Have You Checked on Your CMO Lately?

by Jason Ocker
Aug 06, 2019

Chief Marketing Officers are becoming an endangered species as companies try to figure out the changing marketing landscape.

On the latest episode of our Agency on Record podcast (CMOs Are Disappearing, and Yours Might Be Next), Mike Colombo and I discuss a series of trend reports from both industry and mainstream sources (AdAge, AdExchanger, CNBC) on companies ditching the entire CMO role.

The trend is immediately interesting because of the list of companies: McDonald’s, Hyatt Hotels, Uber, Johnson & Johnson, Beam Suntory, Taco Bell, Coca-Cola, Lyft. Not only are they all highly recognizable brands, it’s a varied list of company type, too, with both legacy and startup, tech and nontech, giant and small, multi-brands and uni-brands.

In fact, 30% of the Fortune 500 don’t have CMOs, which is up 4% from ten years ago.

Of course, we all know CMOs have the shortest tenure in the C-Suite. We also know that a lot of companies look at marketing as a fluffy nice-to-have and will take a dull axe to the department at the first uncomfortable signs of belt-tightening. However, this trend is more complicated than that.

The reasons some of these companies are giving for dropping the CMO role are varied and range on the believability scale. Some want marketing tied tighter to revenue and growth. Some want a more consistent message across consumers, press, policy, and partner audiences. Some want the role to oversee much more than traditional roles. Some are just rebranding the rebranders (giving the CMO new titles like Chief Growth Officer, Chief Experience Officer, Chief Brand Officer, and Chief Commercial Officer). Some are splitting the role into two, one for the more technical elements of marketing and one for the more traditional brand role.

We’ve talked before on the podcast how the CMO role is at a crossroads due to the highly technical demands of modern marketing and marketing’s changing relationship with IT, and that seems to be a part of this trend, but there also seems to be more.

Marketing Needs Financial Accountability

Once upon a time (and still to this day), marketers took their budgets and spread them across billboards and television screen and conference booths and banner advertising, and then played with fuzzy metrics to show an ROI or just ignored ROI completely. Brand awareness and all that. I mean, sure, many companies claim to have proprietary ways to measure ROI in this context, but who knows. What we do know is that we’re in the Data Age. There are digital marketing channels that can be tracked and measured and tied directly to a sale. At least until GDPR-type privacy rules change everything.

Marketing Is Highly Technical

Sure, you might know how to come up with a killer television commercial concept (or hire the right people to do it) or plan a conference presence, but do you know what martech you need in your stack from the thousands of vendors out there? Or how to manage integration with other internal and third-party systems?  Or how to build software? And do it all on time and under a budget? Marketing is now a technical role, so it requires a wider set of expertise than just a good eye for a tagline.

Innovation Comes from the Bottom, Not the Top

A relevant point in this discussion is that these companies aren’t deleting marketing from their organization (well, most of them aren’t—Uber recently fired 400 from its marketing department), they’re just deleting the top marketing role. Maybe that’s because in this world of customer-centric marketing and personalized experiences, it’s the people closest to the customers who need the power and flexibility and authority to reach them on their terms. Grander, impersonal national- and global-level schemes aren’t needed as much.

This might sound like bad news for CMOs or those on tracks to become CMOs, but it really could be the opposite. Suddenly, CMOs can have a much broader mandate, be more important to the company, and can find themselves on a path to CEO, a career track that has been a rarity in the past for CMOs.

In the end, this trend seems like it could be extremely bad for CMOs and marketing in general, ore extremely good. Marketing is chaos right now. It’s…kind of a lot of fun.

Jason writes. Tells stories. Develops strategies. He oversees a wide range of creative and technical projects. He’s also an award-winning author of half a dozen books and has been featured on or in CNN, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The New York Times, and TIME.

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