Four takeaways from the CMO 50

The marketing industry is resilient, adaptable and wildly creative — but turnover is an Achilles’ heel for brands.

Campaign US released ‘The CMO 50’ on Tuesday, a list of 50 marketers our editorial team rigorously selected to exemplify the best in creativity, versatility and business savvy demonstrated by brands over the last year.

The past year being what it was, we set out to identify brands and individuals that made bold decisions instead of retreating during a time of chaotic uncertainty and accelerated change.

Putting together this list was difficult simply because of the sheer ingenuity and resilience displayed by so many people and companies, from those that literally helped us survive the pandemic, to those who reengineered entire business models to remain relevant in a changed world.

The process led me to four observations about the modern CMO role.

1. The CMO tenure is too short

It struck me how many top marketers on this list were just settling into a new role.

This wasn’t surprising, per se, given the average CMO tenure is 40 months according to headhunter Spencer Stuart - just over three years and the shortest it has been for over a decade. But I had just assumed, given the nature of the list, we would be highlighting a handful of company veterans.

That’s not to say all marketing jobs are brief stints. Leaders such as Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard, Unilever’s Conny Braams, FedEx’s Brie Carere and Apple’s Greg Joswiak show it is possible for marketers to stick with one company, work their way up to the top and demonstrate longevity in a marketing role.

Still, nearly half of marketers in the feature started their role during or shortly before the pandemic. Granted, the past 12 months have been particularly disruptive, but constant CMO turnover makes it difficult to build a brand with a consistent message and culture.

Think of the magic that can happen when marketers stick around.

2. The pressure is higher than ever

This point is directly related to the last one. Marketing is always fast-paced, but given the sheer number of channels people simultaneously use to consume media and communicate with one another today, the complexity of a seamlessly orchestrated campaign can be mind numbing.

Yet CMOs are held to this exacting standard, and if they don’t meet it within a certain time frame, well, they get the boot.

Building brands takes time and creativity is difficult to measure. But marketing works. Would the industry be better off if we reframed success to leave some wiggle room for the magic to happen?

3. Top marketers are getting more diverse

When putting together this list, I was acutely aware that lining up 50 headshots on a page would offer a clear view on how far the industry has come on the diversity front.

I’m pleased to say that, based on this microcosm, it seems the industry has come a long way on gender parity. In 2018, 36% of Fortune 1,000 companies had female CMOs. The CMO 50 list isn’t a direct comparison, but more than half of the honorees on our list were female, a nod to the progress that’s been made.

It wasn’t, however, as easy as it should have been to identify enough top CMOs of color. While BIPOC leaders are becoming more prominent in the upper ranks of the marketing profession, Black, Asian and Latinx faces still aren’t as visible as they need to be. We need more people of color in these positions because it’s what’s right, but if that doesn’t convince you, it’s also business-critical as the U.S. evolves into a minority-majority country.

4. Tech dominates marketing

Nearly half of marketers on this list work in technology, whether that’s for social media platforms, video conferencing software or delivery services. A majority of the rest are legacy brick-and-mortar businesses adapting to new tech-driven consumer habits such as streaming, e-commerce and online banking, fitness and lifestyle.

Whether marketers are working for a tech company or not, tech is a core component of the job. Consumers live with one foot in the digital world and one in the physical world, and marketers need to mirror that to stay relevant.

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