CMOs Need a Seat at the Table

If there’s a constant drumbeat I’ve encountered in over 30 years in the marketing communications business, it’s the inability of corporate marketing communicators and brand managers to establish a presence and a voice with the key decision makers in their organization. Many say they’re not part of the C-Suite; and, if they are, they’re prone to admit they’re not always appreciated as business catalysts by the executive team.

Is the landscape improving? Recent studies say not so much: a fresh study of marketing managers by the Economist Intelligence Unit noted “marketing organizations remain siloed and misaligned with other functions; their contributions to the business are often lightly regarded by their colleagues on the executive team.” And in another current study of 2,200 international marketing leaders, over two thirds believe senior management don’t fully understand the role, value, or potential that their organizations represent.

Misaligned expectations? In the financial world, 80 percent of marketing managers say the traditional difficulty in measuring ROI is a big reason they’re held back.

Executive leadership support? In the same study by Brandworkz and CIM, 68% of marketers say they don’t have internal champions or ambassadors outside of marketing.

Are these managers themselves part of the problem?

Well, a Heidrick and Struggles study of marketing executives noted an astounding 98% of new CMOs were recruited externally, vs. 29% of their predecessors who had originally been promoted internally. What this suggests is that companies have been unable to grow in-house talent fast enough to keep up with their rapidly changing business and marketing environments, and confirms that for these organizations mastery of multiple marketing disciplines counts for more than knowledge of the company and, in many cases, even familiarity with the company’s industry. So lack of alignment should not be surprising for the CMO role that is rapidly changing and misunderstood by most other executives.

Lack of clear and achievable goals, organizational support and commitment, inadequate or outdated skill sets – this is can become the residue and the outcomes of organizations that are structured for failure.


The most successful large organizations we’ve worked with are “structured for success.” Their leadership includes marketing and communications visionaries who orchestrate teams that develop marketing and brand strategies that help drive the organization forward. These managers, in turn, are entrusted to plan, execute and deliver on established, measurable goals and objectives. They are experienced and respected thought leaders with an awareness of the power of communicating in a digital world.

The successful business has marketing leaders who work specific to their task: they do not sometimes work with a marketing hat and other times wear the hat of HR, IR or some other function.

This also means they aren’t CEOs. Ironically enough, we often prefer not to work directly with CEO’s — they’re distracted, and they don’t have the bandwidth to effect efficient results on a regular basis over time.

The organizations that are structured for success are usually CMO-centric, which means they have a strong marketing and brand leader who is a member of the executive team, and who has a direct connection to the CEO. This individual also has a strong internal team and/or agency partners who are well-tested industry professionals.

The power of this kind of organizational structure also means that external agencies can be most effective on their clients behalf. It means they can work iteratively and more closely with internal teams as true partners. They know the agency’s got their back and celebrates their success. It’s a source of pride (and success) when an agency is able to turn programs over to internal teams for effective, ongoing execution of programs and strategies.

As Forbes predicts, the “Non-negotiable characteristics of the 2020 marketing organization: a goal of business growth; a clear purpose; complete internal alignment of functional areas; clearly defined roles and responsibilities of each individual; research centers and data-informed efforts; an amalgam of agency partners as well as an in-house agency-like team; cross-platform social-media engagement; a strong CMO-CEO connection.”

If you’re a CMO or marketing leader, is this kind of organizational structure taking shape in your organization?


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