Stepping up to be the leaders of tomorrow

Marketers need to stop blaming other parts of the business for their career issues and start thinking like ‘visionaries’, says a new report from Prophet.


Marketers who drive their company’s strategy are more likely to eventually become the CEO, claims new research from consultancy Prophet. But while the company has branded this breed of marketers as the “visionary” leaders of tomorrow, it appears that more than half of marketers still blame external factors for the stumbling blocks that stand in their way of reaching this level of influence.

Prophet’s “2009 State of Marketing Study: The Shift” interviewed 150 marketers across a range of global markets, from director level to chief marketing officer. While 76% of these were based in the US, 19% were Europe-based, with the rest coming from Canada, Mexico and Asia.

Although most marketers recognised the need to expand their responsibilities to have an impact on the company’s performance and therefore become a “visionary marketer”, 60% felt the biggest issues preventing this were out of their reach. They attributed factors such as the attitude of senior management, the quality of IT systems and the company’s own attitude towards marketing. Just 15% said they needed to change their own methods.

Prophet senior partner Scott Davis reveals: “There is a lot of finger-pointing going on as to why marketers have not been able to ascend to a greater leadership role.”

While poor IT systems such as inadequate customer databases or website tools may cause frustrations, T-Mobile UK chief marketing officer
Srini Gopalan says there is a limit to which this can be made an excuse.

“Make your business case so compelling that your company will make the investment. Or if your business case is not that compelling, then
understand the IT system better,” he says.

“People who say it’s someone else’s fault are not going to win in the market.”

Vincent Potier, UK managing director for telecoms firm Vonage, who has himself climbed the ladder from marketing to management, agrees: “The CMO should be driving change within the company’s data systems.”

Pizza Hut restaurants’ marketing director Claudia Nicholls-Magielsen agrees that marketers must challenge their hurdles. She warns: “If I observed that behaviour in my team, I would ask what they had done to discuss the problem. But I think that behaviour is more common in junior marketers.”

But Prophet’s Davis says there is truth in the respondents’ belief that their senior management team and the organisation’s marketing legacy can be a barrier to both change and their own career. He explains: “One of the enablers of whether a marketer can be successful has to do with the executive team’s disposition towards marketing; whether they just see it as an extension of sales support or something more.”


Just 47 of the survey’s respondents were identified as being “visionary”, under criteria set out by Prophet. Visionary marketers are those people more likely to be leading the strategic dialogue of a company. Of these visionaries, 89% claim to be leading strategy. This contrasts sharply with the 11% who claim to be leading strategy from the group which Prophet deems as “non-visionary”. Visionaries are three times more likely to be leading discussions about reinventing the business and to be collaborating with financial functions. They are also four times more likely to be involved in operational functions. According to the study, 60% of the visionary marketers collaborated with the CEO or COO and 31% worked with the CFO.

Davis elaborates: “If the CFO buys into a new programme, initiative or opportunity, then it will have more legs to stand on. Some CMOs are very
board savvy and the CEO is their partner in crime. These are the true growth catalysts. They have built up their business acumen as a marketer; they understand the business, its customers and segments and what drives margins – the best marketers understand how
the company makes money. If you operate that kind of marketing, then you can make trade-offs across other divisions.”

T-Mobile’s Gopalan agrees: “I typically talk once a day to my head of sales, CEO and CFO, and we often sit down and talk about ‘tradeoffs’.
That alignment is totally necessary.

“My Q2 plans have to be locked down by the end of January. If I’m not talking to those guys about it now and I’m depending on a presentation then to convince them of it, and they don’t buy it, then it’s too late.”

Prophet has decreed that visionary marketers not only drive company growth and reinvention agendas, but they also have a strong profit and loss mindset. While Pizza Hut’s Nicholls-Magielsen doesn’t necessarily agree with Prophet’s term “visionary”, preferring instead to define successful marketers through leadership capabilities, she agrees that executives must be financially minded. “It’s not a marketing fund, it’s a marketing budget, and you need to demonstrate what return you are delivering,” she says.

Vonage’s Potier adds that too many marketers define their roles as being about their own budgets and objectives, rather than taking accountability for the company’s profit and loss columns. “Your job isn’t just to make a TV commercial any more. It’s to grow the business,
improve the P&L, and keep customers happy,” he says.

