A Modest Proposal: Put CMO Role Out of Its Misery

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Perhaps we should just call for the end of the CMO position. Put the job out of its misery. It isn't really working anyway, is it? Let's just divvy up the responsibilities among the chief sales officer, the chief information officer, the chief operations officer and the chief financial officer. The CMO was having too much trouble trying to figure out how to talk to them and get them to understand marketing anyway. And CEOs were having too much trouble defining the CMO role and making heads or tails of what, exactly, the value was.

At the very least, let's change the title to the more accurate chief maybe officer -- as in, maybe he'll stick around, maybe he won't. Maybe her new initiatives will be well-received and move the needle, maybe they won't.

Kidding aside, the latest round of CMO departures -- three since Oct. 15 -- is noteworthy. It includes Jeffrey Herbert, former Aflac CMO; Roger Adams, former senior VP-CMO at Home Depot; and Cammie Dunaway, former Yahoo CMO. No lightweights, they. Mr. Herbert's résumé reflects 20 years of experience and boasts stints at Coca-Cola Co., Campbell Soup Co. and Kraft Foods. Mr. Adams is a veteran of General Motors Corp., Keebler Co. and PepsiCo. Ms. Dunaway spent 13 years at Frito-Lay before joining Yahoo in 2003.

Now, sure, their reasons for leaving vary; each was a unique case. But this batch leaves us again pondering the seeming disconnect.

So what -- or who -- has to give? Both sides. For their part, CMOs simply need to carry more tools in the toolbox. For sake of argument, take the Home Depot situation: This is a company that is looking for operational efficiencies. It needs a better on-the-floor retail experience, with better-trained associates. It needs to get more traffic into stores. There is no reason why the CMO can't implement initiatives that help in these regards. It's all marketing strategy, after all. Advertising is just a piece of the pie. Sometimes, growth opportunities lie in burying down, not blowing out.

Now to the flip side: CEOs and boards simply have to have a better understanding of what a CMO can and should do for them and what they want out of a CMO. And those expectations should be clear from the outset. They also need to recognize that CMOs can, in fact, be more than one-trick ponies -- but may need a little time to display that versatility and subsequent results. Do CMOs have a future? Maybe.
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