Plan Today to Be Tomorrow's CMO

Heidrick & Struggles' Advice on Getting That Top Job

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Resume-building isn't what it used to be. The marketing resume that once boasted impressive titles at well-known companies has been eclipsed by one that showcases direct contributions to both top- and bottom-line results. Today and even more so in the future, the successful CMO will boast a resume that displays aptitude in pivotal new roles: digital catalyst, customer advocate and global translator, as well as legacy builder, business driver and humble luminary. Talk about a multifaceted job. Tomorrow's CMO will be called upon to contribute to corporate growth as never before.
Carlos Cata
Carlos Cata

So what roles will tomorrow's CMO have to have played, what aptitudes and attitudes will they have to have displayed? Here's a look.

Digital Catalyst
Being a "digital catalyst" is not about understanding how today's technological breakthrough works; it's about determining its implications for your marketing strategy. Can you take advantage of the innovation to enhance efficiency, leverage immediacy or establish a more intimate dialogue with your target? If you were just getting set to launch a line extension via YouTube, you would ask these questions routinely, and that's where you need to be. Tomorrow's CMO must have an aptitude for developing cutting-edge digital strategies that respect the medium as much as the message -- an aptitude for understanding media convergence and the ability to optimally allocate and rigorously measure investments in digital media.

Customer Advocate
Once upon a time, meeting quarterly with your top accounts and being able to spout the latest consumer trends and performance data fulfilled the "know thy customer" commandment. Not anymore. No longer just a well-versed fan, you're now a player on the collective team. You jointly plan strategy, control parts of the value chain and set mutual performance incentives. You empathize with customer problems and craft timely solutions. And beyond possessing an intellectual handle on your customers, you have established an intimacy with them so as to feel their pain. As a world-class CMO, you possess an abundance mentality and recognize that mutual growth is a requirement for sustainable success.

Global Translator
Here's another "that was then, this is now" example. Then, you had global credentials if your resume sported a sojourn in Hong Kong or fluency in French. Now, while a foreign assignment or familiarity with a second language still scores points, you need to tally many more by showing that you think globally: that you are intimately aware of how foreign cultures and global supply chains affect new market strategies, that you can elicit provocative insights based on consumer research in emerging countries, that you are keenly aware of how certain types of products, services, packaging and marketing tools can and can't be used in different parts of the world.
Torrey Foster
Torrey Foster

Legacy Builder
Unrelenting demands on meeting various benchmarks put a premium on a winning attitude, but don't neglect your legacy in all that attention to performance. You also need to perform as a coach, collaborator and advocate because, as a consummate CMO, you're building a great team that can excel without you. If that sounds threatening -- the notion that you won't be missed -- you don't fully appreciate that leaving a legacy of talent is the achievement. What could impress a prospective employer more than the outstanding marketing leaders and teams you've helped build and shape?

Business Driver
Long before "CMO" entered the corporate lexicon, gifted marketing leaders understood that they needed to be a business driver first and a marketing achiever second. Meeting your goals, not exceeding your budget, and compiling awards might earn applause, but playing a pivotal role in accelerating profitable growth of the overall business gets the standing ovation. With your holistic attitude -- focused on raising shareholder value and committed to synergistic partnerships with operations, R&D, sales, finance and IT -- you're not just a desirable CMO, you're a potential CEO.

Humble Luminary
Here's the paradox. While you're getting signals that a rock-star persona enhances your career options, you're also realizing that the humility to push others into the spotlight and subordinate personal goals to company goals might be an even more cherished trait. What to do? The solution lies in striving for a delicate balance in which your creativity and charisma draw others to you as a leader and, at the same time, avoiding self-promotion and enjoying opportunities to share center stage. Meteors dazzle us and immediately flame out. Planets, with their gravity and majesty, are stately constants in the night sky.

Tomorrow's CMO needs to fuse time-honored attributes like humility and collaborative spirit with highly contemporary skills such as global imagination and digital know-how. Those who can adeptly combine the old and new will play an increasingly pivotal role in their organization's overall success.

Carlos Cata is principal of the CMO Practice at executive-search firm Heidrick & Struggles. Torrey Foster is managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles' Global Consumer Practice. Both are based in the firm's Chicago office.
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