For years, it seems the headlines around chief marketing officers have focused on how short their tenures are. Medialink’s Lena Petersen proposes that such a high turnover rate could be a good thing as long as those fast-moving CMOs are getting promoted.

Historically, becoming a CMO hasn’t been seen as the typical next step toward becoming a CEO. Yet, as the dynamics and opportunities of the business world demand visionary marketing leadership, this route is not only more and more viable, but an outcome that executives and major companies should strive for.

The best CMOs boast a broad skill set ideal for running a fast-moving, innovative, customer-centric, and digital-led company. They look beyond the internal movement of an organization. They are rich in the wrongly coined ‘soft’ skills, such as communication and relationship-building. They are increasingly deeply versed in data science and technology. Moreover, they represent and understand the consumer – arguably the most important constituency in the business equation of most companies.

There are a number of reasons why this career path isn't more commonplace, but I believe the time is now for marketing leaders to aim big and actively pursue the biggest jobs in their industries.

Embrace growth

Many influential CMOs have revamped their strategies to increase focus on revenue-generating activities. They need to keep highlighting how marketing skill sets are essential to future-proofing a business. For example, we have seen how real-time consumer data and marketing insights lead to needed changes across their organization and ultimately to growth.

CMOs also need to keep evolving the narrative around their role. For too many years, marketing has been labeled as a cost center (an expendable one at that) rather than a strategic growth vehicle.

Yet, this thinking continues to be proven faulty. Kantar CrossMedia recently found that creative quality contributes to nearly 50% of media impact. Similarly, Kantar and WARC reported that effective creatives can account for nearly half (49%) of a brand’s ROI, while generating more than four times as much profit, and a recent Harvard Business Review article noted that just a 4% increase in brand equity can positively impact a company’s bottom-line revenue.

Marketers must embrace their ability to affect the bottom line vocally and tout this power throughout their organizations, for it’s not just theoretical. According to research from McKinsey, “CEOs who place marketing at the core of their growth strategy are twice as likely to have greater than 5% annual growth compared with their peers.”

Take responsibility

One of the greatest sources of ulcers in business is responsibility without authority. Yet too often, CMOs struggle with a broad mission that they don’t fully own or control – and feel thus limited in their ability to succeed.

More than ever before, CMOs should not let the inherent silos that exist in any organization define their marketing strategy and agency partnership. On the contrary, they will strive to optimize for more efficient approaches holistically.

CMOs should optimize holistically across every consumer touchpoint, especially those they do not directly control. This might include websites or apps, customer service, and merchant/trade partnerships, building a 360 vision to measure the impact of activities and offset costs appropriately vs. focusing on the ownership remit.

Internal visibility will also be crucial and CMOs should insist on being graded tough, matching their responsibilities with quantifiable KPIs. Only then will CEOs and those looking for new CEOs understand the value they bring to their organizations.

Be the customer – and tout the value of the customer

According to MediaLink’s The Marketers Forecast 2024, 68% of marketers said they worry that CMOs are at risk of becoming “corporate figureheads.” Clearly, CMOs need to take a proactive role in avoiding that fate.

What better way to do so than to focus on a vital connection that the rest of the C-Suite can’t match – the direct, intimate relationship marketers have with consumers? After all, what’s more important to a business than the people or institutions that pay for its products or services? If CMOs have an established superpower, it's their insight into customers and their understanding of what moves them.

CMOs need to think about how they can leverage the voice of the customer – through data and insights – in every meeting and conversation with the CEO and the board. Even when delivering news they may not want to hear.

The more CMOs can be seen as the executives on the pulse of the market in their organization and the ones who truly get their company’s customers – the more essential they become – setting them up to be viewed as indispensable to their CEO and boardroom.

Speak CFO and CEO

Modern CMOs – especially the ones that want to run companies someday – will know to immerse themselves in their company's balance sheets and earnings reports. They may not necessarily be experts in EBITDA, but the more they speak the same language as their CFO and CEO, the more they can position marketing as a growth driver.

There is also a confidence gap that marketing executives need to address. Deloitte found that just 5% of CMOs think of themselves as high performers when it comes to their ability “to impact strategic decision-making” and “contribute to the overall direction of the business.” The same study found that 55% of CEOs consider themselves high performers.

Mastering the CFO and CEO language will go a long way in bridging that gap and will trickle on many levels for CMOs. It might start by demanding – and expecting – C-Suite-worth compensation packages and related responsibilities. The more CMOs own their import and act accordingly, the better chance they have of sitting in a bigger chair.

There are only so many CEO jobs out there – and the means of landing such coveted roles have only grown more complicated. Yet, for too long, CMOs have not found themselves on enough companies' shortlists – which is a failure of imagination and execution on both sides of the equation.

The world’s top marketers need to recognize and consider themselves as among the most capable and qualified executives out there – and orient their careers accordingly. At the same time, more boards need to shift their thinking about the marketing discipline and elect to tap into the broad, diverse, and well-rounded talent pool that can potentially come from the marketing ranks.

At some point in the near future, instead of talking about CMOs trying to stretch their tenure, the conversation should shift toward CMOs being poached – given their unique and enviable qualifications for the most important roles in their respective industries.