Q&A: Spencer Stuart’s Seclow on Longer CMO Tenures

The historically short tenures of chief marketing officers may be a thing of the past. An annual survey by recruiter Spencer Stuart showed a big jump in the average length of a CMO’s stay, to 34.7 months, a rise of 6.3 months over the previous year. Of course, the economy was no doubt a big factor — people tend to stay at their job when their options are limited — but Tom Seclow, who leads Spencer Stuart’s chief marketing officer practice, said that the trend since the report began in 2004 has been toward longer tenures. In Seclow’s opinion, CMOs are getting better at interacting with others in the C-suite, which leads to fewer turnovers. Seclow discussed the report and offered a look at current trends with Brandweek. Below are some excerpts:

Brandweek: In the release about the report, you primarily credit the expanding skill set of the CMO for increased stability, but did that play more of a role than the economy?
Tom Seclow: Well, we credited both. The trend has been increasing and that’s why because of the trend we assumed that marketers were doing a better job getting it right and becoming more attuned with CEOs and management teams and doing all the things they should be doing. I suppose the dramatic jump from last year to this year has got to be influenced by the economy as well.
How is this expanding skill set leading to greater stability?
I don’t know that it’s an expanding skill set. Marketers have been continually evolving from [marketing communications] executives to being partners in the executive suite who understand revenue generation and they are the advocate for the customer inside the company.
What other trends are you seeing with CMOs?
One of the things that they are doing much better is figuring out how to not measure things — they’ve been measuring things for a while — but they’ve gotten a lot better at getting the rest of peer executives to understand what they’re measuring and them consistently.
Can you expand on that?
There are a bazillion ways to measure business results. At these business seminars there are always eight new vendors that pop up measuring some new analytics — because you measure everything these days. But it’s not just about measuring things, it’s about measuring things that are important and getting everyone in the C-suite who has a say in the matter to understand, “Oh, this is how we’re measuring and here’s what we did.”
What about this year? Do you have a sense that things will change since the economy is arguably getting better? Will that lead to shorter tenures next year?
Hard to say. The economy has definitely gotten better, but we don’t know to what degree. When the economy is soft, there are obviously fewer job opportunities out there and that leads to less promiscuous CMOs. I think marketing as a function, the market leaders, tend to be a bit more intellectually curious — they want to try a new business — and if those jobs aren’t there, then they stay where they are.
How does the CMO tenure compare to others in the C-suite?
It’s approaching consistency with the other C-suite numbers.