The decline of the CMO

From social media to paid advertising, brands can't afford to lose this crucial role.

Chief marketing officer has never been a job for individuals who want a comfy, long-term executive gig. The average CMO’s tenure decreased even further last year to 43 months, down one month from a year earlier, according to executive search firm Spencer Stuart. That term of office is noticeably shorter than that of CFOs and nearly half the average incumbency of CEOs. 

Now, marketers are getting used to seeing the CMO’s office empty. Household-name companies have done away with the position entirely, with notable departures including McDonald’s Silvia Lagnado, Johnson & Johnson’s Alison Lewis and Uber’s Rebecca Messina. 

Marketing experts will argue that while the CMO position is disappearing, its duties are being inherited by chief brand officers or chief experience officers. In other cases, it’s addition by subtraction, with one less executive adding to an already cluttered C-suite.

Each company gave different explanations for getting rid of the role. J&J said in a widely reported email that it is enacting a new business model. McDonald’s created positions focused on global marketing and marketing technology. 

Uber’s transition appears on the surface to be a win for communications. The ride-hailing company combined its marketing communications and policy teams under Jill Hazelbaker, SVP of communications and public policy. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi reportedly told staff in an email that it was "increasingly clear that it’s crucial for us to have a consistent, unified narrative."

Uber is rebounding from a rocky IPO. McDonald’s is adjusting to a marketplace of calorie- and health-conscious consumers. And J&J has major challenges on multiple fronts, including lawsuits over the opioid crisis and talc baby powder. 

These three companies need an executive overseeing the public face of their brand, whether its a CMO, chief brand officer — or, better yet, a chief communications officer. But eliminating the CMO position entirely without someone in place to tie together every facet from social media presence to paid advertising is foolish.


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