Give CMOs time to do their jobs

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A prevailing, if unfortunate, belief is that marketing is discretionary. Now, a new study finds chief marketing executives are, too.

A rather chilling Spencer Stuart survey pinpoints the average tenure of a CMO at just under two years. That may be good for the business of executive recruiters. But it's appalling for the business of marketing, whose philosophy, at the core, is building for the long term.

The sobering facts: Only 14% of CMOs have been with their companies for more than three years. Half have been in their jobs only 12 months. Average turnover is 10 months for apparel companies and 34.8 months for financial-services companies.

It's a sad commentary that shows a deep-seated lack of respect for the marketing function. The make-the-quarter mentality at many companies puts long-range brand planning, and the marketing executives that steward it, at risk. The expectation that a CMO can instantly turn around an ailing brand sets the executive up to fail by pressuring them to take drastic action before fully understanding the situation. Too often, this leads to change for the sake of change-overhauling the brand image, switching shops or strategy-simply for the CMOs to prove to CEOs they are taking action.

The top marketing executive needs to manage "expectations about what marketing can and can't do," said Joe Tripodi, CMO at Allstate Corp. "The quick fix of putting in a new campaign or firing your agency is a naive view."

Results take many forms: bottom line, market share, a change in brand perception or growth of a market. But long-term results should trump the short-term. Anyone can produce results fast by discounting or throwing money at an inadequate campaign that's at odds with the brand essence, but at least reminds consumers it's out there. The bigger trick-and the one CMOs are skilled at-is creating long-term gains.

To do so, they need time. And that is not discretionary.

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