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CMO tenure slips to just 40 months – the lowest average since 2009

CMO tenure slips to just 40 months – the lowest average since 2009

Marketing executives spent less time in post in 2020, extending a recent downward trend, according to the latest research from executive search firm Spencer Stuart.

The average tenure of a chief marketing officer at 100 of the top US ad spenders fell to 40 months last year, down from 41 in the year before and the lowest average since 2009.

The median tenure for chief marketing officers was 25.5 months, sliding from 30 months in 2019.

A decline in CMO tenures

  • A growing divergence in tenure duration between chief marketing officers and chief executive officers is outlined in the report, with tenure time for the latter reaching an all-time high of 80 months.

  • The findings are particularly striking as historically both roles have broadly tracked each other, with each moving in lockstep.

  • Attributing the discrepancy to the pandemic, Greg Welch, head of marketing, sales and communications at Spencer Stuart, said: “Most certainly, the pandemic fuelled some of the decline in chief marketing officer tenure as executive teams across industries faced an unprecedented change in the market.”

  • The survey findings are based on responses from 100 of the most advertised US brands, where the median tenure dropped to its lowest level on record at a scant 25.5 months, driven by several long-term marketers transitioning roles.

  • Also of note is that 63% of respondents promoted internal candidates for open chief marketing officers positions in 2020, rising to 84% among first-time chief marketing officers.

Other notable CMO trends

  • The report also delivered some good news, with the proportion of female chief marketing officers rising to 47% last year, up from 43% in 2019 and 36% in 2018.

  • This trend looks to continue, with 52% of incoming chief marketing officers being women, up from 48% in 2019.

  • Less welcome stats showed that the proportion of ethnically diverse chief marketing officers fell into reverse, falling from 14% in 2019 to just 13% in 2020.

  • As a group, ethnic minorities accounted for a mere 12% of incoming chief marketing officers in 2020, well below the 19% level achieved in 2019.

The evolution of the CMO role

  • Top marketers are coming under severe pressure from ever-tightening budgets coupled with a need to improve return on investment, despite signs that marketers may be rediscovering a lost sense of confidence.

  • Faced with these twin pressures, marketers still struggle to qualitatively prove the impact of their social media campaigns, with just 25% able to do so in 2018.

  • Top marketers recently took time to inform The Drum how the pandemic is influencing their work, including Burger King’s Fernando Machado (now at Activision Blizzard).

  • Machado said: “People were in desperate need of a bit of comic relief and Burger King, in particular, has a history of providing that. I had CNN on 24/7 and I felt like the world was about to end any second – so I wanted to go back to doing things that framed the pandemic in a positive context and put a smile on people’s faces.”

  • Elsewhere, brands are merging digital into the chief marketing officer role, including Unilever, which recently appointed Conny Braams as chief digital and marketing officer with an expanded remit. Further evidence of the evolving demands placed on chief marketing officers’ shoulders, the appointment signalled a desire by the consumer goods giant to change direction.

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