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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chief Marketing Officer: What’s that again?


Jonathan Salem Baskin wonders “Why it’s so hard for CMOs to keep their jobs”, the statistics indicating that 24 months is the average tenure in the job.

“The most recent stats I could find suggest that far too few CMOs hold their jobs for more than three years; they get fired 25% quicker than chief information officers and nearly twice as often as every other C-suiter.”

Jonathan has some good reasons, but I’d like to speculate on more:

What does a CMO even do?

I know about some of the vital functions that a corporate marketing operation might do:

preparation of collateral material consistent with positioning (and with consistent look and feel)

coordination of media purchasing (if for no other reason than to get economy of scale)

coordination of the PR effort

coordination of information purchasing (again, efficiencies)

irritate everyone by ordering a change in the PowerPoint templates, requiring many hours of unproductive work because the new one is always bigger / smaller / horizontal instead of vertical and the old material won’t fit

serve as a gatekeeper, sometimes making updates to web pages slow and demanding nitpicky revisions in documents, but often adding real value and stopping us from shooting ourselves in the foot.

(Most of) these are important, necessary functions of a business, but we used to lump them under “marketing services”.  But now everybody wants a “C-level” title (I’ve even got one, although I didn’t ask for it and don’t use it). So now instead of “VP of Marketing Services” or “VP of Public Relations” we have “Chief Marketing Officer

This raises the interesting idea that the reason CMOs have trouble keeping their jobs is that Chief Marketing Officer really isn’t a C-level job.

This isn’t because marketing isn’t a necessary function. It’s just no clear it’s an officer-level job.  In a similar vein, I’m reminded of our last head of Human Resources, who wanted to be called Chief People Officer.  Given what was going on in the company at the time, he was mostly the Chief Firing Officer, but either way it wasn’t clear this was on par with CEO, COO, or CFO.

If you are really a VP of Marketing or VP of Marketing Services but you’ve somehow got title-inflated into Chief Marketing Officer, you may be creating expectations that marketing can’t fulfill.

Maybe that C-level marketing title is just puffery.

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