The new role of the CEO-CMO partnership

In recent years, the CEO-CMO relationship has met challenges. Both functions must not only fight for the same cause but share a strategic roadmap of how to emerge from this recession not just intact but successfully.

In recent years, the CEO-CMO relationship has met challenges. Both functions must not only fight for the same cause but share a strategic roadmap of how to emerge from this recession not just intact but successfully. According to Stephen Jones, who has held both roles, as CMO of The Coca-Cola Company and CEO of Minute Maid and then Jones Soda, “the introduction of Sarbanes-Oxley created a new need for CFO-CEO partnerships and has in some cases relegated the marketing function to be viewed as a risky cost center.”

Throughout my career, I have met and worked with hundreds of CEOs and CMOs. The CEO-CMO partnership is critical to communications and PR professionals, as staff looks to the CMO to advocate for communications programming in the C-suite. Based on my experience I've formed three “must-haves” for a fruitful partnership between CMOs and CEOs, all of which allow communication and PR professionals to do their jobs better:

1)
Build trust by sharing the secret sauce. Trust is the foundation that enables executives to be genuinely open to new styles and perspectives, and join together for the greater good of an enterprise. The challenge is the limited time CEOs and CMOs have together. As a recent Spencer Stuart study noted, the average tenure for top 100 branded CEOs is 53.8 months and only 22.9 months for CMOs.

Trust begins with the understanding of each other's perspective. I have found most executives have a “secret sauce”—a modus operandi they use to achieve results. The fastest route for the CEO and CMO to establish trust is to immediately share -- and completely understand -- each other's business secret sauce. The blending of the two might yield new successes or, in the least, forge genuine trust. For PR types, the trust between the CEO and CMO translates to an increased trust in communications activities, as the marketing and communications activities increasingly align.

2) Feature the futurist. As traditional marcomms functions increasingly integrate social media and digital, the CMO has potential to play a new critical role: the futurist. Most CEOs are kept up at night trying to determine how to grow the enterprise to the next level; the CMO possesses a unique perspective at the intersection of technology and future customer needs.

According to Matt Preschern, VP, Demand Programs, IBM North America, “CMOs can help CEOs turn data into insights and action by developing predictive and analytical capabilities, and by getting the right information at the right time to the right people.”

3) Connect the dominos. This is something that I learned from Mike Critelli, recently retired 11-year CEO of Pitney Bowes: “Our chief marketing officer got me to think about acquisitions and organic expansion like a game of dominos: every expansion had to connect with something we already had and add something new.”

CEOs and CMOs need to work together in “connecting the dominos” with their unique perspectives in order to achieve organizational success. This will clear the way for communications to help take the organization from where it is today to where it could be tomorrow.

Robert Reiss is host of The CEO Show radio program, and chairman of The Conference Board's Senior Marketing Executive Conference, taking place November 2009 in New York City.

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