Skip to Main Content

CMOs and the Latest Corporate Board Trends

March 2024

Marketing executives remain rarities on major company boards: just 41 of the Fortune 1000 companies have a current sitting chief marketing officer on their board. But that doesn’t mean that marketing isn’t a major, and growing, concern for boards as they see the financial impact of marketing and branding issues.

Spencer Stuart’s Marketing Officer Practice recently convened a group of leading marketing executives in a review of the 2023 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index. The discussion touched on governance issues including board composition, board effectiveness, CEO succession and DE&I.

Below we look at what some of the key board trends mean for marketers today.

In 2023, 388 new independent directors were added to S&P 500 boards — representing just 7 percent of all directorships — and among those new directors, only 16 percent are functional leaders. Boards still favor CEO experience and financial expertise over other attributes, which means that, in terms of simple raw numbers, it’s easy to see why opportunities may be few and far between for marketers on major company boards.

At the end of the day, while specific skills are certainly sought after on boards, the scarcity of open directorships mean that most are looking for a lot more than “specialist” directors. Rather, they want people who can provide many years of service and contribute on multiple issues — many of which may be unknown today — over that period.

While the board's role starts with a fundamental duty to shareholders, its oversight in many ways over the past several years has expanded to include a broader array of constituents, such as employees, customers, the communities in which the company works, etc. — in other words, areas that fall directly into the purview of marketing. Meanwhile, as the AI revolution raises both risks and opportunities, marketing leaders can bring unique perspectives into the boardroom.

The fact is, when companies misstep on brand and marketing issues, it can be destructive to shareholder value; and companies that get these issues right often unlock unexpected value. That’s why board directors who understand both how to protect a brand and how to advance it, and subsequently how that can benefit shareholders, are increasingly valuable. Boards in some industries are also seeking directors who can represent the “customer voice.” Overall, that’s why we’ve seen some boards seek marketers as directors, appreciating what they can bring in thinking about a brand and how that can create long-term shareholder value.

One of our attendees, a marketer who serves on the board of a professional services company, noted that she was struck in the interview process by how many questions she got about why she wanted to be on the board. It aligns with something we see all the time: Skills and expertise matter a lot, yes, but the board is also seeking a commitment to doing the job well, and an interest and passion for the business.

Particularly savvy nominating/governance committee chairs and board chairs are looking beyond your resume. Will you help create a more diverse array of perspectives? How will you contribute to a healthy and substantive debate? Are you willing to speak up when you disagree, and when you dissent can you do it in ways that are productive and move the conversation forward?

For marketers seeking board opportunities, it can be worthwhile to consider a wider range of companies from small-cap to large-cap, and public to private. As long as you can be passionate about what the company does and believe you have something valuable to contribute, expanding your bounds can be fruitful, especially when you consider the scarcity of major company board spots.