According to advisory firm Spencer Stuart’s annual CMO Tenure Study, the annual tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer dipped again in 2019 – down to an average of 41 months – two fewer months than the previous mark of 43 in 2018.

“Today, CMOs are facing new challenges to ensure all key stakeholders (customers, employees, and stockholders) are happy and satisfied,” Bindu Gupta, Loyalty & Marketing Strategist at Comarch, said. “One of the biggest challenges is to re-imagine their marketing strategy while taking into account changing customer behavior. The key is to acknowledge consumers’ pain points and express empathy by establishing an emotional connection through all marketing channels.”

Because the report focuses on data from 2019, it does not yet consider impacts from COVID-19, which has and will continue to have significant impacts on CMOs. However, the report does share new insights on what was already considered to be a volatile position within the C-Suite.

Gupta continued, “Another key challenge is to invest in adaptable and agile marketing technology which will help with 1:1 marketing in everchanging circumstances. CMOs who focus their energy and marketing dollars to achieve that emotional connection and invest in the right technology will prevail in the future.”

According to Spencer Stuart, the new number of 41 months is the lowest mark since 2009, when the average was 34.7 months. To reduce the effects of outliers, the firm also calculates median tenure of CMOs, which increased in 2019 as it was up to 30 months from 28 the year before.

“I think the role of CMO has always been challenging in the sense that it’s really difficult for a lot of organizations to recognize marketing as an investment, not an expense – especially during times of financial difficulty or uncertainty,” Eugenia Blackstone, Chief Marketing Officer, Identity and Cyber Protection Services, Generali Global Assistance, said. “That can leave many CMOs feeling less confident about their ability to drive change and their long-term viability within an organization, resulting in reduced tenures – either forced or voluntary. Many of the attributes that make a CMO successful are the same for any other C-suite role: flexibility, leadership, strong communication and critical thinking capabilities, and the support of a skilled and diverse team.”   

Among C-Suite roles, the CMO position is among the most unstable with more than 60 percent of individuals holding the role for 36 months or less. The reason for the turnover could be that the company chose to let its CMO go, but also many choose to leave on their own terms and work for another company.

What makes the CMO role so short-lived for those that take it on?

As mentioned in a Wall Street Journal interview, Christine Moorman, a professor at Duke University, shared that, “marketers do face challenges including proving the effectiveness of their work, which is complicated because customers, competitors, and larger forces continually change.”

While change was something CMO’s had to deal with continually in 2019, these changes have become even more daunting and sudden this year due to the COVID outbreak, requiring marketers and brands to fight for survival as well as having to deal with a great deal of uncertainty ahead.

Brandon Logsdon, the president, and general manager of Marketing Cloud Solutions at PDI, provided a few reasons why the CMO role is so challenging today:

  • “Significant changes in marketing and advertising mediums brought on by digital and social, have complicated, and in some instances, confused, the CMO role.

  • These new mediums blur the lines of marketing, brand marketing, CRM, and most importantly, technology. CMOs are required to be more tech-savvy than ever before.

  • Real-time response and insights available in the digital and social realms place a high-level of scrutiny on CMO performance.

  • Consumer habits related to the purchase journey are changing at a speed never seen before. CMOs can often become targets of criticism and blame when those behaviors shift away from any one particular business and sales.”

As CMOs work to deal with external challenges, on a positive note, though, the role itself saw a great deal of change in 2019 as women and minorities made significant strides. The annual study found that the number of women in the CMO role rose to 43 percent in 2019, up from 36 percent in 2018 and 28 percent in 2017. Of CMOs who started in their role in 2019, 48 percent were women. Furthermore, of all new CMOs in 2019, 19 percent were from racially and/or ethnically diverse backgrounds, compared to zero in 2018.

“Of all the C-suite roles, I believe the CMO role has changed the most over the last decade, with the possible exception of the CTO/CIO,” Jodi Rausch, Director, Integrated Loyalty Solutions at PK, said. “Today’s CMOs need to have an incredibly broad base of knowledge – not just traditional marketing but also digital marketing, analytics, social media, eCom… and the list goes on.”

“It’s also more important than ever for CMOs to be tightly connected and collaborative with CTOs/CIOs as marketing and technology become increasingly intertwined as key communication and delivery channels,” Rausch concluded. “Successful CMOs are becoming more like GMs, needing to understand almost every part of the business.  They must also embrace change and innovation to keep up with rapidly evolving technology and customer expectations.”

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