Go Ahead: Shoot the Agency CMO

The new-business role is important, but it can also be a thankless one

Turnover may not be unusual among agency CMOs, but the churn has been particularly heavy this year.

Since January, new-business leaders at six agencies—Draftfcb, DDB, JWT, Young & Rubicam, Deutsch LA and McCann Erickson—have exited. Draftfcb and McCann immediately filled the role. The rest have yet to name successors, though the vacancies at Deutsch and Y&R are fresh.

Some moves were the result of failure, others success. Shops that have lagged in new business, like McCann, had to change horses, while those that have thrived, such as Deutsch, saw their marketing chiefs get poached.

While the CMO is seen as an incubator of new business, it is typically the CEO, chief creative officer or strategic planning chief who wins new accounts. Yet executives in those positions have been known to deflect the blame for losing pitches to the CMO. So while the new-business role is important, it can also be thankless.

Take the ex-CMO of a global agency who logged about 100 hours a week, arriving before colleagues in other departments and staying later. He also flagged organizational problems that hindered pitches but had little power to implement change. The exec has since gotten out of biz dev altogether, despite CMO opportunities at other agencies.

“There’s very little upside” to the job, he concluded, noting the long hours, lack of authority and fixed deadlines.

And, of course, on top of all that, “When things go wrong, it’s your fault,” he said.