The CMO’s Lament

by Chris Kenton on May 24, 2007

Fast Company has just published an article tantalizingly titled "The Most Dangerous Job in America". They’re not talking about Alaskan crab fishermen. They’re talking about CMOs–the corporate job with a life-expectancy of 23 months. They try to make it sound like news, but this story has been the same for the past seven years. Each time someone decides this is a story, they trot out the pundits and experts to explain how marketing is more important than ever, and each time they come up with diabolical reasons why everyone else just doesn’t get it.

Maybe the CMO post should be acknowledged simply as the "fall guy" job in the C-suite. If the numbers turn down and CEOs need to make changes, the first instinct certainly won’t be to step aside themselves. Getting rid of the CFO might spook Wall Street, while changing a COO or CIO could disrupt operations. Dumping the CMO seems easy in comparison.

All I can say is boo hoo. I’m sorry, but this whole frame that marketers are somehow unfairly maligned is pure fiction. I’ve been ranting about this for years. If Wall street isn’t spooked by a CMO being fired, then there’s something wrong with the CMO, because they can’t demonstrate their ability to create value for shareholders. And that’s the root of this problem. The profession is broken, and no one is stepping up to fix it. Not the AMA. Not the DMA. Not the business schools still teaching marketing as marcom. Not any of the myriad peer groups and organizations that abound with marketers more worried about where they’re going to find their next gig than getting up to speed with the new requirements of enterprise marketing.

The CMO title in America is more aspirational than anything else.By my rough but educated estimation, about 8-12 percent of the marketing executives in the US deserve the title. The rest are falling behind because they can’t keep up with the new requirements that demand a strong grasp of business fundamentals, finance and technology, in addition to the traditional expertise of branding, product marketing, channel marketing, DM, PR and customer service. Yeah, it’s a big portfolio. And it takes a smart and motivated marketer to grasp what they need to do to find direction in the middle of chaos. Shifting the blame doesn’t help.

So what’s it going to take to get the CMO off the endangered-species list? Perhaps a clearer definition of the position and what’s expected–which is a job for the CEO.

Isn’t that ironic. The profession charged with defining and positioning the corporation, can’t even define and position itself. Make the CEO do it, and maybe you’ll last 24 months. Good luck with that. It’s times like this that make me think of Darwin. If you want to see real change, just wait for the current generation to die off. The 23-month life expectancy is Darwin in action.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Asacker May 25, 2007 at 5:22 am

Boo fucking hoo indeed! Great post Christopher.

Chris May 25, 2007 at 7:40 am

Hi Tom–

It’s a pretty high bar for me to swear in print. But this is one of those memes that is so worn out and so destructive–making marketers believe that the problem isn’t theirs, and therefore one they can’t solve–that it demands words I could have never used in BusinessWeek. I got a couple of raised eyebrows with that comment. I guess that’s good.

Thanks for commenting.

/chris

Chris Kenton May 25, 2007 at 9:45 am

Well, I removed the offending line, at the recommendation of someone I highly respect who thought it lesssened the impact of the argument, and turned off a group of people who would otherwise be amenable to the discussion.

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