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Why The CMO Is The CEO’s Super-Weapon

by Sherilyn Shackell

A recent article by Harvard Business Review stated, yet again, that 80% of CEOs don’t rate their CMO. Really? I’m struggling to believe that 80% of CMOs are rubbish. Could it be that some CEOs just don’t know what they’ve got?

Let’s face facts. Some companies don’t even have a CMO, and those that do rarely give their CMO a seat at the board table. There is even debate, still, about the validity of putting “the customer in the board room.” Seriously? Any company that doesn’t have a CMO in the boardroom may as well publicly state “sorry, customer, you are so unimportant to us that not only do we not discuss you in our boardroom, ever, but we have no interest whatsoever in what you want. We so undervalue you that we’re not even prepared to have our CMO involved in the decisions we make about our company because, between us, he’s just the guy who decides what colour our logo is.”

Surely there is no debate. I recently saw some research that revealed companies with a CMO achieve, on average, 15% higher financial performance. That’s evidence, right there, never to underestimate the power of the function. If companies want to thrive, the marketing function must be empowered.

Is Your CMO Superman Or Clark Kent?
The role of the CMO is changing. Fast. The future CMO, like the current great ones, will no longer be responsible simply for comms and brand. If that’s all a CMO is allowed to do, then it’s like having your own corporate Superman or Wonder Woman and hiding the outfit. Without lycra and a cape, you get, well, Clark Kent. The best CMOs have direct input into company strategy, responsibility for pricing, innovation, customer experience, technology, data analytics, insight, and even—sharp intake of breath—the P&L.

Picture this scene. A person walks into the boardroom for a meeting with the CEO and says: “I should be on your board. I know your customers better than you do, I can anticipate their every need, I can influence the choices they make and decisions they take. I know exactly what your company should be providing for them at what price, and I understand how we should be engaging with them. Furthermore, I’m a great leader, I can inspire people to be the best they can be, I engage people at an emotional level. I have commercial nous because I frequently interact with every function in the business, I’m strategic as well as pragmatic, and I know that innovation should be at your core when it comes to products, services, people, and processes. I can help you drive growth, and if you give me a clear mandate to contribute to strategic business decisions, I’ll enable you to drive results upwards by up to 15%. You just need to give me a seat on your board. What do you say?”

“You’re hired!” says the CEO. “But tell me, where have you come from?” The person smiles and says: “Don’t you recognise me? I’m your CMO.”

Step Up And Take The Lead
So responsibility doesn’t just sit with the CEO. With the domain of the CMO growing as quickly as Japanese knotweed, marketing leaders themselves need to upskill to stay ahead of the game. They also need to raise both their profile and purpose with everyone on the board.

Thomas Barta, marketing leadership expert and co-author of “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader,” said: “The single biggest driver for CMO business impact in our large global study was leadership. Doing marketing isn’t the same as leading marketing. As a CMO, don’t wait for your CEO to give you greater powers. For success, step up and take the lead.”

CEOs must also consider very carefully what skills and experience they’re buying in. In the future, marketing leaders who have expertise exclusively in comms within a company that doesn’t see the commercial benefit of marketing are going to struggle as the remit widens, unless they round out their experience in other sectors, companies, or functions.

Get Digital
Ed Smith is the former CMO of Australian pay-TV company Foxtel—huge remit, on the board, customer front and centre—and recently took on a transformation role within a media agency in Europe, specifically to round out his experience and thus, ultimately, become a better and more powerful CMO. I asked him his views on CMOs becoming fit for future. He said: “CMOs need to really get data and digital. So much of the customer experience is now digital, and, over the next 10 years, digital, even consumer-facing IT, will fall under the CMO remit in many companies. When I say get digital, I mean really get it, and have a few scars from leading big digital projects. Work for a startup, lead a tech project, or go and work in a digital agency for a while.”

Interestingly, a recent study we did at Grace Blue discovered that up to 40% of U.K. advertisers have senior-level marketing talent with agency backgrounds. IAG, one of the largest insurance companies in Australia, recently hired former Saatchi & Saatchi exec Brent Smart as its CMO. Forward-thinking companies will seek to hire people at this level with a broader skill base because linear career paths within single functions or industries are becoming outmoded as marketers begin to migrate across the borders of traditional silos to gain more business experience.

The global CMO of Kodak, and also president of their film division, Steven Overman said: “Not only do I work closely with our CEO on our business objectives, I also continually collaborate with our chief financial officer, chief HR officer, chief technology officer, and chief legal counsel. Meanwhile, as a business division president, I also walk in the shoes of a P&L owner, which enables me to truly understand the broad requirements of effective business leadership. I would encourage every marketing executive to lean into broader business responsibilities.”

CMOs need to put on the cape and step into the boardroom. Only then will their CEOs appreciate the true potential of marketing as a formidable super weapon for profitable growth.

CMO.