It’s Hard Out Here For a CMO

Few roles in business are as fraught with uncertainty as that of the Chief Marketing Officer—so much so that the Harvard Business Review’s summer issue had five articles on the topic of “The Trouble With CMOs.” If you’re in marketing, read the whole issue for the equivalent of a college credit.

The first article, “Why CMO’s Never Last,” paints a pretty dire picture of the current climate, but also offers suggestions to CEOs on how to reframe the CMO’s job description and lower the turnover rate. The authors suggest four steps:

  • Define the role
  • Match responsibilities to the job’s scope
  • Align metrics with expectations
  • Find candidates with the right fit

Executive recruiter Greg Welch, in the fourth article of the five, writes that he and his colleagues are “unhappy about how frequently CMOs fail.”

When they do, it’s largely because of poorly managed expectations. CEOs today want CMOs to be growth officers, but not all marketing executives have the capabilities, experience, and leadership style needed to lift revenues and profits and simultaneously learn to navigate a new culture. Keeping everyone focused on the job specifications is part of the challenge.

Another interesting take just last week from HBR broke things down in “There Are 4 Futures for CMOs (Some Better Than Others)”. The four pathways are:

  • Up: CMOs are promoted into new roles.
  • Over: CMOs take over new responsibilities.
  • Down: CMOs lose influence and authority.
  • Out: CMOs leave the organization.

Of course, if you are a CMO, you want to avoid the last two options. This may (will probably) involve acquiring new skills and developing new strategies to keep up with the changing landscape. If you’re not willing to embrace the new realities, you’ll be happier changing careers. One way or another, that’s where you’ll be headed.

On the other hand, if you’re a CEO, it’s your responsibility to do a great job defining your expectations and finding the right person to fill the position. An essential part of being a leader in setting up your employees to succeed—and this should start before the first interview.

photo credit: vpickering The Flying Wallendas via photopin (license)