Hot Job Alert: Major Retailers on the Hunt for Top Marketers

After the Departures of Top Marketers Last Week, Macy's, Kohl's and Old Navy Have Vacancies

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Martine Reardon, former Macy's CMO
Martine Reardon, former Macy's CMO Credit: Macy's

Seasoned marketing execs looking for work should check out the spate of hot jobs that just opened up with the exits last week of top marketers at three major retail brands. As the departing footsteps of Macy's Chief Marketing Officer Martine Reardon, Kohl's Exec VP-Marketing Will Setliff and Old Navy CMO Ivan Wicksteed echo across the industry, however, it could also be time for retailers to reevaluate their marketing roles.

"How consumers think about brands, make decisions and engage with the world around them has changed," said Philip Ryan, partner at global strategy consultancy Vivaldi Partners Group. "Any new CMO coming into the role today will need skills in marketing, technology, business disruption and cultural change."

Hiring for the vacancies could also provide opportunities for a brand refresh with new directions and perhaps new agency relationships. The 870-unit Macy's, where Ms. Reardon had been a top marketer for seven years, has seen sales falter in recent quarters as it struggled to attract digitally minded millennials. Working with longtime agency partner J. Walter Thompson, it ran its "Believe" holiday campaign for the eighth consecutive year in 2015. The retailer, which spent $834.4 million on measured media in the U.S. in 2014, according to Ad Age's Datacenter, has already said it is not currently working with JWT.

Old Navy, once the bright spot in the long-beleaguered Gap Inc. portfolio, has also had its share of missteps, recently reporting a same-store sales decline of 6% in March. For his part, Mr. Wicksteed had injected the brand's marketing with humor and fun, evidenced by a holiday campaign from Chandelier featuring the comics from "Portlandia." Mr. Wicksteed had been CMO since 2013.

Meanwhile, Kohl's, which spent $320.1 million on measured media in the U.S. in 2014, according to the Datacenter, has been expanding its marketing of late through a sponsorship of the Academy Awards. The company has worked with Anomaly, Peterson Milla Hooks and Huge on recent campaigns.

Five years ago, the top marketing post in retail was much simpler. Marketers were tasked with attracting consumers to their stores and convincing them to buy. Now, with the digital advancements of targeted social media, data tracking and loyalty programs, executives confront a host of new responsibilities. They're in charge of the customer journey from beginning to end, and the skills required to manage that journey might not necessarily be inherent in marketers who have spent their career in retail.

"Marketing is now capable of being a revenue generator and is expected to create a customer-centric experience across all channels," said Caren Fleit, senior client partner and leader of the global Marketing Center of Expertise at Korn Ferry. "The marketer has to bring a different skill set and be a different kind of leader because marketing is less of a siloed function and is very integrated into the fabric of the organization."

And yet the retailers may well draw from their own ranks to fill the openings. Only Kohl's has confirmed it is running an external search for a successor to Mr. Setliff, who had led marketing for two years. Walmart recently promoted from within, naming 10-year company veteran Tony Rogers its new CMO in December.

The last time there were multiple openings for retail top marketing posts was in 2011 and 2012. Gap and Target filled CMO positions with candidates from ad agencies, while JC Penney and Kmart stuck with tried-and-true retail veterans.

"When retailers are looking to transform and get to the next level, they may need to look outside of their direct competition," said Ms. Fleit, noting that she's seeing a lot of marketing leaders coming from analytical, not just creative, backgrounds. Many in finance and consulting, for example, have moved to retail. Burlington Coat Factory's Bart Sichel came from McKinsey and Petco's Michael Zuna arrived from Aflac, she pointed out.

More retail turnover could still be on the horizon. A March report from Spencer Stuart found that the tenure of marketers is on the wane for the first time in a decade. The executive recruiting firm found that, on average, CMOs at U.S. consumer brand companies are spending 44 months on the job, a drop from 48 months in 2014.

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