Is This Your Year to Become CMO? Three Tips for Getting There

Know the New Media, Know How to Lead, Get Out of Your Silo

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Is this the year for you to move up the rung in your marketing job to become CMO?

As we all know, the "Mad Men" days of marketing are long gone. Back then, all one needed to move the needle on sales was a great story board and a down-and-dirty promotional strategy, not to mention the downing of a dirty martini or two with clients.

Today's CMO must deal not only with the complexities of marketing, organizations and social change, but understand, leverage and quantify the evolving array of media options. Not to mention the increasing internal pressures from CEOs and CFOs. No advice can guarantee that you'll land the job, but Greg Welch, a recruiter who places more CMOs than anybody, by a wide margin, has three suggestions for anyone who wants to be a CMO.

Read and maneuver the bigger dashboard.

The basic stuff of the game continues to grow in scope and dimension. To the requirement to be an expert at classic brand strategy and using classic branding tools and techniques with finesse, add the requirement to be an expert (or, at least, know how to work with experts) in emerging digital and other marketing tools and techniques.

"When I talk to CEOs, they say I need someone who not only understands 'modern marketing,' but . . . substantial examples and proof of what they've done to drive business using digital technology and social media," Welch, a senior partner at recruiting firm Spencer Stuart, told me. "How have they innovated and/or opened new doors efficiently?"

When you think about the pace of change in technology -- the new dashboard, arsenal, toolbox, whatever you want to call it -- greater scrutiny is being paid to how you take advantage of everything that's in front of you as a CMO. What dollar amount do you allocate to new media? Then, how do you measure it? How do you integrate it seamlessly into the bigger branding picture?

As Welch explained, one of the common conundrums in the search for CMO is that a seasoned candidate may have strong classic marketing skills and a stellar record, but no significant hands-on experience in the newest media options. In the same pool, a 30-year-old who has grown up online may offer intense experience with new media, but little or no understanding of the basics. The winning candidate will be a third person who has cut his or her marketing chops across all functional areas. That has become one of the costs of entry.

Lead beyond marketing.

Someone may have technical skills down pat, but he doesn't know what it takes to lead as a CMO in today's business landscape. "More than ever before, boards want someone who can lead first, and market second," explained Welch. "They want visionary, colorful leaders at the top who can lay the path and then serve as the marketing disciple both inside and outside the company."

It used to be that if you were a solid marketer and could lead your departmental troops in communicating the brand message, this was enough to succeed. Today branding needs to be delivered by the whole organization. You not only need to be an expert in your own world, but get everyone across the organization to understand what their brand stands for and their role in bringing it to life. Even if you are the best marketing person in the world, you can't be assured that the brand is being delivered as it should be across all points of touch with the consumer, unless you're the internal ambassador of the brand message.

Be of the world and, more importantly, in the world.

CMOs have the best platform in the building. Why? They own the consumer. They know what consumers are saying and doing, how they're acting, and what they're buying and why. A good CMO candidate doesn't just get this information from "big data" sources, from behind the desk double-clicking on spreadsheets and white papers. A good CMO candidate "hangs out in the doorjamb," Welch told me. "Not just the literal doorjamb, listening and learning from colleagues, but out in the world. I recall one talented CMO who told her team, 'No phone calls, no face-to-face meetings or no e-mails for an entire month. If we want to learn how today's generation communicates, we need to understand Facebook. So for the next month, our entire conversation will take place on Facebook.' "

It makes sense. How can you be a world-class marketer if you never get out of your silo and take part in what's happening in the real market? How can you lead it, if you don't live it?

I'll never forget one of my very first job interviews years ago with Ken Roman, who ran Ogilvy & Mather at the time. I was ready for some tough analytical questions about segmentation models and subjects of that nature. Instead, Ken asked me about the last book I had read, the last museum exhibition I had seen. He knew that I wouldn't have gotten to this last step in the interview had I not passed muster on the basic business stuff. He wanted to know if I was creatively aware, because, a good marketing person had to be aware of contemporary trends, social issues, and all the stuff of real life in order to serve clients well. I got the job.

Allen P. Adamson is Managing Director, Landor Associates.
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