Say hello to the new CMO - The Drum explores the changing role of the chief marketing officer

Overseeing ads is just one facet of a CMO’s role, with their skills in combining art and science now utilised right across the business, reports John Reynolds.

Tesco’s senior marketer is now chief creative officer, Vodafone’s is titled head of brand, reputation and citizenship, while Sainsbury’s top marketing figure, Sarah Warby, heads up customer service, experience, CSR (corporate social responsibility) and corporate affairs as well as her marketing duties. Barclaycard, meanwhile, has ditched the role of chief marketing officer (CMO) altogether. It seems that for some businesses, the title of CMO or marketing director is no longer representative or big enough for a role which now covers much more than commissioning ads and divvying up marketing spend. Shopper expert, business strategist, innovation leader, tech-sophisticate and data wonk are just some of necessary skills if you want to survive as a top marketer these days as CMOs become more responsible for the customer journey. Subway marketing director Manaaz Akhtar says: “Certainly, I think ‘marketing director’ is no longer a classical marketing role anymore. Gone are the days when I would solely focus on delivering the marketing plans; I get pulled into and am involved in all sorts of projects.”This increased workload, though, has not eased the pressure on the bread-and-butter role of the CMO: producing top quality ads. Andy Nairn, founding member of advertising agency Lucky Generals, argues that the best marketers are the plate-spinners: those who not only commission the best advertising but also flex their muscles across the broader business. He points to the example of John Lewis marketing director Craig Inglis. “If you look at top marketers like Craig Inglis, it’s not just about the fabulous advertising, because he’s managed to create a very seamless multichannel journey of what was quite an oldfashioned retailer and is now a best in breed at bouncing people around its different channels,” says Nairn.When did it all change?Rewind to the 1980s and early 1990s and it was all so different: there was a belief then that CMOs could solve a company’s woes by solely producing great advertising. This was the era of Saatchi & Saatchi, when advertising agencies and campaigns – such as ‘Tell Sid’ for British Gas – became part of the lexicon, helping affect social change and swell the egos of agencies and CMOs. Today, advertising can still affect social change – perhaps evidenced by UK ad spend upping from £14.5bn to £17.9bn over the past five years, according to the Advertising Association – but marketers are wholly different beasts operating in a world where customer, not advertiser, is king. And as businesses have become more procurement-led and look to cut costs, marketers have had to swallow their egos and realise that advertising is not the only salve to a company’s ills but is just one piece of the pie. Opportunity beckons That said, the fact that businesses are demanding more than ever from marketers present bountiful opportunity for those CMOs who are more agile – whether it be doubling up as the chief information officer and controlling IT and data spend, or spreading their tentacles across PR and other communication channels. David Wheldon, head of brand reputation and citizenship at Barclays Group, tells The Drum the answer for marketers navigating this increasingly complex space is collaboration: “The core skill that you need to be really successful these days is collaboration. You’ve got to be very good at leadership through service; in service of the business, in service of all stakeholders. And you have to be very able and agile as life changes.” For Wheldon perhaps this need for a collaborative, inter-departmental approach is more acute than most – the bank wants to put on a united front as it’s still reeling from the clobbering it took following the Libor scandal back in 2012. Crucial for the Barclays brand today is that it is seen to have “purpose” and be “values driven” across the company, says Wheldon, who points to a close relationship between marketing and the HR department as he looks to instil this mantra across the workforce. Likewise, Subway’s Akhtar stresses that not only does her role spread-eagle across the business, but in some cases she needs support from another department, IT, to get buy-in, so she can convince her bosses and Subway franchisees that her decisions are sound. She says: “There is a lot of emotions and passions that fly around – sometimes the only way to sell in and convince an internal audience is to use as much data as we possibly can.”Opportunities for agencies As marketers become increasingly multi-skilled, this can present both opportunity and misfortune for agency partners, whether creative, digital or PR. On the one hand, as CMOs have less time for conventional advertising, then agency partners could potentially see themselves marginalised. However, Nairn believes smart agencies will grasp the nettle and view their remit in broader terms, so they can help a time-pressed marketer by presenting ideas outside their job spec, such as helping better understand the customer by helping out in product pricing and distribution. Similarly, Akhtar views her agency partners as extensions of her in-house teams and hits them for ideas which go beyond their normal call of duty. “I rely on agencies to help us really understand how to get the best out of the latest technology and how we can adapt it,” she says. In straitened economic times, it is easy for the client-agency relationship to become strained, if not to see a culling of the agency altogether as businesses look to cut costs. According to Wheldon, it is precisely at these times that the CMO should be resolute in championing the case of the agency – he says they must be the voice of the creative agency within the business. “Most companies are focused on cost reduction and in today’s commercial environment most companies drive this focus through procurement,” he says. “Agencies can bear the brunt of this and get to share the pain, but when times are good they rarely get to share the gain. “The role of the top marketer is to build great partnerships and relationships internally and externally to make sure agencies are treated fairly and professionally.” The future role of the marketing director It might surprise observers that despite CMOs boasting more skills than ever before, there is arguably a shortage of CMOs making it as chief executives of businesses. While the likes of Camelot’s Andy Duncan, Martin Glenn at Bird’s Eye and BT’s Gavin Patterson have reached the summit, marketing directors tend to be outflanked by finance directors in snatching the top jobs. However, some believe there could be a fundamental change in the make-up of the CMOs of tomorrow – dispensing with classically trained marketers, moulded and sculpted at Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Reckitt Benckiser. Instead, marketers which rise to the top will be a divergent crop, from an assortment of backgrounds, who will be personality-led rather than qualification-led. Nairn points out that this is already evident, with some of the top marketers of today coming from a dynamic range of backgrounds, be it Paddy Power’s Christian Woolfenden, who began life as a finance analyst, or Public Health England’s Sheila Mitchell (a previous client of Nairn’s) earning her spurs at BT. Wheldon observes that marketing has always been a mix of “art, science and magic”, and points to the growing need for good data analytical skills, saying: “I suspect in 10 years’ time there will be more science required.” Akhtar, meanwhile, believes the trend of marketers being involved in all facets of the business will continue, which she argues will strengthen a brand. The role of CMO is fast-changing and becoming ever more crucial to the overall operations of a business. While the power of advertising still shines bright, it is those marketers who are agile and can rapidly adapt to changing business needs who will win out.This feature was first published as part of The Drum’s 25 June issue, guest edited by SapientNitro's Nigel Vaz, and is available for purchase in The Drum store or for subscribers to download here.