Commentary

Why Everyone Thinks They Can Be A CMO -- And Why They're Wrong

It is by now a well-established fact that CMO tenures are the shortest in the C-suite. There are many theories about why this is so, such as CMOs being held accountable for more than marketing can control, or that it’s harder for CMOs to prove the value of their function to the rest of the C-suite.

I, however, would like to put forward an alternative, less discussed theory: Everyone thinks they could be a CMO.

It’s not uncommon to find other members of the C-suite -- not trained or experienced in marketing -- who think they could be just as effective doing their CMO’s job. And as a result, good CMOs simply aren’t valued as highly as they should be. 

Many execs consider themselves advertising experts

Everyone has an opinion on advertising. We all have an idea of what constitutes “good advertising” -- and, by extension, many of us consider ourselves something of an expert in marketing.

For a lot of people, anything that makes us smile, laugh or share gets our stamp of approval. More insightful people may think of good advertising as the kind that prompted them to take action and buy something, though most individuals are unlikely to be truly capable of that level of self-awareness about their decision-making process.

It’s understandable, then, that senior executives who are not CMOs bring their own preconceived notions of what good advertising looks like to the boardroom. They see advertising every day -- and, based on their personal experiences, form opinions on how their companies should market themselves.

Think of your CMOs like professional chefs

A similar dynamic plays out in the restaurant world. Everyone eats. Almost everyone cooks, and most people eat in restaurants from time to time, so many people think that they could open a great restaurant and make it a success. But though restaurants are one of the most commonly opened businesses, they also suffer from extremely high failure rates.

C-suite members who think they can do what CMOs do are like the amateur restaurateurs of the marketing world. Their CMOs, however, are the professional chefs.

Treat your CMOs as you would like to be treated

This false sense of expertise does not operate in both directions. Executives do not enter the boardroom with strong opinions of what good operations look like, because people don’t manage or observe supply chains in their spare time. The same goes for HR, finance, law or any other specialist professional skill.

CMOs are somewhat unique in this respect and are likely to receive more pressure from their peers than other C-suite executives will. 

 

In defense of the under-valued but incredibly valuable CMO, I’d like to implore business leaders to finally recognize that marketing is a specialist skill like any other -- and one that requires intelligence, strong intuition, years of training, and innate talent to master. Let’s recognize that our own personal experiences do not make us experts. And let’s treat CMOs with the respect they deserve.

3 comments about "Why Everyone Thinks They Can Be A CMO -- And Why They're Wrong".
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  1. Ronald Kurtz from American Affluence Research Center, March 19, 2022 at 1:04 p.m.

    There is a lot of truth in this, eventhough advertising is just a part of the marketing function. Another reason for short CMO tenure is that it is the first line of defense for the CEO who is under pressure. The CMO is often a scape goat. 

  2. John Luma from iLumaNation, March 19, 2022 at 2:19 p.m.

    I saw this all the time in entertainment marketing, particularly as it applied to the huge visible impact of On-Air Promotion. As one brand new CEO told me, "I have to make significant changes in the success of this Network asap. It will take me a year or more to do that improving our programming. But I can make it look like we are better in a week or two, by immediately improving our nightly slate of promos." 

    He was really good at marketing. But he was let go three years later because as CEO he spent too much time on marketing, and not enough time improving the programs.

  3. Donald Buckley from Treehouse, March 23, 2022 at 2:24 p.m.

    So true. When a then-and-now-legendary creative marketing executive joined Warner Bros. Pictures once upon a time, he was told by an also-legendary publicity executive, "Just remember.  Everyone here at the studio has two jobs - theirs, and yours."  Marketing is better, more creative, more effective when left to the experts.

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