The firing of Kerri Martin, Volkswagen’s Director of Brand Innovation (aka CMO) after less than two years at the helm comes as no real surprise. If memory serves, the average chief marketing officer only lasts an average of 23 months, which seems like the blink of an eye when compared to the average CEO tenure of 54 months.
Most CMOs are in an untenable position: because of Wall Street’s relentless pressure on the chief executive to satisfy shareholders, the CMO’s impact on sales is always being scrutinized by the harried CEO. There is no real time for the CMO to measure attitudes, conduct deep competitive analyses or test a couple of different approaches. Nor is there any leeway to learn from mistakes (which reminds me of the time we were hired by a mega Fortune 500 corporation and told by the number two communications person that we had ‘one and only one chance to fail.’
Needless to say, such stress doesn’t produce the most creative thinking). Anyway, hot shot CMOs such as Martin are brought in like the hired guns of the Old West to turn things around. Their sole job is to shoot the bad guys and drive sales. In her previous job, Martin had done just that when, along with uber hot ad agency Crispin Porter Bogusky, she introduced the Mini to the U.S. The campaign became legendary in marketing circles and Martin was lured to VW, where she immediately fired the incumbent agency, Arnold, and brought in Crispin. Now, advertising pundits are waiting for the other shoe to fall at VW and to see if Crispin ends up in the same ditch as their client. In situations like this everyone’s image takes a hit. The high-flying Martin and her bizarro campaigns for VW (i.e. "Unpimp my ride") didn’t drive sales. Crispin’s Superman-like invincibility that saw them featured on the cover of BusinessWeek has taken a hit and VW management looks like it spins agencies around faster than a Beetle on black ice.
As long as the Street keeps squeezing CEOs and the corner office keeps pressuring CMOs to work overnight miracles, we’ll continue to see Mayfly-like lifespans from the Kerri Martin types. The only saving grace is the occasional enlightened CEO who understands the need for a long-term marketing strategy. Here’s hoping Ms. Martin finds such an anomaly in her next position.