Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Who wants to be a CMO?

Life in Elizabethan England was memorably described as nasty, brutish and short. While this might also describe one of my competitors in global advertising, it is also a perfect description of the life of a Chief Marketing Officer. Tenure has now reached an all time low in the US. Twenty-six months in the job and you are gone.

This short-termism is the bane of my life. It means we are constantly dealing with newcomers who have no knowledge of the business they are in. They also don't have a clue about their brand narratives and legacy, their consumer or how to get things done in their own company. The biggest single rupture in an agency-company relationship is driven by the arrival of a new CMO trying to change everything whilst knowing nothing.

Wall Street obsessed CEO’s are driven by quarterly results and yet have very little feel for the new, rapidly changing Consumer Republic. It is a world where most of the marketing techniques they learned years ago are of no use whatsoever. With the consumer as boss, the mass market approach of yore - driven by research, precedent and sheer weight of spending - is no longer a panacea. The bean counters are obsessed with ROI and measurement. The trouble is that it’s emotional connectivity which is driving success, and emotional connectivity is very hard to predict and to measure with today’s archaic tools. Consumers are moving faster than companies, faster than CEOs, and CMOs are finding it hard to keep up. Add to this the fact that almost everybody you know (without any substance whatsoever) has strong opinions on marketing and advertising. You see the dilemma. John Costello, who I worked with at P&G, PepsiCo and Pay By Touch, and was also CMO at Home Depot, Sears and Yahoo!, can go on for hours about the constant second guessing CMOs have to put up with from every quarter. You don’t see people discussing the options CIOs or CFOs put in place; but everyone’s a marketing expert.

Building a brand is a long-term process that requires inspiration, intuition and vision. It’s incremental, as transformational changes need to come into play. Above all, it requires patience, flexibility and a long-term point of view. Of course this is completely at odds with most CEO’s fixation on short-term results driven by the short-term demands of market makers and traders.

Successful companies like P&G, General Mills and Toyota take a much different view. Their top marketing chiefs are given time, support and the tools to build brands and to get the job done. This is what sets these great, sustainable, long-term companies apart from the mass.

So if your mate is a CMO, buy him a beer and give him a hug tonight.