Why Your Next CEO Might Be Your CDO
There is one other option, however ... the CDO could transition into the CEO role.
If you have been a truly successful Chief Digital Officer, you have a unique perspective on the entire media company. Typically you have worked closely with the CEO and CFO and been involved with C-suite and board-level strategy, decision-making, and communication. You understand the financial and business dynamics of the company, not just for digital, but for the legacy parts of the business as well. You have a clear picture of your customer base, what drives revenue, the cost factors, the competitive landscape, and your key business partners and vendors.
You have also interacted closely with all departments of the company. You've learned how editorial, production, ad sales, ad operations, marketing, and audience development all work, understand how they fit together, speak the language of each department, and have heard their needs and ideas. You've had to communicate a vision that they understand, believe in, and can rally behind. Leadership and communication skills are critical.
But a good CDO is also so much more than just a digital technology advocate. They realize that, while digital is critically important to the future of any media company, it is only part of the picture and must fit with the rest of the business. The goal isn't so much to drive digital specifically as it is to grow the entire business.
Given all of this, the Chief Digital Officer is perhaps more uniquely equipped to take on the role of CEO than any other person within the organization. Certainly there is even more that a CDO would need to learn to successfully make the transition. But I believe that what happened at Hearst with Troy Young taking over as CEO and Jeff Litvack taking over as CEO of AdWeek are bell-weather moments for the publishing industry. Personally, I expect to see even more examples of CDOs becoming CEOs in the coming years.
Eric Shanfelt is a 25-year digital media veteran and has been the Chief Digital Officer for several large publishing companies. He now consults with B2B, enthusiast and regional media companies on their digital platform, audience, and revenue strategies. You can reach Eric at firstname.lastname@example.org.