Why CMOs Can’t Keep Their Jobs


ads_have_value_small.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — This month, I thought it would be interesting to focus a discussion on the role of the Chief Marketing Officer, purely from my informal polling and observations around the marketing function from a variety of other online- and offline-based companies.As of press date for this article, I will have reached my own one-year threshold as CMO at a major online performance marketing company. Depending on what industry report you read about CMO tenure, it takes me halfway to practically being a dinosaur.

What exactly does a typical CMO do? What is expected of them? First, there is no prototypical CMO. No two CMO’s are responsible for the same things nor have the same job scope. Second, there are two possible short answers to these questions; 1) “it depends on the company and industry”, or 2) “more than you might think”. There is no cookie-cutter job description, nor set of traits, that a CMO has which would fit all companies.

A study conducted by Spencer Stuart (its most recent data was from 2007) showed that the average CMO tenure was a shade under 27 months. Considering the fact that in 2004 the average tenure was under 24 months, one could conclude that CMOs are staying in their positions for longer, yet ironically there are more vacancies than ever in the top marketing role at companies. A few other pertinent pieces of information (also as of 2007):

• 16% of companies either have a CMO position that is vacant or don’t currently have the position in their organization.
• 14% of CMOs for the world’s top 100 brands have been with their companies for more than three years.
• Nearly half of CMOs are new to the job over the last 12 months.
• In contrast, CEOs are in their positions, on average, for 53.8 months.
• According to one study, the top 10 characteristics and skills that a CMO must have are (in no particular order):

o Customer Orientation
o Global Perspective
o Influence and Impact
o Hands on Leadership
o Creates and Manages Change
o Results Focused
o Risk Taking
o Strategic Thinker
o Team Player
o Technical Expertise

Now take these top 10 “traits” and throw them right out the window. Just scrap them.

Let’s say you’re a Director of Marketing or a COO or occupy some other prominent role at your company – don’t you have to possess most of these qualities to be successful in any capacity? Once you reach a point in your career, doesn’t the need to have a personal checklist, especially one that is so cookie-cutter, become useless?

I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a successful, established executive or a young, burgeoning upper management candidate that doesn’t have many of these traits built into their very fabric by now. I can’t imagine a day when a CMO would say “I’m a really good CMO because I’m results-focused, I’m a team player and I know my customer.” Um … yeah. And? That statement should be applicable to virtually any other successful employee or executive in this age of accountability. If that statement is what most CMOs believe, it might lend credence to why CMO tenures are relatively low.

Instead, let me give you my own take on what a successful CMO does. It’s about adaptation and constant reinvention – quickly.


  1. What a delightfully straight-forward article. I smiled so broadly when you wrote, “Now take these top 10 “traits” and throw them right out the window. Just scrap them.”. How very, very true.

    Just think: how many people within large organizations (let’s put aside SMBs for the moment) don’t know, at all, what a CMO a) stands for as an acronym, or b)is tasked to accomplish as a CMO. With just this said, structure, goals and responsibilities are likely to be quite distant from most CMO positions.

    IMHO, the CMO position is an acronym “hangover” from the Internet bubble days. How about the old-fashioned V.P. of Marketing. Simple enough?

  2. what percent of CMO turnover occurs voluntarily versus due to terminations? I think the theories as to why tenure is only an average of 27 months need to take that into account.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here