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 / Winter 2004 / Issue 37(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Fall and Rise of the CMO

• Too Much Showmanship. Good chemistry between the CMO and the CEO is essential, and that usually means the CMO shouldn’t be a showoff. In general, the CEO requires a CMO who is comfortable in a subordinate role and is not a media hound. Eric Kim, who was CMO of Samsung for five years and joined Intel this November as the vice president and director of the sales and marketing group, says the CEO should be the brand cheerleader; the CMO’s role is to give the CEO (especially one who’s not marketing oriented) the information, advice, and self-confidence to be the lead marketer in the organization.

Most successful CMOs are team oriented and comfortable in a supporting senior staff role. They enjoy and are skilled at facilitating organizational change through influence and persuasion rather than command and control. Hartford’s Ann Glover describes effective senior marketers as “consummate team builders who work through people by using influence management.” In contrast, a Fortune 500 company CEO describes a former short-tenure CMO as having “octopus arms” and continually “trying to grab and control everything.”

The most effective CMOs are not only creative in shaping marketing strategy and in educating others, but also good at managing the marketing decision-making process. They can direct solutions through their organizations in such a way that everyone involved feels they’ve had input into decisions and have a stake in the results.

• Too Little Empowerment. A firm often goes through several CMOs when it’s led by a CEO who is heavily involved in marketing decisions and needs an individual merely to execute his or her plans. CMOs in these firms may feel they do nothing more than carry advertising copy back and forth between the chief and the ad agency. When a CEO appoints a smart, capable CMO but doesn’t give him or her sufficient support or authority, the CMO will quickly become disenchanted and abandon ship.

Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks, hired five different marketing heads in seven years. He remains the chief architect of the Starbucks brand, and marketing strategy and is viewed as such throughout the Starbucks organization. In 2001, after Gary Kusin became president and CEO of Kinko’s, he determined that marketing was where the battle would be won or lost. “If you’re a CEO brought in to turn around a troubled company, you can’t delegate marketing,” he says. “You can’t leave the future of the company to the CMO.” Mr. Kusin had three CMOs in five years.

When the CEO views himself or herself as the keeper of the brand, the CMO must be self-effacing and well respected by the CEO and by staff throughout the organization. In these cases, an internal appointment of a long-standing manager who is well connected in the company is usually more successful than an external appointment of a high-profile marketing star.

At the other end of the spectrum, when the CEO is uninterested in the marketing function and does not even have the CMO as a direct report or meet with the marketing chief on a regular basis, the CMO will struggle. Bradford McLane, who leads the marketing practice for executive recruiter Russell Reynolds Associates, says chief executive sponsorship is a signal success factor. “A CMO is most effective when he or she reports to the CEO, and when other senior executives embrace the role,” Mr. McLane says.

• Expectations Too High. Churn often occurs when the CMO cannot deliver results fast enough, whether the expectation is to improve brand awareness or preference, sales, or market share. A CMO who has to spend too much time selling ideas, objectives, and strategy internally usually doesn’t have enough time to make progress, and becomes jaded. Because the CMO is typically a senior staff person in charge of a cost center, the head marketer is vulnerable to criticism from line managers who are under the gun to control their costs, as well as from other managers who fancy they, too, have marketing expertise and resent the new “chief.” This is especially true when the CMO is appointed from
the outside. CEO commitment to and faith in the CMO for a minimum of three years is essential to the CMO’s success.

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  1. Andrew Ehrenberg, “Marketing: Are You Really a Realist?” s+b, Second Quarter 2002; Click here.
  2. Leslie H. Moeller, Sharat K. Mathur, and Randall Rothenberg, “The Better Half: The Artful Science of ROI Marketing,” s+b, Spring 2003; Click here.
  3. Randall Rothenberg, “John Quelch: The Thought Leader Interview,” s+b, Third Quarter 2000; Click here.
  4. Steve Silver, “Bring on the Super-CMO,” s+b, Summer 2003; Click here.
  5. “When Art Meets Science: The Challenge of ROI Marketing,” s+b/Knowledge@Wharton white paper, Dec. 17, 2003; Click here.
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