Why CMOs Don’t Last


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The typical CMO tenure these days is about 3½ years. This is up from about 23 months in 2004, but it is still way below the average CEO tenure of 7-9 years. This data, from Spencer Stuart, is for leading consumer companies. (B2B CMOs often don’t fare even this well.) And the increase in tenure is attributed to “the ‘greying’ of the CMO role, as marketers are less likely to transition to new roles.”

That could explain the uptick.

But there still is the basic question of why CMOs don’t last.

I think there are several reasons for the short life span.

– Far too many CEOs have unrealistic expectations about what their Chief Marketing Officers can and should do. Even the best CMO cannot leap tall buildings in a single bound. He cannot turn poor or poorly priced products into marketplace winners every time. He cannot single handedly create a culture of innovation to ensure timely and creative products are always in the pipeline, as I have written elsewhere.

– Conversely, everyone in the “C” suite thinks he knows marketing. The same people who would never question a CTO/CIO about what is or is not technically possible or a CFO about financial rules and regulations is very comfortable second-guessing marketing strategy and strategic positioning.

– CMOs are under almost irresistible pressure to follow the trend of the day. Agencies, consultants, and the business (and popular) press have a need to carve out new and fashionable niches to exploit in order to find new sources of income and new areas to write about. These niches become diffused in the corporate and popular consciousness as the “must haves” of marketing. As important as social media platforms are, for example, they are not necessarily of equal worth or equally effective for all businesses and all products. But it is a brave and daring CMO who can resist CEO pressure to devote scarce resources in chasing what “everyone knows” is today’s “marketing must.”

– There is a general confusion between sales and marketing, their roles, what they can do, and how they must work synergistically. And this confusion is often reflected in the organization charts and compensation plans.

But CMOs are not merely innocents caught in difficult circumstances.

– Marketing people generally have no operations experience. And becoming a CMO doesn’t automatically supply it. Yet, as marketing becomes more complex, with more and more areas affecting how a company positions itself and its products and how it touches and interacts with customers and prospects, too few CMOs have the experience to systematically coordinate it all. There is no sense of managing marketing operations, of ensuring that technology and tactics support strategies.

– And, I would suggest, too little effort is made to educate and market marketing within the organization. It is the CMO’s job (another one) not merely to develop and define strategy but to explain it – not only to customers and prospects but to employees and other “C” suite members. (And, perhaps, better internal communications would help alleviate the “anyone can do marketing” syndrome.)

If marketing continues to face outward alone, to ignore basic management techniques and internal communications imperatives, it will continue to be seen as a job anyone can do – and it will be interesting to see how the CMO endurance trend develops.

Emily R. Coleman
Dr. Emily R. Coleman is President of Competitive Advantage Marketing, Inc., a firm that specializes in helping companies expand their reach and revenues through strategy and implementation. Dr. Coleman has more than 30 years of hands-on executive management experience working with companies, from Fortune 500 firms to entrepreneurial enterprises. Dr. Coleman's expertise extends from the integration of corporate-wide marketing operations and communications to the development and implementation of strategy into product development and branding.


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