Surviving CMO Leadership Change

Surviving CMO Leadership Change

A few quick thoughts on CMO change outs.

How long should a CMO reign? And then what? JCPenny is now seeking a new CMO after appointing a CMO last year. GoDaddy just announced a new CMO as did Bacardi. How long will they last? CMOs, and CXOs generally, have about a 45 month shelf life according to the Wall Street Journal –– up from 22 months back in 2004. Your mileage may vary of course. Swapping out CMOs is a guaranteed way to stomp on the Gas Pedal of Change and hit the Fast Lane of Transformation (or Mediocrity) at high speed; a new CMO may:

  • Change the marketing personnel
  • Swap out old collateral for new designs
  • Retool the website content and interaction
  • Insert more/less processes for marketing and bid support activities
  • Change the ad agency or bring it all back in-house
  • Overhaul the marketing strategy, including service/product line go-to-market strategies

Some of these changes may be good, even needed. But wholesale changes en masse, typical of new marketing leaders anxious to make their mark, can create a number of unanticipated complications. Can you imagine that kind of change every few years? It would likely take a heavy toll on your brand, your people and your revenue. These changes can radically influence the bottom line, especially if customers don’t like the direction being taken by the new CMO. After all, branding will be impacted, the in-store /online store experience will change –– perhaps dramatically. How product ships will change. Simple things like how the phone is answered and use of email signatures may also change. All that change will trickle into an experience for the shareholder too. Changing marketing leadership is a big deal.

However, there are four ways to avoid major upheaval whenever CMO change outs occur in an organization. Here’s my 4-Point Survival Guide for your consideration:

1. Infrequent Change – Senior marketing leadership should not be changed frequently. Longer tenure is preferred, so long as the results are being secured. One prime way to avoid an unnecessary change out is for the company leadership to support the CMO already on the job and ensure he/she has the resources, funding, clarity on priorities and a voice at the table in order to secure the marketing mission. But if a change cannot be avoided (incompetence, consistent poor results, low team morale, etc.) …. Read on.

2. Succession Planning – Every CMO should have one to three strong understudies who can step in and mind the shop while the CMO is out temporarily. If longer term, one of the three should be tagged as a logical successor. This GREATLY avoids the typical chaos which may occur and fast tracks transition with minimum disruption. Karen Higginbottom has an excellent article detailing succession insights.

3. Mature Marketing Infrastructure – Even if the CMO drops out suddenly, there should be a fairly well developed marketing function in place complete with defined priorities, aligned processes and competent personnel. This “marketing hygiene” will help minimize disruption to the brand and ensure a smoother transition to the new CMO. He/she can then review the marketing function and tweak as needed –– vs. starting from scratch –– or even worse: inheriting a work-in-progress that is missing some of the vital pieces identified above.

4. Editorial Calendar – With a robust (well developed) and in-progress (utilized) editorial calendar, this accomplishes two things:

Gives a sense of immediate focus and execution to the marketing team while awaiting new orders and does so with no brand disruption or customer-perceivable changes. Business as usual (for now).

Quickly allows the new CMO to review content on the calendar, assess pending assignments and review ROI to date across all platforms/activities. The smart CMO will arrive with the mindset “don’t fix it if it’s not broken”; providing an in-play editorial calendar can be the best gift the marketing team can present to their new boss: a pithy tool for denoting most, if not all GTM activities including publishing, collateral, webinars, strategic events, lead generation and the connections between them; an editorial calendar is invaluable.

The longer a CMO reigns the more time he/she has to accomplish the assigned marketing mission AND incorporate succession planning, develop a more mature marketing infrastructure and execute a fully vetted editorial calendar. CMOs should think short term, hope for long term and leave the marketing function better than when they found it.

Imagine you are the new CMO. Is it easier to start from scratch, inherit someone else’s mess or further optimize a fairly well organized marketing function? As a general rule I would always prefer the later, and so would the leadership, customers and shareholders I suspect.

What’s been your experience with senior marketing leadership changes?

Mark Ware
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Mark Ware

Mark Ware is a thought leader and global senior sales and marketing executive who motivates sales and marketing teams, aggressively collaborates across the matrix and produces new sources of revenue.
Mark Ware
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