CMO Tenure – 4 Strategies For Success

Ticking Clock MidnightSpectators and players in the marketing industry love playing monday-morning quarterback when it comes to the short tenures of chief marketing officers (CMOs).

An over-cited backdrop is a stat from a 2004 study by recruiting firm Spencer Stuart, which reported that CMO tenure among top-advertised brands was 23.6 months. While that number sticks in the marketing industry’s psyche and passes around like gospel, Spenser Stuart’s updated study suggests that CMO tenure has actually skyrocketed to 42.0 months in 2010.

That’s a huge improvement and nearly on par with the length of a U.S. presidential term. Still, it’s far below the average tenure of the CEOs of the top 100 advertised brands, which is 111 months.

I ignore these stats when considering my own tenure (49 months now) as marketing VP of my firm, because success and failure is situational and influenced by a wide range of variables. Still, the short lifecycle of CMOs relative to other C-suite execs prompts an interesting question:

What must a CMO do to be successful?

This was the dinner conversation at my table during the annual advisory board meeting of the Wharton School’s Future of Advertising initiative last week. The FoA brings together CMOs, brand marketers, agency leaders, startup and technology innovators, and academics to better understand and tackle big issues pertinent to the future of marketing and advertising. Among my table mates were a retired Fortune 100 CMO (with a decade-long tenure), a current CMO, a C-suite exec from one of the three largest agency holding companies, and two advertising measurement scientists.

Here are four strategies we identified to help the CMO succeed:

  1. Buy time. Most new CMOs face fundamental, longer-term problems, and surfacing and addressing them requires time and patience. To achieve success, you have to lengthen tenure — as a matter of physics.
  2. Identify and simplify the problem. Have you invested the time and rigor to deeply understand your business, surface problems and translate them into simple, manageable constructs? What is the yardstick that signals success for the single or few core issues you must solve?  
  3. Achieve quick wins. Strategic problems take time to tackle — and always more time than stakeholders are willing to wait. To buy time win confidence while you tackle the strategic problems, you must make some quick wins. A sales blitz is among the best tactics to achieve quick, short-term success.
  4. Balance the short- and long-term. You must achieve short-term wins to buy time, show confidence and spark momentum, but you must also execute on the long-term, in parallel. Simultaneously balancing the short and the long view is difficult, but every day matters in order to achieve long-term outcomes in the shortest possible time. 

These points may seem trivial at face value. But they are enlightening when you consider that perhaps the biggest challenge of a CMO is effectively prioritizing and executing in the face of a daunting triumvirate: complexity, time and impatient stakeholders.

(Photo credit: twenty_questions)

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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