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July 07, 2004

The Shrinking Tenure of CMOs

If you work in the marketing department of a mid-to-large size organization, you have no doubt experienced the arrival of a Chief Marketing Officer parachuting in to rescue the brand by barking orders and acting as a supreme agent of change.

Six months later, the only changes are a severe drop in morale of the marketing department, drastic strategic changes in the marketing creative, and ultimately … the company CHANGES its mind and dumps the CMO. Sound familiar? (It does to me.)

Spencer Stuart, a global executive search firm, has recently issued a report on the shrinking tenure of CMOs. Their “CMO Tenure: Slowing Down the Revolving Door” report analyzes the performances of marketing execs of high-ranking brands to determine what is driving this trend and what can be done to reverse the CMO revolving door.

Interesting nuggets from this report include:

CMO Tenure Stats

  • Average tenure for CMOs: 22.9 months (at the top 100 branded companies).
  • Average tenure for CEOs: 53.8 months.
  • Only 14% of CMOs for top global brands have been with their present company for more than three years.
  • Nearly 50% of CMOs for top global brands are within 12 months of being on the job.
  • The Business Impact of Shrinking CMO Tenures

  • Companies often face financial hardship with incoming CMOs due to changing strategic marketing direction and to being out-of-the-market for an extended period of time.
  • Many times the new CMO challenges their predecessor’s strategy resulting in the current ad agency being fired or put into a tailspin of unproductivity.
  • The morale of the marketing department suffers greatly as the new CMO will many times bring in outside “hired guns” to lead the development of marketing strategy.
  • By bringing in an outsider to lead the marketing department, it raises questions regarding the career path for the company’s star marketers.
  • The Factors Driving the Shrinking CMO Tenure Trend

  • Misaligned performance expectations between the CEO, the CMO, the board of directors, the shareholders, and the media can cause major rifts within the company.
  • Over-promising and under-delivering by the CMO because s/he doesn't fully understand the complexities of the company’s business strategies and the challenges in navigating through operational issues.
  • A poor cultural fit between the ethos of the CMO and the company’s cultural credo.
  • Actions CMOs can take to Lengthen their Tenure

  • Incoming CMOs should speak with either the outgoing CMO or other former Sr. Execs to gain perspective on the company’s strategic direction and the reputation of the marketing department.
  • To build initial credibility, new CMOs can promote a few employees within the company who embody the “gold standard” of performance.
  • Convey a positive attitude towards the company’s prior marketing efforts and do not assume all previous work was off strategy.
  • Spend the first 60 to 90 days in assessment mode and then choose two or three impact areas to focus on for the short-term and the long-term.

    Further Learning:
    In Brandweek’s 2004 Superbrands special report, journalist Todd Wasserman explores if “… the cult of the star CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) has been good for business. Or do these marketers just ride in, make a splash – and leave behind a mess in their wake?” (Click here to download the PDF (69 pgs.).

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    In the 7 years that I was at Coke, we had 4 different CMOs (Sergio Zyman, Charlie Frenette, Steve Jones and Dan Palumbo) and just last week Chuck Fruit became CMO. It is very tough, because usually the new CMO gets rid of everything the prior guy championed and comes up with his own stuff for everyone to focus on. A lot of things get thrown away, which wastes time and money. Besides, people end up spending more time trying to get in front of the new CMO and get on his good side than they do doing their jobs. In year one you jockey for position, in year two you finally get to work, and at the end of year two they leave. It's insane.

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