Tag Archives: AMA

The CMO’s Lament

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.

Falling off the Bandwagon

My wife is
a librarian. If you don’t know a librarian, you should. They remind us of two critical
things in life: we don’t know nearly as much as we think we know, or should,
and the sources we rely on these days for truth are not nearly as reliable as
we’d like to believe. I met my wife when we were both just starting out. She
was on her first gig as a reference librarian at a public library, and I was on
my first gig as a journalist. I was searching for truth, and she new where to
look it up.

In the
seventeen years that we’ve been together, I’ve developed a profound respect for
the library profession. Librarians as individuals are smart,
inquisitive and very well informed. But as a profession, they transcend. They
know the origins of their profession and its evolution over centuries. They
understand their role in society and their value to the community they serve. They
work hard to face the tremendous challenges that technology brings, and to
constantly maintain relevance in a society that often, perilously, forgets
their worth. 

When I look
at the library profession, exemplified at large by the American Library
Association, I see a profession that is fully engaged with society and with
their peers. They don’t always get everything right, but they’re on the ball. And
when I look around, I see other professions and professional associations that
are similarly dialed in, like the American Medical Association. Again, they’re
not perfect, but they’re fully engaged, with a strong vision of the challenges
and opportunities they face as a group.

I don’t see
the same image with marketers, or with the American Marketing Association. We
are a profession that is fragmented and in disarray. Most
marketers have little or no understanding of our professional history. We don’t
fully understand, or admit, our role in society, or the value we offer to our
community. We do work hard to face new challenges, but almost never as a
cohesive group. Instead, we elevate gurus and trade in buzzwords until a
dominant theme emerges, often simply trading one trend for another.

At the
figurative head of this chaos, the American Marketing Association serves less
as a professional body of leadership, than as the leading beneficiary of our
ignorance. Rather than driving dialog and debate over the right path into the
future, the AMA feeds off the marketing community with endless seminars and classes
promising to enlighten us about the latest buzz trend. I get spam from the AMA
that is indistinguishable from any other guru garage, promising to teach me how
to stay one step ahead of impending doom.

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With all of
the significant challenges marketers face in redefining their role in the
corporation, and their relevance to corporate strategy, you would think an
organization like the AMA would find its voice in leading the way forward. Instead,
they are always leading the bandwagon to the top of the bell curve. That’s not
to say the AMA doesn’t have good people or informative programs. But what
marketing needs today in a professional organization is leadership, not
fast-following. I wish we could find that leadership in the AMA.