Chief Digital Officer Title Won’t Die

Begs the question: What do CDOs actually do?

When Young & Rubicam and TBWA dissolved their chief digital officer roles last year, they sent the strong message the title is a musty throwback. After all, isn’t adapting to digital everyone’s responsibility?

Well, fast-forward a year later and agencies are still clutching chief digital officer titles to their bosoms. Since December, Ogilvy & Mather, DDB Chicago, Arnold, Deutsch/LA, and Mullen have named CDOs: Brandon Berger, Jonathan Sackett, Matt Howell, Winston Binch, and the duo of Perry Fair and Mauro Cavalletti, respectively. Other shops that tout integrated traditional and digital capabilities have kept the role. Still, CEOs hiring digital talent acknowledged the title’s shortcomings. “There is no other title. If you find one, let me know,” says Arnold global CEO Andrew Benett. “I don’t want it to connote that we’re hiring somebody to teach us to do digital,” adds Mark O’Brien, North American president of DDB.

So, why not make digital experts office, regional, or creative chiefs as JWT and Ogilvy have done? Some agencies—and digital gurus, frankly—might not be ready. Also, digital chiefs function as a recruiting tool for agencies desperate for digital natives.

“I see nothing wrong with hiring a chief digital officer to accelerate growth in the digital space,” said Tarik Sedky, Y&R’s last CDO (2007-10). “I think the real problem is having a chief digital officer for more than three years.”