Spencer Stuart’s brand new survey about the lifespan of the average chief marketing officer makes for sobering reading to say the least. According to the results, the average CMO lasts for only 23 months in general, and as little as 15 months in the tech and industrial sectors. Man, these poor bastards don’t have enough time to even arrange their wall posters before being shown the door.
CMOs surveyed in the annual Stuart audit said their Mayfly-like lifespan (by far the shortest of any C-suite title, btw) is due to their being caught in a perfect corporate storm: CEOs are placing extraordinary short-term pressure on them because of the Street’s quarter-to-quarter focus while, at the same time, very few CMOs have access to the CEO. Talk about a lose-lose proposition. CMOs can’t justify their existence because they don’t know what the CEOs strategy is in the first place!
In this week’s Advertising Age, Jeff Bell, global VP of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business added another reason for so many CMOs dropping like leaves: "The shorter tenure is in part a reflection of the change from failing traditional marketing approaches to less defined and more dynamic approaches. Clearly, the skill set of CMOs is changing from TV, TV and more TV to interactive media."
These findings and analysis come as no surprise to me. CMOs traditionally came from the mainstream advertising and marketing worlds. What we’re seeing is that group’s inability to stay ahead, if not keep pace, with the rapid fire changes in the marketing landscape caused by digital technology. As a result, they flame out in record time.
At the same time, all this turnover has to be a real bonanza for Spencer Stuart and their executive recruiting ilk. That said, Corporate America will rebel if Stuart et al. keep sending the usual suspects to interviews. Instead of dusting off some group head from JWT or hyping the advertising manager of some Unilver brand, Spencer Stuart would be wise to look to the ranks of corporate and agency public relations professionals. The best ones "get" the brave new world of citizen journalism and the "consumer as king." More important, they know how best to align a corporation’s traditional and digital offerings and, dare I say it, tie the overall marketing spend to sales performance.
Clearly, the current cast of characters isn’t making the grade. So let’s hope the executive recruiters abandon their old boys’ Rolodex and dial up some of PR’s best-and-brightest. My gut tells me if they do, our candidates will not only shine, they’ll stay in their CMO jobs long enough to unpack their files and hang a few paintings.