From Great to Good: What’s Causing CMO Tenure Decline?

March 15, 2016

Last week, Spencer Stuart released the results from its most recent study on CMO tenure. In looking at the profiles of chief marketers from 100 of the top U.S. advertised brands they found that, for the first time in a decade, CMO tenure is on the decline.

The average tenure for chief marketing officers dropped almost 10 percent in the last year from 48 months to 44 months. CMO stickablility peaked in 2014, which was more than double that of 2004. The study reports that the median tenure also declined from 35.5 months in 2014 to 26.5 in 2015.


What’s causing this decline? It could be any one or an unpredictable mix of the following:

Unrealistic expectations – Modern marketers struggle with incredible change, but the pressure to do so is only getting greater. A study  from Forrester Research and the Business Marketing Association (BMA) looked at the expanding role of marketing. Ninety-seven percent of marketers said they expect the pace of change in marketing to accelerate and 76 percent felt their leadership evaluate success of failure more rapidly than before. Clearly, that’s the current state of affairs for CMOs.

Unprepared candidates – The Forrester/BMA research also looked at how well marketers are prepared for today’s environment.

  • 21 percent of marketers say the skills for which they were hired are now obsolete
  • 97 percent see a dramatic increase in the breadth of marketing skills needed
  • 97 percent are doing things they’ve never done before
  • 45 percent can’t find marketing candidates with the right skills

We live in a digital-first world and there’s a tremendous skills gap. But it’s not only digital that rules the day, it’s also knowing what to do with data, how to build and execute strategy and keeping creative excellence in the picture.

Unwillingness to look at the long-term – To see the quick-turn of C-suite executives in other areas would be cause for alarm and signal a dire future for the company. We certainly don’t see this rate of turnover with CFOs or more critically CEOs. Are companies promoting first-time CMOs hoping that their younger, fresher perspective will prove a silver bullet to our rapidly changing and often fickle customers? And when they don’t perform, are they shown the door?

EffectiveBrands and the Association of National Advertisers took an in-depth look at what brands need to do now for marketers to be prepared by 2020 in our hyper-changing environment. After interviewing 350 CEOs, CMOs and agency heads and surveying more than 10,000-plus marketers from 92 countries the answer came through loud and clear.

We need marketing organizations that reflect our current business environment, rather than those designed in the 1980s. That takes a major investment of time and it won’t happen in 44 months.

The complexity of successful marketing can’t be conducted with a structure that restricts agility and marketing’s ability to respond in real-time to customer needs. Shortening the tenure of the person at the helm of marketing creates confusion about the voice of the company,

What can marketers do?
First and foremost, focus on your business acumen. In B2B we see marketing leaders being promoted to the executive suite based on their ability to drive the business, such as Beth Comstock of GE and Eduardo Conrado of Motorola Solutions. McDonald’s Steve Easterbrook was Chief Brand Officer before taking the CEO role. Marketing executives such as these three are able to drive business growth and innovation while understanding marketing’s role within it. They’re business leaders who happened to work in marketing.

Second, invest in your education. This doesn’t mean that you have to go to back to a traditional classroom environment. Most likely it means that you need to get serious about self-education and up your curiosity quotient. Look at what you do with a new perspective. What are the best companies doing – not just in your industry but any industry. Great ideas and inspiration come from things that don’t relate to what we do on the job every day. Practice bringing that frame of mind into your world every day.

What do you do to make sure your time on the job is increasing? Share your perspective in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk

     About Carla


Carla is a world-renowned storyteller, an entertaining speaker, and a prolific author. Having lived, worked, and studied on five continents, she's partnered with top brands and conferences to train thousands of people how to rethink the work that they do andth impact they can have. her visionary expertise has inspired and equipped leaders at all levels to embrace change, welcome new ideas, and transform their business.

Her work with Fortune 500 brands served as the foundation for many of her books. Her tenth, RE:Think Innovation (available for pre-order) busts the myth that innovation is something that requires a specific degree or special training. in fact, Carla explains why, to be a successful company in today's hyper-competitive, customer-driven world, innovation must be everyone's business. Her goal is to teach one million people how to become innovators by 2025.

Consistently named one of the top influencers in B2B, digital and content marketing, Carla regularly challenges conventional thinking. Today, she travels the world teaching anyone (and everyone) how to cultivate idea-driven teams that breed unstoppable creativity and game-changing innovation.