Chief marketing officer for Best Buy, Barry Judge, echoes this: “When you look at your spending you have to decide what is the best way to move the company forward, rather than what is the best advertising campaign you can come up with. Part of being a senior leader is to
have a vision for the future of the company.”

Prophet claims that visionary marketers are five times more likely to want to become the CEO or COO of their company than their less visionary colleagues, and even if they don’t, Davis says, they are more equipped than ever to be considered for the job.

“I typically talk once a day to my head of sales, CEO and CFO, and we often sit down and talk about ‘tradeoffs’. That alignment is totally necessary.” Srini Gopalan, T-Mobile

Vonage’s Potier adds that marketers are well positioned to shape a company’s overall strategy, drawing on his own experience as a former
marketing director, promoted to managing director 18 months ago.

“I was prepared because of the way I looked at my role at the time: I was not just in charge of managing and optimising a budget; I considered myself accountable for the revenue generated from that budget and for the cost of acquiring and retaining customers,” he recalls.

Potier says that the culture, attitude and skills for the next generation of marketers is already changing rapidly to be more finance and operations based. He says that as a result, there will be no limit on marketers being able to claim the CEO role in the future.

But he adds that it’s important not to be too critical of marketers who don’t wish to be elevated to an MD or CEO role; as T-Mobile’s Gopalan also believes, there is a place for pure communications and branding specialists.

“I have a lot of time for communications and branding experts who love what they do, want to be world class at it and don’t want to do anything else,” he reasons. He says that people do not have to be striving for top management jobs to enable them to do good work.

The notion that marketers who aspire to be CEOs are more ambitious than those that don’t may not always reflect reality, Pizza Hut’s Nicholls-Magielsen says. She states: “As you progress in an organisation, you come to a crossroad and need to make a decision – to grow within the function of marketing or to have the aspiration of becoming a GM, MD or CEO. Both choices are equally compelling.”

But for those marketers who do want to become “visionaries” and rise to the top of their organisations, Prophet’s Davis suggests that they need to develop strategies that will help drive the whole business, not just their own objectives. He says that any disconnect between companies’ growth strategy and their marketing strategies needs to end.

He concludes: “There is no better time than now to step up and show some muscle that the organisation has not seen before, like showing valuable ways to find untapped segments of the market and offering opportunities that no one else has capitalised on.”



Scott Knox

Managing director of the Marketing and Communications Consultants Association (MCCA)
If we’re going to see more visionary people, what they are measured on needs to be broadened from the basic job description. Just because your job description doesn’t say “do more” doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do more. If the job description outlines ten tasks, then add an 11th one and explain to the CEO how it develops the brand and the company.

Marketers find it very difficult to have a conversation with their CEO or CFO in the tone that’s needed. The more commercially aware marketing directors are equiping themselves with the right language.

Marketers who don’t want to become the CEO need to make sure that they are in a company where this isn’t seen as a weakness. If becoming the CEO is not on their agenda, then they need to make themselves appear important, regardless of this.


Simon Hathaway

EMEA CEO of agency Saatchi & Saatchi X
I agree with the concept and definition of a visionary marketer, but that is simply how good marketing directors should behave. These results flag up that there are a lot of poor marketing directors out there.

Someone who is visionary changes the game, shows leadership and does things that the industry follows. Marketing directors should be driving the company and the business forward. Marketing has to be inherently linked to the strategy. Marketing has become more about brand management. It is not looking at what the commercial side of marketing is about.


David Taylor

Managing partner, the brandgym consultancy
It’s depressing, but not surprising, that only a third of the marketers in the survey were rated as visionary. What are the other two-thirds doing?

Too many marketers are still obsessed with communication, and feel most comfortable doing this. However, advertising is only the “image wrapper” of the business. The best marketers take ownership of really understanding the customer experience, and champion changing the business to improve this, working with the CEO and their peers in other functions.

Our experience backs up the research findings: the majority of senior marketers today are content to work in their silo and focus on communication. But I wonder how many of the two-thirds of non-visionary marketers are capable of changing or want to?

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