The CMO’s Quickly Revolving Door

Chief marketing officers face a quickly revolving door, underscored by the tremendous pressures and short leash they are given to show success and turn over results. According to global executive search firm Spencer Stuart, the average shelf life of a CMO was 34.7 months in 2009, significantly shorter than the “hot seat” for CEOs, which ranges from 7 to 10 years.

Key risks for CMOs include:

1. Running marketing tactically and not like a business;
2. Failure to build and unite right-brain and left-brain organizations without silos;
3. Getting caught in the short-term “hamster wheel” spin vs. balancing long-term vision and short-term results;
4. The Credibility Crisis—talking too much like a marketer and failing to cement strong cross-functional relationships;
5. Black-boxing the craft of marketing, which reduces understanding and buy-in on strategies, tactics and execution;
6. Forgetting the number one stakeholder: the customer;
7. Hiring like-minded/skilled people and not seeking a balance through opposite skill sets;
8. Forgetting that collaboration can be simple and provide needed insight for success;
9. Being satisfied with the status quo and not pushing to embrace and drive change in emerging channels and technologies; and
10. Forgetting that the “Chief” in CMO means you lead.

The marketing industry is constantly evolving and marketers must exemplify a wide range of capabilities beyond the traditional role of creative leaders. CMOs must embrace these necessary role shifts to survive and lead their organizations:

  • From player to coach—Marketing has earned its place as a strategic player and it’s time for CMOs to chart the organization’s path toward measurable results.
  • From adaptor to discoverer—Upper management is continuously searching for innovative marketers capable of driving change. In the face of ever-changing consumer behavior, evidenced by the outburst of social media, marketers must consistently rediscover best practices to remain ahead.
  • From back seat to front seat—A vast understanding of the metrics and analytics has jump-started the engine. It’s time for marketers to leverage their knowledge and hop in the front seat.
  • From creator to mastermind—The balance of creativity with analytics is central to differentiation in the new climate of channel proliferation. Marketers must demonstrate accountability for growing revenue.

A recent Advertising Age article titled “Traditional CMO Roles Won’t Position Your Company or Your Career for Growth” underscores the evolution CMOs must go through in order to survive, thrive and lead organizations into the future.

The CMO must be the “change agent”—embracing and driving change within its organization. The quickly revolving door will lose momentum as CMOs prove ROI, embrace new channels and lead with customers first.

Lisa Arthur is chief marketing officer of Indianapolis-based on-demand marketing software provider Aprimo. She can be reached at

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