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Brand Strategy Agency Leadership B2B Marketing

How ‘The Great Marketing Makeover’ can help CMOs go from undervalued to influential


By Audrey Kemp, LA Reporter

June 18, 2024 | 7 min read

CMOs are struggling for respect and influence in the C-suite. At Cannes, The Drum’s Gordon Young gathered marketers Nick Primola of the Association of National Advertisers, Carmen True of Qualcomm and Luiz Felipe Barros of Channel Factory to discuss how we can turn the tide.

Young, Primola, True and Barro in Cannes, France / Credit: The Drum

Young, Primola, True and Barro in Cannes, France / Credit: The Drum

Marketing in the C-suite has a problem: CMOs don’t often get respect and have to justify their role, in contrast to CEOs and CFOs. In fact, just 20% of marketers believe the CMO is viewed as being equally influential as other C-suite executives, according to research conducted by The Drum

The research also found that 58% of marketers do not see their primary role as developing and executing marketing strategies or aligning marketing goals with overall business objectives. Additionally, a staggering 73% of marketers struggle to demonstrate a clear return-on-investment (ROI) from marketing activities.

These statistics prompted Gordon Young, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Drum, to host a panel at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity with the Association of National Advertisers’ Nick Primola, Qualcomm’s Carmen True and Channel Factory’s Luiz Felipe Barros.

Titled ‘The Great Marketing Makeover’ (GMM), the panel focused on why marketing is undervalued and the ongoing evolution of the role of the CMO.

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Identifying the challenges

Nick Primola opened the discussion, emphasizing that while the statistics are startling, they also represent an opportunity.

“All of these perceptions are within our power as the marketing community to change,” he said, adding that marketers are currently unable to articulate the importance of their role to other departments.

According to Primola, defining and measuring the contribution of marketing to organizational growth is a significant problem. As he put it, “If the CEO or COO doesn’t understand what the role of marketing can do for it, that’s leaving money on the table.”

He noted that when his organization asked marketers about their top KPI for marketing, 98 different people provided 52 different answers, underscoring a lack of clarity and focus within the industry.

Building on Primola’s points, Carmen True highlighted how unseriously marketers are taken by highlighting their lack of representation in the boardroom. “Only 2.6% of people on boards have a marketing background, which doesn’t speak kindly to our situation.”

She then pivoted to the unique challenges her marketing team faced at Qualcomm, particularly when trying to acquire more funds for marketing tools. She admitted to the crowd: “I can tell [you] from my personal experience, there were times I’ve done that and I have not been successful.”

The turning point, according to True, happened when Qualcomm’s marketers communicated with the company’s sales, finance and IT teams, to whom she framed marketers as leaders who drive the growth agenda across the business.

Luiz Felipe Barros, in agreement with the other speakers, pointed out that the inability to explain the meaningful impact of marketers’ work is the reason why CMOs often have the lowest pay among C-suite executives. “Why is marketing always the first line that gets cut? You cannot cut supply or production ... But marketers have a hard time explaining why their work is meaningful.”

Solutions: uniting for a stronger future

Young closed the discussion by asking the panelists how they would sell future generations on a career in marketing.

Barros suggested that marketers ought to deal more with material reality to demonstrate their value. “There are some words marketers don’t like to use, but when they start to use them, they make a lot of difference... The first one is talking about facts. [For example], it’s very nice to show our creative campaign to the world, but what’s the objective of this campaign?”

Primola presented a figurative call for marketers to align on key objectives, best practices and strategies to enhance the profession’s value and impact. As he put it: “We don’t have a brief as an industry. That’s where we would start. It’s an industry-wide responsibility and we have to be coordinated in addressing this.”

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True underscored the need for understanding the fundamentals of marketing’s contribution to a business’ bottom line. “That is how you have the biggest financial impact on an organization. Marketing is in a unique position to do that for a company.”

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