According a study by executive search consulting firm Spencer Stuart, the average tenure for chief marketing officers (CMOs) of US consumer brand companies dropped from 48 months to 44 months between 2014 and 2015.

While the drop is relatively small, it is significant as it represents the first decline in average tenure in 10 years.

This is an issue that is not just prevalent across the pond. The Marketing Week Salary Survey highlighted the extent of job churn among UK marketers, with 81% planning to leave their posts in the next three years and 39% aiming to exit in the next 12 months. Meanwhile, figures by The Marketing Society show that the average tenure of today’s CMOs in the UK stands at just 18 months on average.

While the study demonstrated shorter CMO tenures, it also showed that 30 companies of the 100 have new senior marketers at the helm – proving a higher turnover.

According to Spencer Stuart, 22 of the 30 new CMOs (73%) are moving into the top marketing job for the first time. This is consistent with the remaining companies on the list, where 51 of the 70 CMOs (73%) were first-time CMOs when they were named to their current role.

“The industry-wide impact of having nearly one-third of the top CMOs new to their roles is significant, given the incredible influence and buying power that today’s top CMOs wield,” says Greg Welch, a consultant in the Spencer Stuart marketing officer practice.

On the lookout for new opportunities

Simon Carter, marketing director for the UK and Ireland at Fujitsu, believes the short tenure is predominantly down to the economy. While the recession initially caused marketers to cling onto their jobs, they are now starting to feel more secure and as a result are looking elsewhere for new opportunities.

He explains: “As people have started to feel more secure in their lives, they are starting to look around at other roles. Likewise, as brands are seeking to grow quickly, they are keen to take on people who will help them get there quicker.

“The higher rates of ‘loyalty’ over the last five years have been much more down to the ‘button down the hatches’ approach to the underlying economy and associated job uncertainty.”

A short term focus

Besides dropping rates of loyalty, there is also increasing pressure on CMOs day-to-day, contributing to increased turnover.

“One of the main drivers is CMOs being pressured to quickly achieve results instead of focusing on a long-term vision. Particularly if you’re a listed company, the City wants to see results and fast,” says Carmen Bekker, management partner at J. Walter Thompson London.

Marketers are also increasingly under pressure to prove ROI on marketing spend.
She adds: “Company boards can sometimes see marketing as a spend rather than an investment, leading to CMOs feeling pressured to get the wanted results.”

New disruptors and technology

The market has also become increasingly uncertain. As industries face disruption from new brands, think Airbnb and Uber, brands have been forced to battle competition as well as keep up technologically. As a result, some CMOs are having to restructure their own teams and find the right talent.

“Marketers are suddenly finding themselves managing social platforms as well as distribution platforms within their teams, which means their wide ranging responsibilities could force them to restructure. In this uncertain environment, it’s about finding and nurturing the right talent, which can be difficult in itself,” Bekker says.

To overcome these challenges, CMOs need to be increasingly nimble and back up their actions with quantifiable results, adds Carter.

“Marketers known to have a stable set of competitors and a logical set of customers have had this thrown up in the air by technology. As such, CMOs need to be ever more responsive, much more agile in their plans and more accountable for their success and failures,” he said.

“It is a great time to be a CMO – at least if you like living in an uncertain world.”

Simon Carter, marketing director for the UK and Ireland, Fujitsu

Cementing marketing’s place

But marketers should not be too discouraged. The study also found that internal hiring is prevalent. Out of the new CMOs that were appointed, 11 were external hires while 19 were internal promotions. Meanwhile, 10 of the new CMOs (33%) are female, while out of the remaining CMOs on the list, 14 of 70 (20%) are female – showing an increasing number of female marketers being appointed the top job.

As Jamie Elliott, CEO at creative agency MullenLowe London concludes: “It’s encouraging to see more women being appointed and more of the new CMOs being internal appointments. This suggests that succession planning is translating through to action. All of this will help to cement marketing’s place at a board level, which is the longer term issue we’re all fighting.”

  • Rob Sutton

    Or maybe CMO is just an over inflated job title which raises salary expectations accordingly, hence the increase of (cheaper) internal hires. Or perhaps they’re just crap at their jobs. It could be for any number of reasons. A speculative article at best.