Surviving CMO Leadership Change

Mark Ware
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Mark Ware

Mark Ware is a thought leader and global senior sales and marketing executive who motivates sales and marketing teams, aggressively collaborates across the matrix and produces new sources of revenue.
Mark Ware
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A few quick thoughts on CMO change outs.

How long should a CMO reign? And then what? JCPenny is now seeking a new CMO after appointing a CMO last year. GoDaddy just announced a new CMO as did Bacardi. How long will they last? CMOs, and CXOs generally, have about a 45 month shelf life according to the Wall Street Journal –– up from 22 months back in 2004. Your mileage may vary of course. Swapping out CMOs is a guaranteed way to stomp on the Gas Pedal of Change and hit the Fast Lane of Transformation (or Mediocrity) at high speed; a new CMO may:

  • Change the marketing personnel
  • Swap out old collateral for new designs
  • Retool the website content and interaction
  • Insert more/less processes for marketing and bid support activities
  • Change the ad agency or bring it all back in-house
  • Overhaul the marketing strategy, including service/product line go-to-market strategies

Some of these changes may be good, even needed. But wholesale changes en masse, typical of new marketing leaders anxious to make their mark, can create a number of unanticipated complications. Can you imagine that kind of change every few years? It would likely take a heavy toll on your brand, your people and your revenue. These changes can radically influence the bottom line, especially if customers don’t like the direction being taken by the new CMO. After all, branding will be impacted, the in-store /online store experience will change –– perhaps dramatically. How product ships will change. Simple things like how the phone is answered and use of email signatures may also change. All that change will trickle into an experience for the shareholder too. Changing marketing leadership is a big deal.

However, there are four ways to avoid major upheaval whenever CMO change outs occur in an organization. Here’s my 4-Point Survival Guide for your consideration:

1. Infrequent Change – Senior marketing leadership should not be changed frequently. Longer tenure is preferred, so long as the results are being secured. One prime way to avoid an unnecessary change out is for the company leadership to support the CMO already on the job and ensure he/she has the resources, funding, clarity on priorities and a voice at the table in order to secure the marketing mission. But if a change cannot be avoided (incompetence, consistent poor results, low team morale, etc.) …. Read on.

2. Succession Planning – Every CMO should have one to three strong understudies who can step in and mind the shop while the CMO is out temporarily. If longer term, one of the three should be tagged as a logical successor. This GREATLY avoids the typical chaos which may occur and fast tracks transition with minimum disruption. Karen Higginbottom has an excellent article detailing succession insights.

3. Mature Marketing Infrastructure – Even if the CMO drops out suddenly, there should be a fairly well developed marketing function in place complete with defined priorities, aligned processes and competent personnel. This “marketing hygiene” will help minimize disruption to the brand and ensure a smoother transition to the new CMO. He/she can then review the marketing function and tweak as needed –– vs. starting from scratch –– or even worse: inheriting a work-in-progress that is missing some of the vital pieces identified above.

4. Editorial Calendar – With a robust (well developed) and in-progress (utilized) editorial calendar, this accomplishes two things:

Gives a sense of immediate focus and execution to the marketing team while awaiting new orders and does so with no brand disruption or customer-perceivable changes. Business as usual (for now).

Quickly allows the new CMO to review content on the calendar, assess pending assignments and review ROI to date across all platforms/activities. The smart CMO will arrive with the mindset “don’t fix it if it’s not broken”; providing an in-play editorial calendar can be the best gift the marketing team can present to their new boss: a pithy tool for denoting most, if not all GTM activities including publishing, collateral, webinars, strategic events, lead generation and the connections between them; an editorial calendar is invaluable.

The longer a CMO reigns the more time he/she has to accomplish the assigned marketing mission AND incorporate succession planning, develop a more mature marketing infrastructure and execute a fully vetted editorial calendar. CMOs should think short term, hope for long term and leave the marketing function better than when they found it.

Imagine you are the new CMO. Is it easier to start from scratch, inherit someone else’s mess or further optimize a fairly well organized marketing function? As a general rule I would always prefer the later, and so would the leadership, customers and shareholders I suspect.

What’s been your experience with senior marketing leadership changes?

Anonymity breeds creativity

Pavan Soni
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Pavan Soni

Pavan Soni is an Innovation Evangelist by profession and a teacher by passion. He has consulted with leading organizations on innovation and creativity. He regularly blogs at
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Have you ever wondered why our superheroes wear masks?

Apart from hiding their identity, and the corresponding ability to lead a double life, one normal and another fantasy, one of the big reasons for them, donning a mask is to allow them to do things beyond the realm of everyday life, and even fail, while nobody identifies them. Do you think that they might well have done similar feats with their identities revealed? Perhaps not.

Let me propose here that anonymity breeds , and the very fact that the superheroes wear masks, lets them be more creative and audacious in their deeds. What can ordinary mortals learn from here? Here is my take.

Let us start with identifying the key tenets of creativity. I believe that creativity is about putting the existing in a new configuration or form. We are really not looking at new-to-the-world offerings or solutions, but those which were existing, hitherto disconnected, and are now put into a perspective and context which is new.
Of all the things that this ability of re-configuring requires, I think that the biggest is the risk taking ability. The tenacity to leave behind the secured and the comfortable, and chart into unknown territories, often at the risk of loss of reputation and even life. It is the same risk-taking ability that makes the rare entrepreneurial types, and then the pure inventors that frankly give a damn!

I can’t think of any creative outcome without the commensurate risk associated with it, even though almost all the other ingredients are present. Either an individual is motivated enough to find a solution, or desperate enough; but in any case, the risk is always to overcome.

What is the present day equivalent of superhero style anonymity? How can one become anonymous without essentially resorting to wearing a mask? I believe that the context has an answer here.

Look at our cities. With massive urbanization, repatriation, and coming up of new business opportunities, cities have become the pockets of largely disconnected masses. The so called ‘collectivism’ of Indians is severely challenged in cities.

While there is a significant social cost of breaking social ties and the resulting loneliness, there is however a great upside. Now people, unknown to others around, can pretty much do anything they desire. They can take chances, fail and try over and over again.

How much of that was possible in tradition, tightly connected societies, where a patriarchal system was ingrained, and where any radical behavior was met with a heavy social sanctioning.

Little doubt then that some of the most radical ideas are by immigrant and not native; invaders and not aboriginals.

When I look around in the city of Mumbai or Bangalore, there are several hundred businesses, which weren’t essentially started by those whose forefathers lived in the respective cities. These flourishing upstarts are by the first generation, or at best second generation, immigrants, and eventual entrepreneurs. The very fact that they pretty much had no social tries to start with, they could choose their ties, mark their territories, and take the necessary risk while still being relatively strangers.

The dual benefits of ‘not being famous yet’, and ‘not belonging here’ help people challenges their own assumptions and those held sacrosanct by the societies, and create something adorable and inspirational. The whole Silicon Valley Story is scripted on anonymity and the feats of technology superheroes; and Bangalore is no different.

To sum up, I can propose that let’s not cling on to our past glory and social bondages, for these very core-capabilities and assets turn out to be core-rigidities, the moment we attempt something new. And worst still, over a period of time, our very risk taking appetite fades away while maintaining those assets (read liabilities).

So – why so serious?