CMO Tenure: Change Coming?

Last week I wrote about the IBM Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) study that showed many CMOs feel underprepared to handle the biggest market factors.  After I posted the article, I remembered the Spencer Stuart survey of CMO length of tenure, which shows that CMO tenure has been increasing over the past few years.  I wondered:  If the job is getting tougher, why are CMOs lasting longer?  Logic would seem to dictate the opposite.

The chart below shows the average length of tenure (in months) of CMOs in U.S. consumer brands from 2004 to 2010, the last year for which figures are available.  (Source: Spencer Stuart)

In the 2004 through 2006 period there was a lot of talk about the CMO role being so tough that CMOs lasted less than two years with a company.  An article in Fast Company called the CMO position “The Most Dangerous Job in America.”  And many of us bought into that.

But how do we explain the increasing length of tenure from 2007 through 2010?  This was the recession, which many consumers feel has not ended.  I would think that the CMO role had become more difficult during the recession.  Companies pressured their CMOs to bring in revenue as consumers were closing their pocketbooks and wallets.  I would have expected a decrease in tenure during this period as CMOs could not deliver the results that CEOs and Boards wanted.

Granted, 42 months in a job is not long by any stretch of the imagination and CMOs still face shorter life spans than their executive comrades (especially CEOs, who have a 7 – 9 year tenure on average).

“There is no question that economic unrest continues to play a part in the ‘graying’ of the CMO role, as marketers are less likely to transition into new roles,” said Greg Welch, who initiated Spencer Stuart’s first tenure study and is the global practice leader for the firm’s Consumer Goods & Services Practice. “But longer tenure also reflects the fact that CMOs have firmly established themselves among their peers in the C-suite.”

I agree with the first part of Mr. Welch’s explanation.  But I find it hard to believe the longer tenure can be pegged to increased respect from other senior executives, especially given the Fournaise Marketing Group’s study in 2011 that found 73% of CEOs think CMOs lack business credibility.   I think the two-year tenure seen in 2004 – 2007 was self-inflicted by many CMOs who jumped from one company to another to collect ever-larger compensation packages.  They were not being forced out.  They were getting great results in the bubble economy and were being lured away by competitors and other companies that wanted their marketing skills.  The financial meltdown and its aftermath slowed the talent wars and convinced many CMOs to hunker down in their current jobs to ride out the storm.

But the dam may be ready to break.  According to ExecuNet’s 2012 Executive Job Market Intelligence Report, more than a quarter of employers are now adding new management positions
and more than half of employers are selectively “trading up” with new hires for existing executive roles to fill gaps
or improve teams.  “The search is already on for sales, business development, sales enablement and marketing leaders who can grow the corporate top line,” observed Dave Opton, ExecuNet Founder and Chief Executive Officer.

And it seems many executives are ready to at least think about new opportunities, according to the ExecuNet report:

  • 31% of executives are thinking about leaving their employers
  • 12% of executives are actively preparing to leave their employers
  • 9% of executives are expecting to leave their employers

So, we may see an end of the trend of increasing CMO longevity as both employers and executives show an interest in moving on.  This may not be an indication of the CMO role being more difficult but of the realities of an improving economy and job market.


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