CMOs Gaining Responsibility, But Are Not Passing On The Knowledge

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Norm Yustin, Russell Reynolds Associates’ global consumer practice senior advisory leader, talks about the impact of the CMO role since COVID-19 began.

Top marketers across industries are getting more responsibility for the overall business -- and fancier titles such as Chief Customer Officer, Chief Growth Officer, and Chief Revenue Officer -- as a result of the pandemic. At the same time, their mid-level colleagues are struggling to gain the tools and expertise that will take them to the next level of management.

According to Russell Reynolds Associates’ latest evaluation of CMO placement, 523 CMOs made moves in 2020, up from 420 moves in 2019. In addition, 282 CMOs switched jobs in the second half of 2020, 41 more than in the first half. According to Norm Yustin, the firm’s global consumer practice senior advisory leader, COVID-19 simply accelerated a trend that had been trying to break through for some time. 

“What has been trying to happen for years, was forced to happen more quickly,” Yustin said. “The pandemic forced marketers to think enterprise-wide, and to put digital at the forefront, of not just marketing, but of company operations.”

For the first time in the seven years the Russell Reynolds Associates has been tracking CMO moves, the firm expanded its analysis to include all go-to-market roles, including chief customer, chief growth, chief revenue, chief experience and chief digital officers. The larger data set provided deeper insights into the marketing function as a whole, revealing both positive and negative trends. 

On the positive side, the marketing function tends to have higher gender diversity than other departments. Though down 5% from the previous year, women still accounted for 45% of the marketing leadership appointments in 2020. However, appointments to other customer-facing functions such as chief sales officer, chief revenue officer, chief product officer and chief growth officer were heavily skewed toward men. (Chief sales officer appointments in 2020 were 91% men; chief revenue officer appointments were 83% men, and chief product officer appointments were 83% men.)

“I don’t know why other than to say no one has paid attention, and no one has made it a priority,” Yustin said. “We’ve hidden behind marketing being diverse. I’m struggling to find the same things with the sales and growth areas. They need to make it a priority.”

In another good news/bad news scenario, marketers and the marketing function are getting more business responsibility. In the past six months, 17% of executive appointments were to newly created roles within organizations, including chief growth officer, chief customer officer, and chief revenue officer. In fact, half of the chief customer officer appointments over the last six months were to newly created roles. 

“The pandemic has really put the customer at the forefront. If people can’t come into the store, that fundamentally transforms the business model,” Yustin said. “Marketers who are talking about customer-centricity throughout the organization, they are absolutely being heard.”

However, many companies are not building internal talent. According to the firm’s data, 84% of CMOs were hired from external positions, a 5% increase over the previous six months. This lack of grooming and training is leading to what Yustin called a “CMO crisis.”

“The CMOs are not building the [talent] benches beneath them,” Yustin said. “There’s a lot of marketing jobs open, but there’s a lot of people who are not ready to take these jobs.”

To start building the talent beneath them, CMOs need to start giving people opportunities to get broader-based experience, even if they are not sure they will be successful in the new role, Yustin said. 

“You have to make things uncomfortable for both you and your people,” he said. “It’s not an and/or job. “Being CMO is a job where you have to use both sides of your brain equally.”

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