Employers Don't Get It and Neither Do Headhunters

In the search for CMO talent, it appears to me that it's a case of the blind leading the blind.

As a DM consultant in multiple industries, I get frequent calls from headhunters for specific talent. And from time to time, clients ask me for advice in this area. So my field of vision includes both large employers and headhunters that specialize in the marketing field.

In a recent newsletter from search firm Gundersen Partners, author Ted Tazzia writes an interesting paragraph in his article entitled "Hiring Your New CMO: Keys To Getting It Right." 

It's a lengthy quote, but well worth the read.

"One of the biggest mistakes we've observed over the years as a recruiting firm specializing in marketing management is that too often the senior executives making the selections are not marketers themselves and don't necessarily know what to look for in their marketing leadership.  They emphasize industry or category experience over real marketing expertise and the result is often the selection of an individual with the same job title as the departing executive but from an industry competitor.  The problem is that in many cases the new individuals don't have a great deal of marketing experience or expertise either. Some grew up in sales and see marketing as a sales support function."

Ah, so true. The growing complexity of the CMO role requires a knowledgeable boss and corporate infrastructure that leverages the talented CMO. Unfortunately, most companies do not provide their CMOs with the proper CEO support, authority, budget or business plan for marketing success. 

A prolific researcher of CMO roles, Spencer Stuart states that "the average tenure of a chief marketing officer is less than 27 months." So it's clear that something is amiss.

The expectations often exceed CMOs’ real authority to make decisions or the required internal support for any high level marketing function.

CMOs today must possess leadership, creative, analytical and financial skills.

Top management must not only understand the candidates' requirements for success, but their own role in creating the necessary environment for the new CMO's success.

In addition to employers, search firms themselves are guilty of lumping specific backgrounds into inaccurate categories.

For example, in this same article, the writer states: 

"[Employers hire CMO candidates that] grew up in agencies and define marketing in terms of advertising or communications. There may be a new name on the door, but with the same skills that fell short in the previous individual."

This limited scope of some general agency account management leaders may be true of awareness advertisers, but not so much for direct marketers.

Direct marketing agency executives routinely take on performance contracts. And they have usually worked on the client side with P&L responsibilities before assuming a senior level direct marketing agency assignment.

Direct marketing account management people know how to read analyses, lead research, develop financial pro formas and evaluate the financial contributions of advertising expenditures.

Having set up direct marketing agencies in the general agency environment, it was my experience that agency executives generally do not know how to develop and evaluate the financial performance of their clients' budgets. Nor do they see this activity as an important part of their role.  

In my opinion, both prospective employers and search firms need to understand better the difference between direct marketers and the rest.

This is not to say that the CMO does not need to understand the big picture including branding, positioning advertising, new media, people management and so forth. But in my view, direct marketers already come ready made with one essential mind-set. They live or die by the financial results of their programs.

Posted on January 17, 2009 and filed under Direct Marketing Strategy, General.