How Can CMOs Get Positions Serving on a Corporate Board?

Digital Expertise Is in Increasing Demand -- Start Planning Now

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With the intense focus on how social media and digital technologies are affecting business, it stands to reason that CMOs with experience in these areas would be in demand on corporate boards looking to "get smart" on these important strategic priorities. But few marketing leaders serve as directors on Fortune 1000 company boards. Our research indicates that of the more than 9,800 board seats for those companies, only 38 are occupied by a CMO.

Why is this? Low director turnover on public company boards in the United States means few openings to fill. But more than that, when director positions do exist, boards tend to favor candidates with prior governance experience. In 2012, for example, S&P 500 companies added only 291 new directors, the smallest number since 2001. Of these, just 87 had no previous public-company board experience. Only boards seeking greater diversity consider adding a CMO.

Still, as advancements in digital technology, social media and smartphone applications change the way customers interact with brands, we expect to see rising demand for directors with experience in digital and social media, as well as mobile platforms and omni-channel retail. Most boards will acknowledge, if they are honest, that they have no one around the board table with the expertise to ask management the right questions, absorb the responses and understand the implications when it comes to digital strategies. The average age of independent S&P 500 company directors is over 62; this generation did not grow up with these technologies.

For marketing leaders aspiring to serve on an outside board, we offer the following advice on how to position yourself for the opportunities that will no doubt arise.

Be prepared to talk about your USP (unique selling proposition). Boards assume that you have the requisite marketing expertise, but you must clearly articulate where your interests lie and why you want to serve on a corporate board. For many marketers, the key will be leading-edge experience in digital, social, mobile and consumer insight. But understand that you can't expect to be just the marketing expert, as boards want directors with broad-based business perspective.

Make sure your boss supports your bid. This may sound obvious, but we've seen a number of situations where someone assumes that it is okay to serve on a board and then, when an opportunity arises, the boss says no. Advise your CEO of your interest and gain approval early on.

Build a wide network of advocates. It's important to let friends and colleagues who serve as directors or board advisers know of your interest so that they can suggest you when an opening arises. An endorsement by individuals in the boardroom who have seen you in action in your job, interacting with your own company's board or serving on a nonprofit or smaller company board is powerful. Do not assume that these people will think of you without prompting.

Get involved now. A large public company is unlikely to be your first board experience. Recognize that there are other places where you can get useful experience and put your knowledge to work. More opportunities are available on the boards of local nonprofits, universities, smaller companies and private companies, including private equity portfolio companies and advisory boards.

The number of CMOs who serve on boards today is relatively small, but interest in modern marketing profiles continues to grow. Properly planning today will put you in the best position to take advantage of boards' growing interest in these skills.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg Welch is founder of Spencer Stuart's marketing officer recruitment practice.
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