Keeping vision in focus when the CMO goes

Human nature abhors a vacuum, too. Agency experts suggest ways to support the big picture.

As an increasing number of CMOs have stepped down without a replacement, all eyes are on what a study from Forrester calls the CMO’s "desperate fight for survival." But what happens to the brands after they’re CMO-free? 

After seeing CMO tenure shortened in recent years, at such brands as McDonald's, J&J, Taco Bell and Uber, the position of CMO is starting to disappear altogether.

Without a CMO providing oversight, it can be easy for marketing teams to lose track of key aspects of their business. Without a single person at the top, performance and brand marketing teams can start to pull apart. As brands look for new ways to cover the responsibilities CMOs once filled, some are turning to their agency partners for a much-needed perspective.

So what issues are keeping marketers awake at night, and what advice do agencies have for them? Whether they’re re-configuring the CMO role or trying to pioneer what might be next, outside perspectives can save brands a few lessons they might otherwise learn the hard way.

We’d like to offer advice from a number of agency leaders to the CMO-less brands out there.

Bill Durrant, President at Exverus Media

The Challenge: Without a CMO overseeing the work, teams can get off target.

The Solution: Codify your processes. Whether you are assigning budgets, implementing campaigns, or reporting and creating insights, having a set of clearly defined processes prevents team members from managing steps inefficiently, or worse, building two completely different consumer experiences or sending misaligned work to the CEO. 

The Challenge: One of the roles of the CMO is to incite collaboration between teams, and this often goes away when the role does.

The Solution: "Force" collaboration. Whether incentivizing collaboration by making it part of the annual review/bonus structure, or building collaboration into the company process as mandatory steps, don't just talk about or hope for collaboration. Build it in. 

The Challenge: As CMO-less organizations come together on projects, a leadership vacuum is one of the easiest outcomes to predict. 

The Solution: Assign a leader. Rather than the "leader" becoming the Type-A personality no one wants to speak up to, rotate leadership of important projects and require ample floor time for dissent and discussion. Your organization's decisions should come down to the best ideas, not the biggest personalities.

Create a marketing leadership team. To add more discipline, "Frankenstein" the CMO role by assigning a task force of team leads from each discipline: sales, communications, product, data, innovation, etc. These people should collaborate and make decisions together by jury and assign a "foreman" to report to the CEO.

Jae Goodman, CEO, Observatory

The Challenge: Marketers are looking for someone to fill the leadership vacuum created by a CMO's departure. Some are inclined to bring in their agency partners as interim CEOs. But that has to be handled carefully because marketing organizations don't always want to take cues from an agency.

The Solution: Putting anyone in place as interim CMO is a huge vote of trust. Make sure you're getting buy-in from the senior marketing people already in place. They have institutional knowledge and the motivation to keep the brand on track. Junior client executives wait to hear strategies and tactics directly from their senior client colleagues before acting on guidance from the interim CMO, so getting everyone aligned at the start will make a big difference.

Meryl Draper, CEO and co-founder of Quirk Creative

The Challenge: The later you need a new opinion in creative development, the more likely it will be that everything gets derailed. CEOs hate dealing with minutia and decisions early in the process, but seem magnetically drawn to giving their opinions later in the game.

The Solution: Loop in the CEO early. Buttonhole them in the elevator if you have to. Even if they say you don’t need their signoff—assume you need their signoff. Getting their input early and often prevents this by including some of their creative DNA in the resulting ad/marketing baby.

The Challenge: It’s hard to have a vision when it’s unclear whose job it is to have a vision.

The Solution: Vision is hard to quantify, but data isn’t. 

Write a list of the questions you're dying to know about your brand. Do customers convert because of the problem you solve, or the aspirational nature of your imagery? Do discreet shots of products work better than humans interacting with the product? Once you ID your most pressing concerns, work with your ad partner to devise variations that test this. Boom. Now you look like a marketer with a strategy and a plan. Enjoy your newfound reputation as a mad scientist/thought leader/visionary. Remember us in your Ted Talk.

Jordan Delapoar, Director, Brand Strategy, NORTH

The Challenge: Ad copy is being written by AI and bots, AORs have vanished, and now the CMO spot is being left vacant. Who's making sure the brand is flawlessly executed across the most complex channel ecosystem we've ever experienced? Who's watching out for the customer experience? 

The Solution: Modern marketing departments are pulled in a million different directions, trying to keep up with the growing menu of channel options that need to be fed with fresh content. In that frenzied and cluttered context, brands need someone keeping an eye on the overarching customer experience which is typically the CMO. Without a CMO, an organization would need a cross-functional team dedicated to making decisions based on customer experience.  

Tim Galles, Chief Idea Officer, Barkley

The Problem: Brands are looking to replace their CMOs with another CMO.

The Solution: Scratch the CMO. Hire a Chief Brand Officer.

 A brand is more than a logo, advertising or marketing. For people, it's the memory created by the sum of every experience that a person has with the brand. For the brand, its innovation, culture, products, services, beliefs, behaviors, design, experience, service and, yes, marketing. It’s everything a company or organization does, inside and out.

The way people actually see and experience brands—not the way organizational structures do—requires a new role in the C-Suite. Guided by a singular, powerful idea at its core and the power to inspire creativity across an organization, the CBO inspires and connects all brand actions a company or organization takes, inside and out. She is responsible for the communication of the brand's belief and behavior system, overseeing marketing, design, experience, customer insights and business insights, customer service and all internal communications to ensure that the brand is alive, clear, coherent and connected everywhere.

Jeff Sweat is the founder of advertising PR and consulting firm Sweat + Co, and the author of the novels "Mayfly" and "Scorpion."

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