CMO Turnover Problem Growing

In the "ExpertAdvice" section of the August 11 issue of DM News, Rick Linde wrote a thought provoking article about why CMO turnover has increased dramatically over the years.

In truth, turnover at all executive levels is on the increase. But that increase has grown faster for CMOs. Some research indicates a tenure rate that has dropped from 24 months just a few years ago to its present level of only 18 months.

"There are two reasons for this [turnover]. First, the position is often ill-defined and the expectations unreasonable. [Secondly], the CEO has hired a CMO to facilitate change, and yet the CMOs have very little authority. They are expected to change things, but only as a corporate staff person. In this way, The CMO is a sort of advisor."

Linde proposes a solution. The CEO must  aggressively back up the decisions, direction and changes proposed by his CMO. As we all know, real change must come from the top.

The second is to provide reasonable measurement for reaching achievable objectives accompanied by both the authority and the resources to make things happen.

But the most important point Mr. Linde makes is this.

"... if you say you want change in the way you do marketing but don't want to break any eggs, it's not going to happen."

Several years ago, I interviewed for a CMO position at one of the largest hospitals in the US. The answer the CEO gave to this question convinced me that no quality CMO could succeed in his organization.

My question was: "What would you do if I created an action plan that changed the direction of your marketing as needed to achieve the objectives you just outlined to me. You approved it, but some my peers and a few other senior executives feared that the required changes threatened their positions in some way. And no matter how persuasive I was, getting broad consensus on the required changes could never happen without forcing the needed decision. What would you do?"

His answer was this. "It is wholly your role and responsibility to get consensus and support for the ideas you bring to the table. It is 100% your responsibility to persuade and move the organization for the needed marketing changes."

It was clear that this CEO required 100% consensus on key decisions and would not use his authority to clear the way for significant change. I had much of the CEOs responsibility, but no real authority. And confrontation of any kind would be viewed as destructive regardless of the clear need for organizational change to make the hospital's marketing efforts more productive.

If the CEO is unwilling to put his own reputation and neck on the line to back me up, then why should I be willing to do it for him and his organization?


Quality CMOs want to grow things. They do not make good maintenance people. Nor should they be expected to perform miracles. Marketing requires the entire organization behind it to work. And for the CMO, it all starts and ends with the CEO's personal commitment to the marketing task.

Can you relay a personal experience or one you know about that might shed more light on CMO tenure and how to improve it?

Posted on August 21, 2008 and filed under Direct Marketing Strategy, General.