In my industry news reading, I stumbled upon David Akkar’s blog post about CMO tenure. It is a nice reminder for C-suite marketing execs that today’s average tenure of a CMO is 45 months. It’s a much better situation than a few years ago when it was about half that or 23 months. David cited results from the 9th annual study of the top 100 advertised brands from Spencer Stuart. He states reasons why this has evolved over the past several years, from research for his book Spanning Silos.
Based on our work with CMOs and other communication leaders, here’s more food for thought about today’s marketing leadership environment:
- True. CMOs have matured in their role as C-suite execs: We met up recently with a former CMO client who is now in a similar role with a new company. In her previous role, she burned some bridges with colleagues because she was passionate about creating change quickly to grow the business. Today, she plays her cards smarter. She’s matured in her role, which has helped her earn more respect with her C-suite colleagues.
- 2. Ah, we’re still talking about silos. The growth of digital makes working in silos seem absurd: The growth of digital and social media in comparison to other mainstream media makes working in silos naïve and passé. While integrated marketing communication leaders, like Clarke Caywood, have been pushing for change for several decades, the explosion of the consumer voice into any brand conversation at any time has forced (smart) marketing teams to finally collaborate more. Based on what we are seeing, building bridges among teams is getting better – but there is still room for improvement.
- 3. Dear CEOs, Please be as willing to take creative risks as leading CEOs like Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh: I’d argue that CMOs are at their best when they are paired with forward-thinking CEOs. What does it take to make them happen? A savvy, risk-taking and creative internal culture that starts with the tone the CEO sets.
Combine this with the notion that smart organizations cultivate ideas in real time by responding deftly to the external environment. We all too often see brands or companies miss brand-building opportunities by responding to great ideas 12 hours too late. In today’s environment, where savvy brands can ride pop culture waves to break through, being responsive is more important than ever. Imagine what kind of response Oreo would have received from its “dunk in the dark” Tweet the day after Super Bowl 2013 rather than during it? Here’s another case in point: A Zappos story from maverick CEO Tony Hsieh, reported in the current issue of PR Week:
What has been your most successful PR campaign to date? The Zappos brand was built by word of mouth, so PR plays a key role. The most successful campaigns we’ve had were ones where we weren’t trying to get PR out of it. Instead, it was just a fun idea that just happened to get PR, such as our response to Kanye West when he had a rant about our product on a podcast last year.
Walk us through how you executed the response to West’s dig at Zappos. Kanye referred to our product as “shit,” so we launched a new item on our site called “Sh-t Product,” which was essentially a $100,000 plunger complete with product photos and a video demonstration. The item’s description was, “The perfect gift for the man who has everything,” and we provided a link from the product to his rant.
It was one of those random, fun ideas that a few employees came up with at 6am and an entire team set up a war room so we could launch a response by noon that day. I then emailed the staff and notified our PR team. With the video, we received more than 600 million media impressions; the response was almost universally positive.
While the PR person in me cringes that the PR team may have been the last to know, the business person in me shouts “congrats” to Zappos for having a CEO that gets in the mix of how his company seized a pop culture moment. We could use more mavericks like Hsieh to unleash the talent that can be squashed by cautious, timid leadership.
Overall, we’re thrilled to see the expansion of CMO tenure. CMOs who stay longer gain brand knowledge, experience and confidence that enables them to take smart creative risks, without fellow C-suite denizens thinking they’ve lost their minds. It’s hard to be bold and creative when you’re looking over your shoulder as the 23-month calendar pages turn.