CMOs Left in Lurch

LOS ANGELES CMOs are failing at a high rate because they lack the skill sets, credibility and authority to fulfill their often ill-defined jobs.

So concluded a CMO Council survey to be released next week that examines the health of contemporary U.S. CMOs, diagnoses the cause of corporate discontent and recommends remedies.

The study, “Define & Align the CMO,” sponsored by the MarketBridge marketing consultancy on behalf of the CMO Council, is based on nearly 1,500 segmented interviews with CMOs, CEOs, search consultants, board members and other marketing executives.

Among the study’s top-line findings: The credibility of CMOs is increasingly challenged by the position’s vague definition and a failure on the part of corporate America to align qualifications with business goals. For example, “measurement and analytical capabilities” ranked sixth on a list of executives’ desired skills for CMOs, while “market spend effectiveness and ROI” ranked second on a list of criteria on which they should be judged. The two most desired qualities were “boardroom stature” and “polished, articulate communicator”; the most important performance criteria was “market share gains.”

The study also found that fully half of all executive searches for CMOs last year were conducted in order to replace departing CMOs, rather than to fill new positions.

“They’re trying to fix dysfunctional marketing organizations,” said Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, Palo Alto, Calif. “That’s a clear indication there isn’t clarity on what a CMO needs to be, and raises the question of what criteria companies are establishing for their search.”

One hundred fifty-two CMOs left their jobs last September, setting an all-time record, according to a Challenger, Gray & Christmas finding cited within the study. Neale-May said that for many companies replacing a CMO at the first sign of sagging sales has become the corporate equivalent of “taking Viagra. … [But] there is more to fixing marketing than popping a pill for a sudden rise in spirits.”

The study’s authors write that the credibility of CMOs has been further eroded by “self-described ‘superstar marketers’ who leverage personal style to elevate and inflate their titles”—and salaries, which average between $300,000-500,000 in Fortune 500 companies, according to the study. But their perception within corporations is less flattering. According to board members surveyed, CMO failure was seen as resulting from their having “no real authority or clout in the organization” (59 percent) and “a lack of credibility and respect among key stakeholders” (54 percent).

So how do CMOs gain cred? Not by touting taglines but by crunching numbers, becoming “quant jocks” in the model established by CMOs at CapitalOne and Dell, then proving to their boards that their marketing is working, said Tim Furey, CEO of MarketBridge, Bethesda, Md.

On that point, the survey found CMOs have work to do: 62 percent of board members disagreed that their marketing leaders were providing adequate ROI data. Yet the study confirmed that CMOs with greater quantitative focus and measurement emphasis have a significantly longer expected tenure, “greater than 20 percent longer,” said Furey.

“The age of the rock-star CMO is going away,” said Furey. “We’re going into the era of the geek. Or, to put it another way, if you’re going to be the rock star, you’d better get some really good roadies working for you.”

Furey said that correlates with the survey’s finding that CMOs with agency backgrounds are being replaced by those with a broader career experience across several disciplines, “particularly sales management, product management, and in some cases even financial analysis.”

“When you talk about business acumen, people in marketing today absolutely have to have their eye on proving that their investments are working and having an effect,” said Tim Ellis, global advertising and media director for Volvo cars, who was not party to the survey. “There’s a difference between business acumen as it applies to sales. It’s not so easy to just compare the marketing to the number of sales.”

Furey said that as a means to helping the CMOs of their clients, agencies should themselves spend more time measuring advertising effectiveness, and that they’re also lagging. He cited a 2004 meeting of all the offices of a global agency where the Canadian shop reported outpacing all the others in client results. The agency credited their data analytics team for telling them exactly what advertising was and wasn’t working. “It’s a classic story: They still wanted to meet the creative director,” said Furey. “They weren’t interested in meeting the data analytics team.”

—with Noreen O’Leary