CMOs Inspire More Lip Service Than Real Love in The C-Suite

EXCLUSIVE: Survey Finds CEOs Falling Short in Working with Marketing

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CHICAGO ( -- America's CEOs finally say that chief marketing officers deserve a seat at the executive-management table. Then they yank the chair out from under them.
Hershey Co. president Rick Lenny emphasized his company recognized the importance of CMOs.
Hershey Co. president Rick Lenny emphasized his company recognized the importance of CMOs.

Survey results from 278 marketing, sales and management executives to be released at the fourth annual Spencer Stuart CMO Summit in Chicago today indicate that while CMOs have made strides in gaining respect within the upper echelons of management, CEOs aren't filtering that support down the ranks, leaving the marketing-chief role ill-defined and out of alignment within the overall organization.

While some 85% of respondents said it was either "extremely critical" (39%) or "very critical" (46%) for CEOs to communicate with marketing, only slightly more than half found that happening in practice. Just 18% said that CEOs were excellent at that communication and only 35% rated CEOs as good at doing so.

And when asked how critical it is for CEOs to hold those who report directly to them accountable for ensuring they partner with marketing, 42% of respondents ranked it as "extremely critical" and 36% "very critical." But fewer than half of CEOs seem to be actually doing so: When asked to rate CEOs on making those reports accountable, only 14% of respondents judged them excellent and 29% judged them good.

Moreover, they did not give CEOs high marks for projecting an image of cohesive CEO/CMO relations to their direct reports or communicating marketing's importance well to the rest of the organization.

"Ultimately, each CEO is responsible for the direction for his/her company. ... Often, this direction is left on the shoulders of the marketing officer with little support to execute," said one respondent from a consumer-oriented company.

"There is a mutual need to facilitate each other's agenda rather than have just the CEO do it," said Rick Routhier, a consultant with Spencer Stuart's Stamford, Conn., office. "You can expect the CEO to be supportive but if you're expecting the CEO to be the effective champion, that's unrealistic."

Lack of support from upper management ranked sixth of seven obstacles to assimilating marketing into the organization. Respondents cited the top three obstacles as too few resources (56%); shortage of good talent in the marketing group (29%); and lack of trust and credibility for CMOs with the rest of the organization (28%)-and all three were rated the most lacking in their organizations.

Not that the CMOs themselves aren't at fault. Though the survey respondents were grouped by consumer and non-consumer companies, both groups listed strategic vision (62%), influence to build relationships (44%), exceptional communication skills (31%), and the ability to be strategic adviser to the CEO (34%) as the top skills for a CMO to possess to overcome marketing-connection barriers. Yet they rated the top skill gap as the ability to become a strategic adviser to the CEO.

"Often the CMO does not have P&L responsibility so they are 'heard' differently, in a less serious fashion than the people 'really running the business,"' said one non-consumer marketer polled. "To be taken seriously, the CMO needs to know the business issues deeply and have ideas outside marketing to help."

In other words, to earn their seats at the table. "Because the CMO is so disrespected in the organization they can't do it on their own, they need the CEO to bully people to mandate it, because not a strong enough of a case has been made by the CMO," said David Reibstein, professor-marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, who sees the Spencer Stuart survey responses in part as whining by CMOs. "If the CEO is not doing it well, it's because the CMO has not made it clear to the CEO or the rest of the organization of the importance of fulfilling what's required on the CMO side."

Hershey Co. President-CEO Rick Lenny said his organization recognizes the importance of the CMO. In the survey, he said, "what there seems to be is thinking of the CMO in a purely functional orientation." But at Hershey, "we view all of our marketing personnel executives in a much more business management role."

The question he said is "if the CMO post is regarded as a staff role vs. an aligned role. We now say a CMO is very much a line executive position and it's one that's clearly charged with building sales, market share and profitability. It's a joint and shared responsibility."

In that, at least one CEO seems to be on the same page as his CMO. Michele Buck, senior VP-chief marketing officer of the U.S. commercial group for Hershey, echoes the sentiment. "My performance is evaluated on bringing in big ideas and consumer propositions to the table, but also delivering the top line as well as the bottom line," said Ms. Buck. "That makes me very aligned to Rick's goals."

Marketers would be better served looking outside of their companies for ammunition to gain support within their own companies, said Ms. Buck. "It's too easy to get caught up with the internal agenda." It's more important, she said, to understand "what's going on externally and making sure we're incorporating those things into the strategic agenda and marketing plans, so we're successful."
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