You’re hired! Oops, sorry. Meant to say you’re fired!

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.

10 thoughts on “You’re hired! Oops, sorry. Meant to say you’re fired!

  1. Final comment on my end, I-man. You clearly were born in the wrong era. You should have been around to tell the Wright Brothers they were nuts to think a heavier-then-air machine would fly. And, you would have been in great company with those naysayers who told Columbus he was nuts for thinking the world was round. Geez, Louise, wake up. Digital technology has already changed the world in two major ways: empowering consumers to disintermediate corporations and marketers in making their buying decisions and enabling citizen journalists to weigh in on what’s news and what isn’t (not to mention bringing down the likes of Dan Rather and James Frey). So,hang on to that “Titanic is unsinkable” mindset, I-man,. I’m sure it will serve you well in the future.

  2. first off, the assumption i make is an extremely logical one. IF these executives thought that these new digital opportunities were driving consumer decisons, THEN they would use corporate blogging and pay more attention to it. Plain and simple. You can’t possibly argue that logic.
    2nd, this “new” era of marketing is just like all the other ones, just a different day, different time. Even a your lag like myself can remember a time when we were told that online communities were the next big thing (i worked at such a dot com and at one point had a several hundred thousand dollars of stock that today is worth nothing), and that targeted banner ads would replace 30 second spots. and before that there was the marketing gimmick du jour, etc.
    Don’t get me wrong- digital marketing is important and will do its thing just like websites, banner ads, bus and cab wrapping, and TV commercials have done before. but don’t you understand that this is not changing the world and C-level execs obviously don’t think is is that important. and even if they did, the seat won’t be offered b/c at the end of the day, its still a marketing gimmick.
    to me, this sounds like what must have taken place years ago when TV commercials were first discussed. i bet some feisty ad guy told the world how advertising was going to change the world and CEO’s better invite them to the table or they will miss the boat. the argument can easily be made that TV’s and advertising were a much bigger event than the “citizen journalist” and guess what, companies don’t have a “CAO” (chief advertising officer for those keeping score at home) sitting at their table.
    the issue is like this- i firmly believe in marketing and love doing it. but, marketers will never get the seat they desire b/c marketing is just not as important as the other disciplines. so you can go on and on about how the citizen journalist this and the citizen journalist that, but for now, you have more time to be a citizen journalist and preach how important it is b/c you don’t have the seat at the table. you simply remain a spectator.

  3. You do amaze me, I-man. First off, you’ve misunderstood what Ken Makovsky and I were saying. Yes, 90 percent of business executives didn’t think that corporate blogging by their organizations added to their awareness or generated qualified leads. What the Makovsky survey didn’t probe for, and what you’re assuming, is that that same statistic means CEOs and line executives aren’t recognizing the impact and power of digital technology in the consumer’s buying decision. One has nothing to do with the other. Nothing. There are some smart marketers who “get” this paradigm shift in consumer behavior and who will rise to the top because they know how to build trust and relationships in this new digitally-driven sales and marketing environment. Also, citizen journalism and the rise of the “consumer as king” has nothing to do with the old dotcom/web design days. Nothing. You’re mixing apples and oranges or, in your case, surgical gloves and hypodermic needles.

  4. and by the way, excuse my lack of grammar above. i typed that while on a conference call…

  5. completely disagree, repman. first of all, you say these guys are “positively freaking out” yet in your repchatter, mr. makovsky survey’s found that 90% (i think) of these guys don’t think that blogging (or as you mention in every blog, the “citizen journalist”) provides any real benefit. so to say these guys are freaking out might be the overstatement of the year, or as you call it, hype.
    and to say that the pr types who get it will rise to the top is also a bit of a reach. that’s b/c these c-level execs have and will always view marketing/pr as fluff. so sure, they might not get “the citizen journalist” but they will be able to hire so 25 year old who does and pay them 40k a year and then hire a “digital marketing mgr” and pay them 90k a year and they won’t have to understand all the ins and outs of digital marketing. but dont expect that person to get a seat at the table. b/c guess what, 8-10 years ago you could have made the same argument about the internet and websites, namely that CEO’s don’t get this amazing new technology and how it will change the world. but you know what, websites are here and they got lumped into marketing and they are dealt with. but still no seat at the table.

