Hail to the Chief (Marketing Officer)

Hail to the Chief (Marketing Officer)

Hail to the Chief no longer holds much gravitas in politics… or in marketing.

In gentler times when the title of Chief Marketing Officer was bestowed on a new leader it came with a certain level of respect for the position and the person. Today, the CMO title merely gives us permission to show up and do our jobs. If we’re lucky we’ll get 90 days to prove ourselves.

I’ve worked for more than a dozen Chief Marketing Officers over my career. Some were long-tenured, others revolving doors. The number one reason for their success or failure? Two words: role clarity.

All too often there is a major disconnect between what the marketing leader believes is his or her charter, and what the rest of the organization expects from the marketing team. We may have a detailed job description and the title of “chief” but these merely serve as starting points.


Get Crystal-Clear on Charter

Marketing teams come in all shapes and sizes. Some are tactical, others strategic. Some are product focused, others customer focused. Some lead with creative, others with analytics. Though there are countless permutations, marketing organizations tend to fall into one of three general models.

  1. The first type of organization is that of a marketing service provider, serving as an in-house marketing agency for the company.
  2. The second type of marketing organization functions as a marketing advisor to the CEO and executive team, primarily on brand and reputation matters.
  3. The third marketing organization operates as a business partner and driver of new growth.

I’m not advocating one marketing model over another — they are all valid structures and important ways for marketing to contribute. What’s more critical is understanding the type of marketing leader our company needs at its current stage of growth and revenue. A pre-IPO startup looking to build recognition and create buzz, for example, requires a different marketing structure—and leader—than a mature Fortune 50 company striving for global consistency and operational efficiency.

Regardless of which model, the key point is to secure agreement across the organization… and not just by the person who wrote our job description. Ideally we have buy in on marketing’s mission and role from across the entire executive team including business unit heads, region teams and functional leaders. At a minimum, we need strong advocacy from the chairman, CEO or president — preferably all three.

To be clear, advocacy does not give us a hall pass. We must earn our titles each and every day by delivering excellent marketing. Support, collaboration and respect follow as a result — it’s not the other way around.

Let’s look at the characteristics of each of the three models.


Model 1: Marketing Service Provider

In the Service Provider model, the key priority is efficiency — building a set of shared services that can be leveraged across our company, providing greater cost effectiveness for all.

That is typically accomplished by consolidating around a small set of approved suppliers, and a core set of marketing tools or platforms that are broadly deployed. These might include campaign planning and reporting, lead nurturing and pipeline management, translation services, content management, and the like.

There is a heavy focus on administration, operations, policies and councils to drive global alignment in this model.

Additionally, internal client satisfaction — how happy we keep our internal stakeholders — is a key measure of our success… and longevity.

The key characteristics of the Marketing Service Provider model are:

  • Shared Services & Operations
  • Suppliers & Infrastructure
  • Policies & Councils


Model 2: Marketing Advisor

In the Marketing Advisor model, the key priority is enhancing our company’s brand and reputation. We often see this model in a distributed marketing organization where there is a distinction between corporate marketing and business unit marketing with the latter’s emphasis on demand generation.

In this model, the corporate team manages and enforces the company’s core brand, identity assets and standards. Additionally, the corporate team drives those initiatives involving the executive team including customer advisory councils, large customer events, key sponsorships, signature communiques, and any large branding campaigns. These are called C-level touches.

Priorities and alignment in this model are often decided by the CEO, President or Chairman.

The key characteristics of the Marketing Advisor model are:

  • Brand & Identity Standards
  • C-Level Touches
  • CEO Agenda


Model 3: Business Growth Driver

In the third model, marketing is viewed as a business leader and Driver of Growth, partnering across the executive team to drive the corporate growth agenda.

In this model, marketing drives end-to-end alignment across product, region and corporate strategies and develops marketing initiatives that result in higher revenues and margins for the company.

In the Driver of Growth model, a shared partnership with the executive team is critical to success. In some organizations marketing may have accountability for its own P&L (profit and loss), placing marketing on an equal footing with other revenue-generating business units.

The key characteristics of the Business Growth Driver model are:

  • Revenue & Margin Goals
  • Business & Product Plans
  • Partnership across the Executive Team


Regardless of Model, Three Lessons I Learned

Over my marketing career, I’ve worked in each of these three marketing models. They all have their pluses and minuses along with their challenges and rewards. Regardless of the marketing model you find yourself in, three important things to remember.

  1. Have a clearly defined mission and scope. Spell out what’s in charter, and what’s out of charter—this is especially important if you are working with limited resources (which nowadays is always the case).
  2. Secure advocacy for your operating model from across the leadership team including business unit heads, regional teams and functional leaders. This is in addition, of course, to advocacy from the Chairman, CEO and President.
  3. Deliver each and every day. The best way I’ve found to gain cooperation and support is to outperform and overdeliver on expectations — not only internally but out in the marketplace, where it really matters.


Does your marketing team function as a service provider, C-suite advisor, business growth driver or other? I welcome learning from your experiences in the comments


Image credit: artisticco – fotolia.com


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