Celebrating CMOs with Cojones at SXSW

The Cojones Awards celebrates CMO achievement

The role of the chief marketing officer continues its interesting evolution and, in some cases, revolution. Even just 10 years ago, the notion that a chief marketing officer would dip there toes in use about every corner of the business seemed a stretch.

Today, however, chief marketing officer demands are many and intense — and The Cojones Award, in its fourth year at SXSW, celebrates the marketing leaders who are making a significant difference for their brands.

Though the name of the award has a tongue in cheek connotation, what lies beneath it, is substantial, with a foundation in recognizing marketers who are in the throes of disruption.

“I think there is more emphasis on being disruptive in a positive way. Not just disrupting for the sake of being annoying,” said John Ellett, chief executive and co-founder of nFusion, an Austin-based marketing firm and the main presenter and organizer of the award. “[There are many who are] disrupting by being bold and connecting some core values the are shared with consumers.”

The structure of the award itself rewards that ethos with five specific categories: Inspire, Be Bold, Connect, Innovate and Transform. Each underscores the values and results of chief marketing officers and this year’s nominee pool is testament.

The finalists are a veritable marketers “dream team” that includes Jonathan Mildenhall of Airbnb, Jennifer Saenz of Frito-Lay, Stephanie McMahon of WWE, Kenny Mitchell of Gatorade, Elizabeth Windram of JetBlue and several more. The judging panel also includes powerhouse marketers such as Pete Kranik, founder of The CMO Club, Sheryl Pattek of Forrester, Denise Karkos of TD Ameritrade and one of last year’s winners of the award.

Today’s CMO role

As tenures of chief marketing officers morph in the face of continual change, the role of a marketer is also up for interpretation and better definition and clarity. Misperceptions of a chief marketing officer's actual function are rife.

“[There is] ambiguity in the role,” said Ellett. “It creates a lot of different perceptions of what the role of the chief marketing officer is and it’s very easy to misunderstand what the role of the chief marketing officer can and should be for each company, because it’s not the same from place to place.”

Ellett pointed out that titles could be different than chief marketing officer, and one of the finalists, Dave Minifie of Centene is known as chief experience officer as it aligns more closely to the practical application of his role. But, critically, the main job is to be the voice of the brand, no matter the places a chief marketing officer touches within an organization.

To Scott Marcus, chief marketing officer for Vital Eggs (and past marketer for Mondelez), he puts it simply that the chief marketing officer is the “chief money officer,” but also acknowledges that focus is of paramount concern to the chief marketing officer — “keeping your eye on the long-term you’re trying to attain while juggling all of the short-term demands.”

Indeed chief marketing officer, Paul D’Arcy, feels as though the classic hallmarks of leadership apply, especially as it relates to the team dynamic.

“Today's chief marketing officer is a leader of experts: there are so many disciplines and skills needed to execute great marketing plans, he said. “Marketing today falls well beyond what any one person can know or do. The best chief marketing officers build teams of people who can do amazing things. The job is to lead, to set values and strategies, and to align marketing to really help businesses inspire passion and grow.”

Viral Gains chief marketing officer, Julie Ginches, concurs.

“Chief marketing officers need to take stock of themselves and build great teams with star players in specific functional roles,” she said. “You cannot meet the requirements and expectations of the job without delegating, and you cannot delegate without great people.”

Ellett also believes that a level of sprawl is critical for the success of a chief marketing officer.

“I think a good [chief marketing officer] is going to have their fingers in pretty much every corner of the company,” he said, adding that good chief marketing officers today are doing strong work in cross-channel consumer engagement.

Supporting the CMO, and each other

A demanding job, chief marketing officers may not necessarily have empathy of their peers within their own companies. Certainly, after years of cost-cutting and a board’s expectations to profitably grow business, the role can seem, at times, thankless. chief marketing officers, under great pressure, are often in the crosshairs and have to endure inconsistent tenures. Consultancy Spencer Stuart found that the average tenure for a chief marketing officer in 2015 was 44 months, down from 48 months in 2014.

With so much stress in the job, the CMO Cojones Awards, and especially The CMO Club help bridge the gap to provide a support network that can help marketing leaders celebrate each others’ achievements — and, in some ways, keep their sanity.

“A lot of it is group therapy, where they actually have an outlet to talk to other people that are going through the same thing that they are going through,” said Ellett. “You can’t really have that conversation inside a company.”

D’Arcy has athletic endeavors to keep him on level ground, “I block the middle of every day and go trail running — escaping from meetings and finding time to think is essential.”

Ginches espouses the restorative magic of sleep and twice-a-day meditation. “I try to get enough sleep -- though that’s challenging at times.”

But, in the final analysis, sanity may be bred from the tension.

“There’s obviously setbacks and issues around internal lethargy or pushback,” said Ellett. “However, I think what keeps chief marketing officers sane is their passion for what they’re doing. Great chief marketing officers have passion for their role in their company. I’d say they’re very much on a mission — it’s almost more missionary work than a job — [and] there’s a zeal that keeps them engaged and advancing the mission one step further.”

Indeed, that notion, according to D’Arcy, seems appropriate.

“The chief marketing officers that really stand out unite people around a purpose that is good for the world and bigger than their business or brand,” he concluded.

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