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CMOs Lack the Authority to Drive Growth and Hiring a CGO Won’t Fix That

Written by: Ryan Kelly, VP Marketing

At 44 months, the average CMO tenure is one of the shortest in the C-suite, according to a report this year from Spencer Stuart.

On the retail side, new data from a Nanigans survey of 100 marketing leaders showed that ecommerce companies averaged two CMOs over five years. The survey also revealed that 42% of marketing executives plan to interview for jobs at other companies within six months. Slowly but surely, the CMO role has become transitory.

The main reason CMOs are so restless is they’re increasingly expected to drive sales and be more accountable for ROI. At the same time, they’re hamstrung by organizational challenges and lack of control.

Related post: Research Confirms Retail CMOs Are in a Tough Position

There’s no magic bullet to improve today’s high CMO turnover. But hiring other C-level marketing and growth roles to replace or augment the CMO is a misguided solution. Instead of putting more chefs in the kitchen, CMOs need to set realistic expectations with CEOs and ask for the appropriate authority and resources. Too often, CMOs are given broad objectives but narrow authority, and then must use their “influence” to achieve lofty revenue goals. When influence isn’t enough and CMOs fall short, they feel like they’ve been set up to fail.

How we got here

On one end of the spectrum you have the Don Draper archetype who makes decisions by his or her gut. On the other end you have the extremely analytical consulting type or investment banker.

The pendulum for the CMO has swung swiftly from Draper-like dreamer to data jockey. The explosion of data-trackable consumer activity on different devices and platforms has shifted the CMO’s focus from macro-level brand campaigns to a micro-level measurement of performance advertising. Most Draper-like CMOs haven’t kept up, thus the fragmentation.

It’s no surprise then that Forrester predicts CMOs will be replaced by “chief growth officers” more focused on revenue than splashy ad campaigns.

Should a CGO be a no-go?

The majority of our survey participants (58%) felt their roles have been fragmented among different executives. There are new roles emerging such as chief growth officers and chief customer officers. It’s turning into a marketing land grab.

The thinking is: “No one leader can handle marketing’s immense scope.” The jury is still out on whether having more but narrower roles solves this problem. My intuition tells me more is not better.

“Today’s CMO needs to make more of a conscious effort to set expectations from the start and CEOs need to help facilitate that. Marketing leaders should ask the CEO point blank: ‘Will I be responsible for company-wide P&L or play more of a strategy-focused role?'”

That’s because there’s always danger when splitting up responsibility. Suddenly no one is handling the main responsibility of devising a strategic approach for an overall marketing strategy that drives revenue. It’s like inviting your neighbors into your home and asking them what color you should paint the walls.

The CMO has long been known as an influencer role and I fail to see how a CGO will be given more authority. Growth requires multiple functional areas to work together, whether it’s an ecommerce site redesign to drive more sales or deciding where to open the next store. Whether it’s a CGO or CCO or CMO, the expectations to increase revenue exceed the authority given to any individual.

Ninety-three percent of marketing executives in our survey “sometimes or often need to get buy-in from other departments to drive growth.” The top three departments they need buy-in from are sales/business development, product/merchandising, and analytics.

What compounds this problem is that marketing teams suffer from internal communication issues. Thirty-three percent of marketers felt like their team’s function and success metrics are not understood across their organizations. With the odds stacked against them, CGOs will have their work cut out for them to achieve firm-level growth if they don’t have any more authority than the CMO did.

Breaking free from being the scapegoat

The current plight of marketing executives won’t be fixed with new titles. An alternative to hiring a CGO is to finally give the CMO the authority they need to deliver on expectations.

CEOs should understand that if no one in marketing has the authority to execute a strategy or if fragmented marketing roles don’t gel, it will reflect poorly on the CEO. However, it’s far more typical that a CMO ends up becoming a convenient scapegoat when a brand comes up short on its growth goals.

Related post: Survey: CMOs Prioritize Data Privacy and AI, Support Ad Tech Consolidation

Aside from trying to get promoted to the CEO slot, which is still a rarity for CMOs, today’s CMO needs to make more of a conscious effort to set expectations from the start. CEOs, in turn, need to help facilitate that. Marketing leaders should ask the CEO point blank: “Will I be responsible for company-wide P&L or play more of a strategy-focused role?”

Further, before accepting a new role, CMOs should evaluate whether the previous CMOs were given the authority needed to drive growth and improve ROI. If not, they’re better be strong signals that it’s going to be different this time around.

A version of this article originally appeared in Adweek.

Walk through an interactive presentation of our recent report, “The Retail CMO Pulse Check.”

CMO pulse check survey

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