New class of 'Super-CMO' needs smart agency partners

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A new hero is striding to the foreground of marketing: the Super-CMO.

Identified in several recent studies and forums, this new breed of chief marketing officer promises to raise the function to what many contend is its rightful place alongside other primary business disciplines-strategy, finance, IT, operations and HR. And therein lies the challenge to agencies: Can they evolve to complement the needs and skills of the Super-CMO?

At the Association of National Advertisers' annual meeting two weeks ago, the ANA and several of my colleagues from Booz Allen Hamilton unveiled the findings from the first phase of a multipart study on the state of marketing organizations. One conclusion was that there is an emergent class of CMO. Heretofore quite rare, this "driver of growth" contrasts with the more traditional types of marketing leader, the "marketing-services provider" and the "marketing adviser." Among other things, they "direct brand strategy, business development and innovation; drive the marketing capability agenda and ROI; and are empowered by the CEO to align marketing in the business units to the central agenda."

This discovery matches the conclusion of another study conducted recently by Gail McGovern and John Quelch. In "The Fall and Rise of the CMO," which Strategy & Business is publishing in its next issue, the Harvard Business School marketing professors also identify a rising class of marketing executive who partners with the CEO on strategy, supervises product development and innovation and has been or is on the path to be a general manager or even a CEO. Among the examples they cite are UPS Corp. Senior VP Kurt Kuehn and Pepsi North America Senior VP Dave Burwick.

It is true that, at the best companies, marketing is growing in importance, scope and complexity to match the growth and needs of the firm itself. Gone -or going-are the days when having a good instinct for TV and a gut feel for packaging could carry the marketing chief. Today "Super-CMOs," to use the McGovern-Quelch term, must be at least conversant in their senior colleagues' disciplines: analysis, finance, business-unit strategy, information technology, innovation and operations. (Working familiarity with Six Sigma or other quality-improvement techniques wouldn't hurt, either.)

Naturally, such skilled marketers will want to surround themselves with associates who can walk that same talk. That's one source of the challenge to agencies. It's little secret that, even as marketers increasingly value great, clutter-cutting creative, they're growing more frustrated with agencies whose sole source of value is entertainment "magic." This is especially true as client companies continue to pare costs and depend on suppliers more and more for intelligence and ability.

My conversations with CMOs (and with the best of the best agency executives) show the same things: Marketers want partners who understand the complexities of supply chains, who can take a long view of business unit strategy even as they contribute to immediate revenue gains, and who can be a fully credible resource in analyzing and making choices about consumer segments, media and messages. Most of all, they want help convincing their CEO, chief financial officer and chief operating officer there's a need to balance short-term ROI with long-term brand needs.

If you're at an agency and your Super-CMO isn't asking you for this yet, rest assured that she-or he-soon will.

Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is director of intellectual capital at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.

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