Public Companies Must Give CMOs Time to Do Their Jobs

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Anne MacDonald's recent ouster shouldn't have come as a surprise, given that the CMO casualty list seems to lengthen almost weekly. But it did -- and, in fact, was downright exasperating, compelling the question: Will anyone ever be able to market a public company again?

Anne MacDonald

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At public companies, the window to prove oneself is getting smaller. Sure, Spencer Stuart this year reported that CMO tenure has gone up -- a whopping 3 months -- but, as its Marketing Officer Practice leader Greg Welch was quick to say, "Is the CMO under the spotlight, under the microscope and in the hot seat? Absolutely." It's no surprise Fast Company recently dubbed it "the most dangerous job in business."

Things can't continue this way. Companies can't keep bringing CMOs on board only to spit them out when they don't see immediate results.

It's sad that public companies don't have the chops to stand up to investors and give CMOs the time they need to make lasting and sustainable change. What CEOs, investors and board members appear to have forgotten is that marketing is a build. Success doesn't come overnight.

Granted, Ms. MacDonald, while a highly respected and accomplished marketing executive, was an outsider not just to Macy's but to the industry. And no doubt building a retailer's brand is a different challenge from building the brand of a financial-services company. But this problem isn't unique to the retail industry. It's happening at many public companies across industries.

To hear the panelists speak at the Spencer Stuart CMO Summit last week, you'd think that private-equity-owned companies were Shangri-Las with patient, trusting and downright chummy investors who provide oodles of leeway for CMOs. There, they are free from the dreaded, sleepless-night-inducing shackles of quarterly earnings reports and impatient, fire-breathing boards.

The reality is probably less rosy, but still, the private environment has become a slightly more comfortable home for CMOs. When did that happen? And why can't public companies afford the same comfort?

Clearly, companies, and not just CMOs, need to do a better job of framing expectations from the start. Otherwise, we'll keep seeing examples of valuable marketing talent wasted.

Get a grip, public companies: You need marketing, branding and CMOs. Let them -- Anne MacDonald included -- do what they do best.
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