CAMBRIDGE, MA: Chief marketing officers tend not to last very long in their roles and one reason they have the highest turnover of any boardroom position is that their job is often badly designed, two academics have argued.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Kimberly A. Whitler (assistant professor of marketing, University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business) and Neil Morgan (PetSmart Distinguished Chair in Marketing at Indiana University) note that “any company can make a bad hire.

“But when responsibilities, expectations, and performance measures are not aligned and realistic, it sets a CMO up to fail.”

During the course of their research, they added, they had found “extreme variations” in the responsibilities given to CMOs, but they identified three distinct types of CMO role, covering commercialization (46% fell into this category), strategy (31%) and an enterprise-wide P&L role combining aspects of both the first two (23%).

CEOs need to determine which type of CMO is appropriate to their business and align job responsibilities accordingly, the authors suggest.

So, while almost all CMOs are in charge of brand strategy and insight generation, those with a strategic focus will also need to oversee how things like innovation and product design are developed without necessarily being expected to translate that into marketing communications.

Conversely, CMOs in a commercialization role are likely to focus on developing and converting brand strategy into marketing plans that drive sales, without spending time on strategic decisions at the top level.

Those in an enterprise-wide P&L role, meanwhile, should have responsibility for the whole process.

“Alignment of responsibilities is the critical area where mistakes are made,” according to Whitler and Morgan; “expectations typically far exceed the actual authority given the CMO.”

And even if the CEO successfully defines the CMO’s job and responsibilities, they still have to specify how success in the role will be measured – and this will be dictated by the particular CMO type the business requires.

“This approach may sound like common sense, but it’s surprising how infrequently it’s followed,” the authors reported.

“Only 22% of the job descriptions we studied mentioned how the CMO would be measured or held accountable, and only 2% had a specific section that clearly articulated job expectations.”

More usual were vague phrases such as “help define and execute an aggressive growth strategy for the company”.

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by WARC staff