiting firm Spencer Stuart, which reported that CMO tenure among top-advertised brands was 23.6 months.

While that number has become folklore, Spenser Stuart’s updated study suggests that CMO tenure has actually skyrocketed to 42.0 months in 2010. (Even I’m at 53 months as head of marketing at my firm.)

That’s a huge improvement and nearly on par with the length of a U.S. presidential term. Still, it’s far below the average tenure of CEOs of the top 100 advertised brands, which is 111 months.

What must a CMO do to be successful?

This was a top subject during a recent advisory board meeting of the Wharton School’s Future of Advertising initiative. The FoA brings together CMOs, brand marketers, agency leaders, technology innovators, and academics to tackle big issues pertinent to the future of marketing and advertising.

During that meeting, I collaborated with a smaller group to discuss the question, “What must a CMO do to increase tenure and be successful?”

We identified four strategies to help CMOs cheat a quick death and actually succeed:

1. Buy time. Most new CMOs face fundamental longer-term problems, and surfacing and addressing them requires time and patience. To achieve success, you have to lengthen tenure -- as a matter of physics.

2. Identify and simplify the problem. Have you invested the time and rigor needed to deeply understand your business, surface problems and translate them into simple, manageable constructs? What is the yardstick that signals success for the single or few core issues you must resolve.

3. Achieve quick wins. Tackling strategic problems take time -- always more time than stakeholders are willing to wait. To buy time, you must win confidence while you tackle the strategic problems. You must make some quick wins. A sales blitz is among the best tactics to achieve quick, short-term success.

4. Balance the short and long term. You must achieve short-term wins to buy time, show confidence and spark momentum, but you must also execute on the long term, in parallel. Simultaneously balancing the short and the long view is difficult, but every day matters when working to achieve long-term outcomes in the shortest possible time.

These points may seem trivial at face value. But they are enlightening when you consider that perhaps the biggest challenge of a CMO is effectively prioritizing and executing in the face of a daunting triumvirate: complexity, time, and impatient stakeholders.

How is your CMO doing?

Thriving or endangered?

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2 comments about "CMOs: How To Cheat A Quick Death".
  1. Walter Sabo from SABO media , April 17, 2012 at 5:29 p.m.
    The issue is that the CMO job is new in history. CEO's did not come up through ranks that included CMO's. They have no idea what to do with them because the CEO's their respected did the marketing job. The head of American Products---William LaPorte actually wrote copy! The problem isn't with the CMO as much as it is with CEO's who have no experience managing the position.
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , April 17, 2012 at 5:49 p.m.
    How many people including the CEO know what the CMO does or what marketing is or does or does not do?