Hiring Marketing Leaders in a Climate of CMO Revolving Doors

Executives of all types routinely leave one company’s C-suite for another, but it seems none more so than a chief marketing officer (CMO). One survey found that more than 40% of CMOs have held their current job for two years or less, with 57% holding the same job for three years or less—turnover rates far greater than for any other C-level executive position. This has led to the concept of “CMO revolving doors,” reflecting just how often marketing leaders depart for greener pastures.

It’s true that the job of a CMO is uniquely demanding and incredibly challenging today. Whereas in past decades, marketing leaders could be excellent salespeople who understood their industries very well, today’s CMO must possess a wide range of skill sets. They need to be creative and understand creative industries; they must have a finger on the pulse of media trends, which increasingly requires social media expertise; therefore, they must also master digital marketing, and the list of unique skills required goes on.

Given the amount of weight they carry on their shoulders, you can understand why someone might not last in the role of CMO. The marketing leader is also the first to take the blame when product launches disappoint, market share goes down, or customers walk away unhappy. But that doesn’t mean hiring a CMO is an exercise in futility. Indeed, the CMOs who comprise the Forbes 50 Most Influential CMOs list prove that you can get it right. You just need to keep a few things in mind as you hire market leaders in a climate of CMO revolving doors.

Look for the Multi-Talented Innovator

While it’s not particularly fair that a CMO is expected to be a multi-talented innovator, at the end of the day, that’s just the way it is. 

For most of the 20th century, as the marketing concept evolved, media was very rigid and segmented. You devised print campaigns for the newspapers and magazines, created some radio jingles, and later filmed ads for the three television networks. But as time went on, the media slowly started to expand. 

Suddenly, there was cable TV and a lot more networks, and then the early days of the internet. Marketing got more complicated by the end of the 20th century, but it was still nothing like it is today. Internet video, podcasts, and branded content became exciting new marketing tools, only to be replaced by new technologies and new marketing opportunities.

Today’s successful CMO should be agile and flexible, with the ability to follow wherever technology and the marketing industry leads. It would be hard to predict where the marketing industry will be five years from now, but the standout CMO candidate will be one who sees every market disruption and knows how to use it.

Find the Strategic Thinker

So, how do successful CMOs see every new trend and instantly know how to turn it into a marketing opportunity? This enviable talent comes from strategic thinking. The mind of a strategic thinker CMO innately understands their company’s goals and strategies and can see how they align with marketing opportunities.

Part of this skill is the ability to evaluate new situations and opportunities. Every new opportunity has potential risks and benefits, and the strategic thinker can quickly analyze the situation. This comes with experience in various marketing roles and a proven track record of successfully launching new initiatives and expanding market presence. As you go through the CMO hiring process, ask candidates for examples of successes that came from a quick and intuitive market analysis. The strategic thinker will know exactly what you’re talking about.

Prioritize Data-Driven Decisions

One of the reasons strategic thinkers can align market opportunities with business goals is their familiarity with the data involved. A data-driven CMO can identify growth opportunities because they’re similar to ones they’ve seen in the past. They can calculate a rough risk-benefit analysis in their head because they’re analyzing past data.

The ability to make data-driven decisions will also pay off as your customers’ behaviors and preferences inevitably shift. Marketing strategies must change alongside customer whims, but you don’t want to rely solely on intuition. Following gut instinct has probably led to more failed decisions by CMOs than anything else. But, using data and analytics to arrive at decisions is always a more sound approach, so you should prioritize a CMO candidate who understands this.

Don’t Forget the Cultural Fit

Everyone seems to know what company culture is these days. Most of your company’s employees could probably define your company culture’s traits pretty well. Just don’t forget it when you are recruiting your next CMO. A troubling survey found that only 60% of employees believe their organization’s company culture fits the brand they sell to the general public.

A CMO’s job is to align company culture with the branding the outside world sees. Finding a CMO who is a good cultural fit starts with your recruiting efforts. However, those survey results suggest too many CMOs aren’t a good fit for their company culture, resulting in a disconnect between the company and its brand. With a well-defined company culture, you can better seek out the candidate who will fill the CMO role—and avoid the revolving door by sticking around for a while.