The CCO vs. CMO: Who wins? Hint: It better be the customer

Businessman-vs-entrepreneur-218x218Much has been written about the blurring of lines between advertising agencies, PR firms and interactive shops. Indeed, trade publications have made much of P&G’s recent decision to uncouple its traditional advertising spend in search of more cost-effective ways to reach consumers. And, GM’s last-minute decision to reallocate some $10mm in advertising that had been earmarked for Facebook set the stage for what would be a disastrous IPO for Zuckerberg & Co.

Meanwhile, in my world, we now find ourselves competing with not only the usual suspects, but also a Razorfish here and a Leo Burnett there. And each of us is opining that we, and not our marketing brethren, are best suited to advocate on the brand’s behalf and engage in authentic conservations with customers.

So if a Hatfield and McCoy type of battle is being waged among agencies, what must be happening within the hallowed walls of America’s top companies? Are numbers-crunching CFOs starting to question why they have a chief marketing officer and a chief communications officer on the payroll, each commanding a seven-figure compensation package? Is corporate America wondering if these internal roles and responsibilities are blurring, just as quickly as those of the external agencies they retain?

In search of answers, I went to three experts: Roger Bolton, president of The Arthur W. Page Society (, whose mandate is to advocate for the CCO’s strategic seat at the table; Brian Kenny, the Chief Marketing Officer of Harvard Business School, who has seen his dual titles of CMO and CCO merged into one; and Frank Eliason, a noted thought leader on the rising importance of customer service in marketing and communications, and who has held senior positions at Comcast and Citibank.

I asked all three the same two questions:
1.)    Am I right in assuming a corporate Civil War is brewing, and that one day soon we’ll see major turf battles between the CCO and CMO?
2.)    If the two functions are battling, which is better suited to win when the dust settles?

Question one: Will there be a turf battle between the Chief Communications Officer and Chief Marketing Officer?

Roger Bolton: “I don’t think we’re quite at the Civil War state, nor is it inevitable. But, I do think the trends we have been observing in The Authentic Enterprise and The New Model are bringing the two functions closer together. We have seen them merged at IBM, Aetna, GE and others in recent years. Elsewhere, I think there is more cooperation between the functions.

Brian Kenny: “I’m a strong advocate for combining the two functions. An organization’s brand promise has to be driven by marketing, not communications. But, each has to be perfectly aligned with the promise or you’ll create confusion — or worse — with audiences.

Frank Eliason:  I have been doing a lot of thinking about the convergence of PR, marketing and customer service. Marketing grabbed the seat at the table with the CMO title, a position I understand and respect. At the same time, customer service is ultimately the most important part of an organization. It won’t be long before we see enlightened CCOs or CMOs elevate customer service to the primary function in the organization, with marketing and communications reporting into it. I saw the CCO step up to the plate and own customer service at Comcast. At CitiBank, it was the CMO. The title really doesn’t matter.”

Question two: Who will win, if there is a battle between the CCO and CMO?

Roger Bolton: The CCO is certainly well-positioned to understand and manage the relationship/dialogue nature of the social networking world better than the CMO. On the other hand, CMOs are more accustomed to using and understanding customer research. I don’t think a merger of the two functions is necessarily right for all companies, but where it does make sense, it also makes sense for the head of the function to have grown up on the communications side. This is not only because of the relationship/dialogue point, but also because CEOs need their most senior advisor in communications and marketing to be attuned to the broader stakeholder universe, where corporate reputation affects permission to operate. The narrower brand/sales view of the CMO is insufficient.”

Brian Kenny: “Marketing is superseding communications because it, and it alone, can drive the brand promise. Marketing represents the brand and needs to deliver on it in the most compelling ways possible. That said, both marketing and communications should be seen as strategic components of an overall program.”

Frank Eliason: “It’s more about who the most enlightened individual is within an organization and less about whether he or she holds a CMO or CCO title. The enlightened leader will grasp that the customer story is central to organizational decision-making and that every leader seated at the C-suite table must understand the impact of their decisions on the customer.  Too few organizations understand that siloed approaches and turf battles among internal customers have a negative impact on the external customer experience. That’s the crux of the issue.”

Brian Kenny: “If we’re not carefully and continually monitoring and measuring the brand with all of our diverse constituent audiences, we run the risk of losing relevance and connectivity. HBS gets the importance of the customer experience. It’s a shared responsibility across all functions and manifests itself in the various rankings, such as U.S. News & World Report, BloombergBusinessWeek, etc. If we’re not providing a great experience, the entire world will know about it.”

For a final word on the subject, I turned to Emily Yellin, a former New York Times contributor, and author of a seminal book on customer service entitled, “Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us” and a strategic partner at Peppercom. Like Eliason, she doesn’t see a potential Civil War on the horizon but, rather, an opportunity for forward-thinking companies to put the experience of their customers before all else.

“Customers don’t care whether you’re the CCO, the CMO, the CEO or the Chief Bottle Washer,” says Yellin, “we just want our needs met and your promises kept. When customers deal with anyone representing your company, it reflects on everyone in your company.” She goes on to ask, “How would your company change if the second-most important executive in the company after the CEO were the head of customer service? What if everybody in the company had to worry about what customer service would think before they made a decision? The customer would win. And in turn, so would everyone else.”

7 thoughts on “The CCO vs. CMO: Who wins? Hint: It better be the customer

  1. Great analysis, Elliot. I wasn’t aware of the industry trends. Like you, I agree with Frank that the enlightened executive, rather than a particular function, will win in the end.

  2. Good post! The PR folks got very disturbed when P&G merged the two functions, but celebrated when it was done at IBM, Xerox, and other places. I had both marketing and communication at Nortel Networks. The issue is not about budget, but about the changes in technology that has impacted employee, customer, investor and other stakeholder relations. For many years, PR positioned itself around the media and it wasn’t that many years ago that a career in media was a prerequisite for a job in PR. Marketing has always positioned itself around the customer. These past positionings matter–they set expectations inside the company about the primary focus of attention of PR and marketing folks.
    I agree with Roger that all things considered, the PR people are likely better suited to relationship management that has grown with social media. But, Frank is right that it depends on the person, not the function. It also depends on the nature of the company and its industry. Notice that communication people have moved into marketing at IBM and Xerox. In industrial companies, it is the corporate brand and reputation that drives the relationship. At a company like P&G, which is a house of brands, marketing drives the relationship with consumers and it makes good sense for PR to be folded under marketing.

  3. Provocative, thank you! And, not just who will best engage our Customers, but who will understand WHY they behave the way they do and then DO something about it!

  4. Spot on, Stan. From your mouth to god’s ears. Sadly, most CCOs and CMOs with whom I’ve spoken still don’t get that the customer makes the calls. Literally.

  5. The rules have changed. The customer now has the conch. Your product or service and the custormer experience is ultimately your marketing. The big question is, “Are we giving them something to talk, tweet, blog and post to Facebook about?”
    ‘The longest and hardest nine inches in marketing… is the distance between the brain and the heart of your customer’

  6. Thanks Shanny. I find it interesting how few CCOs and CMOs take the time to put themselves in their customer’s shoes and experience the organization from the outside in.