Are Good CMOs Hard to Find?

“Why is it more difficult to find and retain CMOs than CEOs?” asked a prominent venture capitalist. His company invests in technology companies but turnover of Chief Marketing Officers is an issue facing companies of all sizes and industries. Starbucks replaced their marketing head five times in seven years; Coca-Cola replaced theirs four times in six years. Recently, a SpencerStuart study found the average Chief Marketing Officer tenure is 45 months, an improvement over 23 months in 2006, but still just half as long as chief executives.

One reason is that marketing is increasingly complicated. An article in the July-August issue of The Harvard Business Review stated, “Tools and strategies that were cutting edge just a few years ago are fast becoming obsolete, and new approaches are appearing every day.” More data from more sources needs to be validated and analyzed. New marketing channels of communication and distribution must be mastered. 



To better understand why turnover is so high among marketing leaders, I asked several business executives and experts, who provided these insights and opinions:

More Dynamic and Multifaceted

“Marketing is more dynamic with so many more tools and avenues available,” said Carl Cohen, CMO of MGM Resorts International’s CityCenter, Las Vegas. “It’s not that it is more complicated; it’s just more difficult to stay up to speed on everything.”

Michelle Bottomley, Global CMO for Mercer, said CMOs need to “play the tactical notes as well as orchestrate strategies for sustainable revenue growth… [They] need to assess where marketing can add the most value, and be actively involved in the sales process.” (Noteworthy, Michelle recently took on responsibility for sales, in addition to marketing, at the consulting firm with over 20,000 employees.)

Rapid Pace and Demands

The pace of marketing has sped up, too. “It's all about velocity,” said Marc Morgenstern, former CMO of Concord Music Group. “The demands for quick action and quick results are more immediate. Senior executives want performance metrics almost daily.” 

“Companies are too quick to pull the trigger,” said the CMO of an ad-tech company. “If the CMO feels there is only a short window to prove themselves, they’ll focus on quick wins rather than marketing innovation and sustainable growth.”

Unclear Roles and Responsibilities

CMOs are often hired to lead the company to new heights but rarely is their role well defined. David Edelman, Global Co-leader at McKinsey Digital Marketing and Sales, said, "A big problem is CEO’s difficulty articulating what the role is. How much central accountability and budget control? What channels to orchestrate? How much power to define the brand experience?, etc. Few executive teams are aligned enough on what the full role would be for someone to succeed." 

Carl Cohen noted that CMOs often have “responsibility but not the authority.” For example, his marketing team can work with others to design the ideal guest check-in experience for each of their many hotels, casinos, and resorts around the world, but they don’t control the local staff and operations. 

Wrong Fit

Companies often hire a CMO who will “fit in” with the culture. Chuck Presbury, executive leadership expert and coach, explains, “CEOs should hire someone whose values are consistent with the organization. But in addition they should bring in a different style, mindset that complements the team, and sparks new thinking and innovation.”

Another problem is the stage and size of the company. Early stage companies need a CMO with vision, flexibility, and takes action quickly; later they need a CMO with analytical and strategic skills to build infrastructure, lead teams, and manage politics. CMOs hired from large companies often have trouble adapting to smaller companies’ lack of resources, infrastructure, and quicker pace. 

Bright Spots Exist

There are CMOs who have lasted for years in their roles. David Kenny, Chairman and CEO of The Weather Company, identified several CMOs with longevity, including John Hayes at American Express and Trish Mueller at Home Depot. He said, “These CMOs have a deep unwavering understanding of their brands, so they can constantly experiment without deviating from brand values.  And their CEOs are also unwavering in their support – the right CEO-CMO partnership is key to making marketing work.”

The issue is probably not that CMOs are hard to find and retain, but that organizations need to help them thrive and survive.

1 comment about "Are Good CMOs Hard to Find?".
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  1. Simon Davis from Sanders, September 19, 2014 at 3:36 a.m.

    Having seen a number of CMO's oversell what they can achieve I think the turnover is often a result of poor quality CMO's claiming that they can deliver the earth. Getting the job may be the easy part of the brief, the hard part may be delivering what has been promised. Having worked with small companies such as True Blue Loans, I know what a smart CMO looks like for a small start up. This CMO would not last 10 minutes in a corporate environment as he / she does not work on a corporate level and the thought of developing a Powerpoint presentation for the Board would not happen.

    However, I still stand by my view that too many CMO's oversell their abilities.

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