My New Year's resolution was to stop reading American business newspapers. Because the marketing coverage is all too real and incredibly crappy. But yesterday, when I was fiddling with my cell phone, I realized something! – I stumbled onto Fortune’s website, and despite my best efforts to find the back button and retreat before it was too late, a downpour of clichés tainted me almost immediately.
A particular article is one that you have read many times before. This article examines several high-profile departures of his CMOs, including UPS, Etsy, and Walgreens, and goes on to explain that these departures and subsequent dismissal of his CMO role at the companies in question suggested that this is evidence of the decline in marketing excellence. -Sweet Discipline”.
If you want proof of the awfulness inherent in Tuesday's Fortune article, look no further than the Forbes column that ran the next day. CEOs apparently “have a newfound confidence in their chief marketing officers,” he claimed. New research confirms that the CMO is considered top-ranking alongside his CFO and his COO. And for marketers and marketers at the top, everything looks rosy.
So which one is it? Are companies losing or gaining trust in marketing and his CMO? Is the CMO role coming to an end? Or will it go back?
There is an unpopular perspective here. What if neither is the case? This obsession with the CMO role shows that the whole thing is shit. For as long as I've worked in marketing, this whole topic has come and gone like a “vacant” sign blowing in the wind. So please allow me the opportunity to write the definitive and ideally final column on this subject. Something you can use endlessly to stop this nonsense from fouling your marketing doors again.
The end of CMO?
First, firing a CMO says nothing about anything in general. That tells you that the person probably wasn't very good at the job. That's why people get chopped. When a barista gets fired, it's because he made a bad cup of coffee or didn't wash his hands properly. That's not a signal that coffee is going out of fashion, but that you should consider kombucha or milkshakes as an imminent replacement.
Second, even as companies take over the CMO role, it is not a further harbinger of marketing's impending demise. That means the company doesn't know what to do yet. Maybe your predecessor was so unhelpful that the company began to question not just his value, but the entire premise of marketing. Or perhaps the company in question simply needs some time to restructure its leadership team and find a new senior marketer. Either way, it doesn't mean the end of marketing. As. we. know. that.
You don't have to advocate for your organization's CMO. All you need is a sleeping bag and plenty of patience.
In fact, companies typically re-create the CMO role and hire them back after leaving the position for a short period of time. Most people just needed time to heal and forget what they were thinking a couple of quarters ago. When McDonald's abolished the CMO position in 2019, a frenzy of frothy nonsense erupted. Clearly, the role is at risk of becoming “obsolete next year,” CNBC predicted following the bombshell announcement. But before you could say, “CNBC is full of shit, too,” McDonald reinstated the role and put Morgan Flatley in charge.
Any knowledgeable person can tell you that there is a fundamental cyclicality in the operations and appointments of large corporations. A company decides to centralize everything globally. After three years, they realized they needed a regional center to centralize things. Four years later, the company has come full circle, with a new CEO pushing forward with its vision of localization in each country. The same goes for senior marketing roles. They come. They go. There is no need to argue against his CMO of the organization. All you need is a sleeping bag and plenty of patience.
Let's also sort out the nonsense memes about “CMO tenure.” Is there a more commonplace and ridiculous topic in all of marketing? Hack marketers at shitty roundtables at pointless conferences talk about everything from overinvesting in performance marketing to the fate of internal marketing departments. At some point, they point to CMO tenure as an explanatory factor behind everything. Total bollocks.
Despite what some dude said on a stage somewhere last year, CMO tenures aren't that short. His average CMO tenure at a Fortune 500 company is 4.3 years. Brian Clough took a shorter time to lead Nottingham Forest from mid-table in the second tier to European champions. Elon Musk will soon be able to get you to Mars in half the time. And the time it took for the Allies to overthrow the Emperor and restore world order was greatly reduced. When you think about it this way, getting your brand off the ground and choosing a new agency suddenly seems possible within four years.
Remember, this is the average tenure. Averages are notoriously fallible as a measure of everything. For example, the average marketer has one testicle. What does it mean?
In some cases, longer tenure simply renders marketers useless for even longer periods of time.
The mistake that sites like Forbes, Fortune, and CNBC make is portraying CMOs as some sort of unified, special tribe of humans who all share consistent skills and abilities. If one (or three, anyway) of them gets fired, it must mean marketing is under attack.
Perhaps this could be an indication that some marketers aren't working on it because many CMOs aren't very good. They rose to the top of the ladder because they were smart, political, lucky, photogenic, or had bosses who didn't understand marketing. This explains why most senior marketers are bad at marketing. Or being a senior. Grab a cold beer with the right people from the Mayfair and Manhattan marketing communities. We all know who today's senior marketers are, and who among them are really good marketers and who aren't.
The average tenure of 4.3 years hides useless marketers who can't find work with either hand, but, in dualistic contrast, great marketers who stick around for a very long time. The group is hiding. The legendary Shir Salah spent his seven glorious years as her CMO at Diageo. And I'm sure she wouldn't mind if I revealed the secret to her tenure extension and her ability to break the 4.3 year barrier. I mean, her uncanny ability to know what she's doing. And keep doing it.
Some brands appear to be regressing on almost every key metric, even though their CMO is in office five years later. volume. profit. Trademark value. morale. The only thing that goes up is the CMO's tenure. In some cases, longer tenure simply renders marketers useless for even longer periods of time.
It also works the other way around. Pete Markey is literally the best CMO in the UK at the moment. He was with TSB for just three years and eight months. What is the reason for his lack? He was so good that Boots offered him the vacant CMO position. Average tenure tells us nothing, but it explains everything.
Before we get into that, let's break down everything about the title. Somewhere on LinkedIn right now, some hopeless pedant is writing a “thought piece” about why the title “Chief Marketing Officer” should be changed to “Chief Customer Officer.” . or “Chief Growth Officer.” Or, “Secretary, please turn me around and stop this nonsense.”
Can't anyone else see the pointlessness of this argument? Or what is written about the people involved in it being completely useless? Or is it the stupidity of the marketing field to worry about this kind of thing? Let's take a peek into the parallel world of finance. If someone tried to start a conversation about whether the title “chief financial officer” was appropriate, they would immediately be kicked out the nearest counter, the executive office on the 43rd floor.
No one in the financial world said, “We need to change the title of CFO to financial officer.''
Whether you're the Chief Marketing Officer or the Head of Client Accountability, the truth is that it's all superficial issues that get in the way of more important questions. Are you in charge? Do you know what you're doing? Could you please continue?
I might be able to save us all hundreds of painful and pointless hours of future CMO discussions. Check out the helpful Cut-Out & Keep CMO Answer Grid below. Put it in your wallet or bag. If this topic comes up in a meeting or a colleague wants to discuss it over a beer, just pull it out, staple it together, and walk away.
Mark Ritson has won the PPA Columnist of the Year award five times and is currently the recipient of the British Society of Magazine Editors Business Columnist of the Year award. A former marketing professor, he now runs a highly successful mini-MBA in the marketing field.