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Unilever's Weed On Top of 'Forbes' Top 50 CMOs List; Women Take 26 Spots

Forbes has unveiled its 50-person list of The World’s Most Influential CMOs, with an uptick in the roster of women but with Keith Weed, Unilever’’s chief marketing and communications officer, in the top spot for second year in a row. This year’s list includes 23 executives who weren’t on it last year. 

One more than half of the top CMOs on the list are women, up from 17 last year. 

Five of the top ten are the top marketing executives at communications/technology firms, led by Twitter’s Leslie Berland (#3), HP’s Antonio Lucio (#4) Adobe’s Ann Lewnes (#6), Apple’s Phil Schiller (#7) and Marc Mathieu, from Samsung Electronics America (#10). 

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As in 2017, Forbes worked with Spinklr and LinkedIn to rank the executives in the CMO office (or with an equivalent title.) They looked at how companies and their CMOs are working to make their brands “become more human and approachable” as the role of marketing is changing

Weed is not an unexpected choice as top marketing executive just as he was the logical pick last year. With the advertising clout of Unilever behind him, Weed has insisted in public forums that Facebook, Twitter and Snap in get their houses in order and cut out fake news and randy content, or face the consequences. Weed is well known for advocating “three Vs” — viewability, verification and value — that keeps Unilever and Weed in the spotlight. 

Just a few days ago, Weed said Unilever is cutting off its association with influencers who “buy” followers. Weed told Reuters, “Trust comes on foot and leaves on horseback, and we could very quickly see the whole influencer space be undermined.” 

Rounding out the top 10 in the study are Linda Boff, CMO and chief learning officer at GE; Leslie Berland, CMO and head of people at Twitter; Antonio Lucio, global chief marketing and communication officer at HP Inc.; Raja Rajamannar, chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard; Ann Lewnes, CMO at Adobe; Phil Schiller, senior VP of worldwide marketing at Apple; Dean Evans, CMO at Hyundai; Kristin Lemkau, CMO at JPMorgan Chase; and Marc Mathieu, CMO at Samsung Electronics America.

As the Forbes team chose the top 50, they looked at last year’s winners and “one truth rapidly became clear” says a report that accompanies the list. “Influence is self-reinforcing.” People with more influence get more attention, leading to even more influence. 

Leading CMOs  create “a virtuous circle between their corporate brand and their personal influence. For some CMOs that means speaking, writing, and sharing their voice in the larger world — so that they build up capital that can help them influence crucial decisions on customer experience or other core aspects of their business. Other CMOs have little interest in cultivating a reputation beyond their own company; they focus on building internal influence as a way of shaping the larger business. Strengthening the company’s growth trajectory naturally enhances the CMO’s own influence, further contributing to their capacity to drive key business decisions.” 

The report continues, “For the most part, CMOs who dropped down or off the list received significantly less media or social media attention in 2017/18 than the year before. Meanwhile, it took even more attention to get to the top of the 2018 list. For example, while 2017’s top 50 received roughly four times as much media coverage as the average CMO, this year our top 50 received five times as much coverage.”

People of color make up  only a very small handful of the Top 50. “While the C-suite remains disproportionately white, some CMOs of color have taken on the mantle of advocating for diversity within the enterprise, while others use their position to bring attention or resources to specific communities,” the report says. Likewise, a survey by the Association of National Advertisers released three months ago showed that 45% of its 747 client-side marketing members are women,  but only 13% are minorities, and African Americans are least represented of all (3%).

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