A few years ago, many companies decided that the chief marketing officer title and role no longer made sense. What they wanted was a leader who could marry marketing (advertising) with brand growth. New titles came along such as chief marketing and revenue officer or chief growth officer. Hopping on that bandwagon were companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Uber and Johnson & Johnson.
A few years later, most companies have gone back to the “old” title of CMO.
The idea behind the title and role change made sense. In the words of David Ogilvy, the purpose of advertising is to sell. The problem of course is that, by itself, advertising (or marketing in general) cannot accomplish that when the headwinds of the world are decidedly negative. If the world gets bogged down by a global pandemic, a subsequent global manufacturing and shipping downturn, a global inflation wave, a global fuel shortage (thanks, Russia) and so on, it’s very clear a swanky ad or cute promotion is not going to make a difference.
Big companies like Target, Lowe’s and Walmart are showing that even they, with their wealth of data and consumer insights, could not foresee the wild shifts in consumer demand. And what is the poor CMO to do? Well, apparently the answer in boardrooms the world over is for CMOs to take the blame.
The short tenure of CMOs has always been a fun topic. Recently, Spencer Stuart researchers reported that “the average CMO tenure in 2021 was 40 months, tying 2020 as the lowest level in more than a decade, and the median tenure was 28 months. The average CEO tenure in 2021 was 85 months, more than double the average CMO tenure.”
That. Is. Crazy.
What is a CMO supposed to accomplish in at most 40 months? In less than 3.5 years? The first year is a wash anyway, because try as the CMO might, most of that year’s plan was created by the previous CMO. So the second year is really only the first year the new CMO can show what they can do. What will they do differently? What new initiatives do they launch?
The results of this activity won’t show until at least 24 to 36 months later. For most established brands and businesses, growth (if occurring at all) happens at a glacial pace. Do you think Coca-Cola, Pampers, Toyota, Heinz Ketchup or any other well-established brand can grow 5% in a year?
So CMOs are judged for results affected by forces well outside their control. And they are judged for results that are, in large part, driven by what their predecessors did (or didn’t) do, because growth occurs very slowly (if at all). But they are an easy boardroom scapegoat.
The website Sports Quotes and Facts wrote about the tenure of a UK Premier League Soccer first team coach (Ted Lasso’s job, for those not initiated). They reported that “on average, at the start of the 2019-20 Championship, a manager lasted 374 days, which is the equivalent of 1 year, 1 week and 2 days – that's less than half the average life span of a Premier League boss at the start of the 2019-20 top-flight campaign.”
CMOs are not far behind. And that is stupid.