Like It or Not, CMOs Still Have to Prove Their Worth

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

A soon-to-be-published Journal of Marketing study on CMOs' impact on financial performance confirms what we've said all along: CMOs must prove, once and for all, that their marketing efforts drive sales and deliver returns on investment. Period.

Enough interminable arguing that their efforts build brand equity, awareness and all of those other rosy attributes marketers love to talk about in the abstract. Indeed, Andrew Tipping, co-author of a separate, Booz Allen Hamilton study, says, "Financial metrics alone do not define CMO performance." True. But at the end of the day, unless you are fortunate enough to find yourself in an organization with particularly marketing-savvy senior leadership -- including an especially innovative CEO and a trusting and patient board -- you have to show 'em the money. CMOs who don't establish a clear link between marketing initiatives and dollar signs likely will get kicked to the curb.

Even organizations that insist they want new ideas and creative thinking from maverick marketers (we'll list them again: Wal-Mart, Macy's, Volkswagen, etc.) ultimately give in to bottom-line demands. While the appropriateness of reactionary CEOs and boards is debatable -- indeed, we've argued before that public companies need to give CMOs more time and leash to prove their worth -- the fact remains that, for now, numbers still trump anecdotes.

A key interpretation of the study findings is this: CMOs must do a much better job establishing relationships not just with CEOs but with chief financial officers, and those relationships must be built not just on numbers but on clear and ongoing communication.

In an article for Ad Age's Point last year, Larry Selden, professor emeritus at Columbia Business School and founding managing director of Selden & Associates, and his wife and partner in the business-consulting practice, Yoko Sugiura Selden, cited as a critical problem the fact that "few CMOs seem to have the insight or courage to lead the charge in partnering with their CFOs. This is surprising because it's a great opportunity for CMOs to broaden and deepen their influence with CEOs and boards."

There may come a day when new metrics that better measure CMO performance are established. In the meantime, CMOs can help their own cause by better connecting with and educating CFOs on the value of their contributions -- financial and otherwise.
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