  6. I-man: you conveniently overlooked the second part of my comments. Your sales and CEO heroes are positively freaking out about the new digital landscape and how it’s totally upended traditional sales and marketing channels. Classically trained, these individuals have no idea how to cope. That’s the big opportunity and the reason why you’ll see more and more PR/marketing types who “get it” rise to the top.

  7. rep-
    you proved my point. marketing is considered a BS major and a soft skill b/c of the very fact that students can avoid the higher-level economics and finance courses by majoring in marketing. that is the exact reason why they don’t understand balance sheets and finance! and there you have your reason why the seat isn’t offered and why marketing isn’t respected and why cash isn’t flowing. that is not a perception about marketing but a reality.

  8. I-man: In one regard, you’re right. Marketing types ordinarily don’t see the same sort of cash that’s meted out to sales and line executives. But, you’re wrong as to the reason why more marketing types haven’t been given a “seat at the table.” It isn’t the “BS” factor as you so subtly describe it. Rather, it’s a perception that marketing types don’t understand finance, cannot read a balance sheet and cannot counsel the CEO on the implications of a penny rise or dip in share price. Until more of us roll up our sleeves and become financialy astute, CEOs will continue to dismiss marketing as a “soft” skill. The digital landscape is helping to change that scenario since so many MBA-trained CEOs are totally at sea as to how to connect with the “new” consumer and react to comments/accusations made by citizen journalists. It’s a great time for PR to step into the lurch.

  9. rep, stacy-
    why do you think that marketing is an afterthought in the minds of CEO’s and other top execs. there has to be a reason that the seat at the table is not typically offered.
    my opinion is that the lack of respect for marketing starts on a college level. i was a marketing major and certainly felt that it was much easier than say economics or finance. in addition, i once spoke to friends that went to wharton and harvard and they said that marketing majors were BS majors (i don’t mean bachelor of science) and didn’t even belong in such schools.
    that said, i think that notion permiates through corporate america, and when folks from wharton and harvard become CEO’s, they still look down upon marketing as being the BS dept. i currently work with a fortune 500 company and can tell you that the director of marketing is a complete moron, so he is not helping the situation.
    to further that thought, take a look at marketing/pr salaries and compensation as opposed to other executive positions and everything is explained. a person that rises even a few levels in their field in law, finance, economics, medicine, accounting, etc can do quite well for themselves whereas only the extreme cream of the crop in marketing/pr can even come close to smelling such “success.” and the only ones making the real big bucks are those that own their firms or go out on their own.
    if marketing is ever to become a half-respected position, the change has to start on the college level to make it a more difficult major and a more respected curriculum. only then will the marketing discipline be looked at as more than a BS major and maybe then a seat will be offered.

  10. I couldn’t agree with this post more, rep. PR professionals, for whatever reason, seem to be more in-touch with strategies involving the interactive and digital worlds. Perhaps we’re more apt to come up with forward-thinking ideas because we’re constantly justifying our worth and trying to show our value against some of the more traditional marketing and advertising folks. It seems as though companies typically have money for marketing and advertising, but PR is an afterthought. Those who come from traditional marketing and advertising backgrounds—and I’m generalizing here—have “new ideas” that are too focused on reinventing the old ones (i.e. a funnier advertisement or a sleeker-looking direct mail piece).
    No matter what background the senior marketing person comes from, however, there’s always the same frustration: Getting that coveted “seat at the table.” Too many companies are letting CEOs, CFOs and even the VP of Sales drive marketing. In fact, marketing is still a VP-level position in many companies—it’s not even seen as a C-level position. I’ve mentioned this before, but those of us in the PR industry (and marketing) need to do a better job with our own reputations. We need to figure out a way to get a seat at the table…and to have the CEO’s ear. We need to make CEOs realize the positive impact a smart PR or marketing professional can have on a company’s reputation—and on its bottom line.