CMOs staying put in the US

26 May 2011

NEW YORK: Chief marketing officers representing some of the biggest US brands are staying in their jobs for increasingly long periods, according to new research.

Spencer Stuart, the executive search consulting organisation, has published its latest annual report assessing the tenure of America's most senior communications staff.

It monitored the top 100 national advertisers as compiled by trade title AdAge, a list including firms like General Mills, Procter & Gamble, McDonald's and Unilever.

Overall, it reported the average chief marketing officer had occupied their position for 42 months by the close of 2010, an improvement from 34.7 months registered the previous year.

Speaking to Forbes, Greg Welch, a member of Spencer Stuart's dedicated marketing practice, suggested the recession had exerted a major influence on this result.

"Typically we see that when the economy is shaky, many executives decide to stay the course and stick with their current company," he said.

However, varying categories delivered divergent totals, with the communications and media segment yielding a normal tenure of just 22 months.

This figure rose to 25 months for the restaurant sector, hit 54 months discussing retail, and 53 months concerning financial services.

Industrial operators posted the strongest ratings on this metric, at 77 months, out-performing the typical score by more than 80%.

"Different sectors are at different points in their evolution," said Welch.

"The restaurant business was under enormous pressure over the last year, and when comparable store sales decline for more than a few months in a row, chief executives start making changes to their teams."

"In financial services, all the cmos are very senior professionals. They played an important role as their companies pulled out of the recession."

More broadly, the reduced volatility revealed in the latest analysis could indicate a wider shift is underway, as perceptions regarding the exact function top-level marketers should fulfil undergoes a modification.

The long-term nature of the transition may be shown by the fact that for the first three years Spenser Stuart collated data, starting in 2004, totals came in at between 23 and 24 months.

"In my view, today's top cmos are leaders first and marketers second," Welch said.

"The really good ones are able to spend most of their time and energy setting the course and leading the team to prosperity."

"The survey supports this notion, as we have seen highly respected senior marketers like Bill McDonald of Capital One and Beth Comstock of General Electric continue to thrive even in difficult times."

In further evidence of such a trend, the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, smartphones and other new media platforms have required creating innovative structural models and processes.

"Clearly the rules around digital, mobile and social media are changing every day," said Welch.

"Obviously staying on top of the ever-changing market is challenging, and most great cmos rely on domain specialists to manage each of these areas."

Looking ahead, however, the contours of the market as the recovery strengthens could serve to reverse, at least in part, the typical employment period for leading marketers may begin to drop back.

"Obviously, this is difficult to predict, but given the flurry of search activity that we've seen recently, it would not surprise me to see a slight drop in the number in 2011," Welch said.

Data sourced from Forbes; additional content by Warc staff