CMO Tenure Remains Low Compared To C-Suite Counterparts

CMOs have the shortest tenure in the C-Suite and most likely, always will. Why? It’s the million dollar question with many different perspectives. Today, however, I am going to discuss CMO tenure from the perspective of AAR Partner’s sister company, Winmo, who recently released their annual CMO Lifecycle Tenure Analysis Report. The report analyzed over 2,400 CMO tenures across a variety of industries and also evaluated tenure by gender, giving exclusive insights never shared before.

Over the past two decades we’ve seen the CMO tenure drop as low as 17 months, and although it has steadily been climbing over the past half-dozen years, there are still sectors that show short CMO tenures particularly in the retail and restaurant space.

Several factors contribute to the short CMO tenure, and none of them are because the CMO is incompetent or lacks the necessary skills. Instead, CMO tenures quickly fluctuate due to variables outside of their control.

CEO’s Don’t Get It

Let me start by saying that I believe few CEOs understand marketing and how it can benefit their organization. They understand why marketing benefits them, but not how. This makes them ineffective interviewers for the CMO role. With that said, those applying for the job may end up accepting a position without an accurate job description and more important, unrealistic expectations. And yet, 37% of CEO’s say the CMO will be first in the firing line if growth targets aren’t met.

Over the past two decades of managing agency reviews, I have watched many top CMOs get canned within a short period of time because they “weren’t making the numbers.” It’s completely unfair to put that kind of weight (almost 100%) on one person’s shoulders. Although they’re logging more months in the seat this year than in previous, it’s still shorter than the CEO role and a volatile role.

Intense Pressures

CMOs are so much more than just a chief message officer or chief metrics officer. Great CMOs need to motivate, engage and retain their consumers. It’s no longer about selling. It’s about bonding via experience. And when a new CMO is hired, they are under huge pressure to make changes to the brand messaging and direction.

Furthermore, they need to encourage a constant when it comes to business direction with the entire C-Suite. Not an easy task. Brands need to ensure that core values and DNA live strong and long. Of course, the need to demonstrate impact through key financial metrics that matter to the board is crucial. And with the influx of digital technology, it’s a constant churn of channels that need to be understood to continue building brands with the connected consumer.

Constant Disruption

Data, Chatboxes, AI, you name it, this role is always trying to catch up with “what’s new.” According to the ANA Master’s of Marketing conference in October 2018, today’s marketing is all about shifting consumer data to human connections by telling heartfelt stories, infusing the personal” into personalization and embracing consumers all underpinned by a clear (human) purpose. And yes, it is about taking intelligent risks, but CMOs can’t do it alone. They need a solid, strategic and innovatively creative agency to be their right arm in their role. That agency should understand not only communication needs but also operations of their business and how to shift on a dime based on consumer needs.

Today, the CMOs top area of focus should be on growth with 50% of CEOs see their CMOs as the top drivers of disruptive brand growth. Their second area of concentration should be making a major shift towards improving customer experience by engaging consumers and inviting them into the brand to help create movements. With this combination, the human connection becomes stronger, and the revenue typically increases… directly improving the tenure of the CMO.

Tags: CMOs

Lisa Colantuono

Lisa Colantuono is the President of AAR Partners. An agency search consultant for nearly two decades, Lisa is also an avid writer. Lisa has contributed many articles in top industry trades such as Forbes, Huffington Post, Advertising Age, Adweek and HubSpot Blogs’ Agency Post. Recently, Lisa entered the world of publishing with her book, @AARLisa: New Biz in 140 characters (or Less), written for the on-the-go new business exec that needs cut-to-the-chase insights to nail new business wins again and again. Lisa is also part of the industry speaking circuit, presenting at national conferences including 4A’s Transformation Conference, AAF Admerica National Conference, BOLO, HOW Design Live, Mirren, and AdAge Small Agency Conference.

Comments (2)

  • Avatar

    Bill Crandall


    If I were a new client-side CMO brand marketer, the first thing I’d want to know from my staff and agency is … “What’s different, unique, and relevant to the consumer about our BRAND?” Because if you nail that, success almost invariably follows. The problem for most CMOs today is that they settle for parity products, with parity claims, in their quest for instant, soft, and ephemeral digital, social, and mobile KPIs, in lieu of hard sales, market share, and PROFITS, which are all a CEO and CFO care about. Hit those numbers and show growth on a regular basis and your CMO tenure is virtually assured!

  • Avatar

    Mark McMullen


    Well done -as always!

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