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2018: The Year of the CMO Shuffle

An alarming number of companies across industries have undergone a change in the top marketing role this year.

While the average tenure of chief marketing officers (CMOs) has remained relatively steady at the top 100 most-advertised brands (44 months in 2017 and 42 months in 2016), it’s worth mentioning that the early part of 2018 has proven to be quite extraordinary – and not in a good way. An usually high number of well-known brands that we track across a number of key industries have undergone a change in the top marketing role this year.

This visual not only reflects our work in the space, but more importantly, represents a broader view of this dramatically changing landscape.

CMO Moves 2018

Source: Research compiled by Spencer Stuart's Marketing Officer Practice

So what does this mean?

For starters, such movement of key marketing leaders of course creates massive ripples across agency partners and the marketing teams themselves, along with other functional partners to the CMO. Although there are many drivers of this activity, some of the potential reasons for the turnover we’re seeing include:

  • Poor alignment between the CEO and CMO on the mission (and the timeline) of the marketing organization’s output
  • Inflated expectations for “unicorn” CMOs who can blend “magic” (creative) and “logic” (i.e., data) and bring others along on the brand journey, while aligning with (or changing) the organizational culture
  • Too little time spent defining clear priorities for the CMO, which can lead to flawed or incomplete assessment criteria, as CMOs’ roles vary depending on the industry
  • Lack of recognition that the opportunities and challenges CMOs have historically been dealing with are not necessarily the same ones they will face in the future, potentially setting up a mismatch between the talent and the needed skills around the corner
  • General industry consolidation due to private equity roll-ups as well as other major corporate acquisitions

That said, a new breed of disruptive CMOs is emerging in response to this changing landscape. Those who are winning in the market most often demonstrate:

  • Creative and compelling communication – Necessary in order to be an evangelist to drive positive change.
  • Committed to learning – As we describe in The Rise of the Learning Culture, today’s executives need a high level of self-awareness to acknowledge what they don’t know, enough humility to shed their preconceptions, and curiosity about what they might discover. In a constantly changing marketing landscape, it’s learn or languish.
  • Team-building – Creating a marketing team that will thrive in a disruptive environment is a critical task for the CMO. Keeping your team satisfied and engaged should be a top priority.

Now more than ever, marketing leadership needs to band together and solve this (hopefully) short-term dilemma. We at Spencer Stuart are committed to helping our partners not only get off to fast starts in their new jobs, but helping those already in the position understand what all these forces mean for how they engage their customers and lead their teams. Let’s slow down the shuffle and instead become better together.