Last week's departure of chief executive Peter Fisk from The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), after just 13 months in the post, was the culmination of a series of extraordinary events. Extraordinary even by the standards of an institution whose complex structure, dense mesh of committees and self-important grass-roots governance have long made it prey to petty politics, power struggles and mutually destructive conflict.
The official reason for Fisk's de-parture is a restructure to comply with Charity Commission regulations that would emasculate his role and compromise his ability to deliver the International Board of Trustees' (IBT) agenda for change.
Fisk's version? "I have chosen to leave because of the changed circumstances, but I am deeply reluctant to go and incredibly disappointed that we can't just get on with things."
Although the CIM was granted charitable status in 2001, Fisk had no idea his employer was a charity when he took the job. The fact seems to have slipped the IBT's mind too, even though it owes its existence to the constitutional change demanded by the charity commissioners. Its role used to be carried out by an elected council of CIM regional members.
The oversight came to light last May in discussions between Fisk and CIM auditors BDO Stoy Hayward. Fisk alerted the IBT to the fact that the CIM was in possible breach of its charitable covenant, as it had not separated its commercial and charitable activities, was not complying with charity accounting standards and had paid three trustees for time spent on CIM activities, when their contribution was supposed to be voluntary.
The charitable status issue was ill-conceived and poorly implemented.
"We didn't properly appreciate the full implications of charitable status and because of the constitutional, management and structural changes we were making, it fell between the cracks," admits IBT chairman Tess Harris, who was appointed in January.
The CIM's efforts to rectify the situation resulted in a £600,000 hit to last year's profits, because of the need to restate its accounts, and contributed to a £954,000 loss in 2002-2003.
What's more, it transpired that despite the tax advantages and credibility supposedly conferred by charitable status, only 1% of the CIM's activities could be classed as charitable. So the body has subjected itself to tighter regulation, the trustees are more accountable, and the institute's 'ownership' by the public potentially compromises members' rights - and all for gallingly little reward.
There is a widespread view that the CIM will never progress for as long as it is run by what has traditionally been a group of sole practitioners using their year in office to flex their egos.
But the charity debacle opens up the IBT to charges of breathtaking incompetence, and threatens to undermine not just the changes Fisk has made, but the credibility of the CIM, its qualification and the reputation of marketing as a whole.
Trouble at the top
The role of CIM chief executive is a poisoned chalice. There have been seven in the past 12 years, the longest-serving being Steve Cuthbert, who got five years under his belt before being ousted by the council in 1999 for being "too powerful and arrogant".
After prevarication on both sides, ex-BBC marketing supremo Jane Frost turned down the role last year, former M&S marketing head Alan McWalter dropped out of the running, and Fisk, a 34-year old PA consultant with limited management experience, seemed an unlikely alternative.
A staunch CIM supporter and advocate of professional marketing, Fisk set about implementing the IBT's strategy: to make the Institute the world's leading professional marketing body by 2010, to become 'the voice' of the industry and to enhance members' professionalism, knowledge and networking opportunities.
But the drive for strategic change could not have come at a worse time.
In addition to economic downturn, the CIM's core training revenues were falling, it was trying to consolidate a radical restructure designed to simplify its governance, and it was grappling with the legal and financial implications of its charitable status.
Fisk's reforming zeal, aimed at 'selling' the CIM to opinion-forming senior marketers, alienated many in key stakeholder groups, including staff, members and academics. And other bodies, such as ISBA, were annoyed by what they saw as his unilateral claim to the high ground of marketing.
Respected CIM stalwarts such as Chris Lenton and Heather Davidson, formerly finance director and education director respectively, who acted as joint interim chief executives before Fisk's arrival, left the organi-sation despite their willingness to support change.
And offers of help from seasoned fellows and vice-presidents, such as Sally Muggeridge, now chief executive of the Industry and Parliament Trust, were dismissed because they were perceived as the old guard.
Instead, Fisk brought in a raft of consultants, including John Coke as finance director and Jonathan Dutton as enterprises director - both of whom will leave in June before their one-year contracts come up for renewal - and a consultant HR director.
Not surprisingly, the balance of last year's £954,000 loss was made up of consultancy fees and redundancy costs, as well as the costs of implementing the new strategy.
Though credited with "a very good strategic marketing brain", Fisk failed to carry people with him. Interbrand chief executive Rita Clifton points out: "This is Peter's first chief executive role, and in an organisation with a very difficult and sensitive stakeholder base. It's not enough to have a great brain; you need a mind for the operational issues, too - or at least to work with people who do."
Even without the charitable status issue, Fisk underestimated the scale of the challenge. Shell's vice-president, global brand and communications, Raoul Pinnell, a fellow of the institute, believes that while the CIM has the potential to become "the voice of marketing" it must first secure its core territory of leading the development of marketing via education, training, conferences and networking.
The IBT's Harris says: "Our commitment to education, qualifications our members and the academic community is undiminished." But she admits: "We have bungled the message with some stakeholders; it would be arrogant to pretend otherwise."
However, some at the Institute support the changes wrought by Fisk. Jenny Phillips, marketing manager at the CIM, where she has worked for five years, calls him "a breath of inspiration, totally visionary, with very high integrity and a real will to make this institute work", and claims the management team is fully behind him.
Furthermore, Rob Galkoff, PR and advertising director of catalogue company Land's End and a CIM council member, claims Fisk has brought "lots of leadership and determination.
"Peter has given us a much-needed voice, and, particularly through the web site, has made the Institute much more relevant to members - not least those overseas," he adds.
Indeed, the list of achievements (35 at the last count) by the CIM during Fisk's tenure looks impressive.
The web site has been developed significantly, with facilities such as the 'knowledge hub' - acclaimed as the world's biggest online source of marketing intelligence - quarterly agendas focusing on topical issues and new ideas, and a 'learning zone' that offers online study resources.
The training portfolio has been rationalised to focus on the board: there is a new portfolio of professional qualifications, including a post- graduate diploma; company membership is available; and there is a professional jobs service online.
Fisk even dropped some of the formal conventions from last year's CIM graduation ceremony and moved it to London's Barbican from the Symphony Hall at the Birmingham International Conference Centre.
The chartered marketer and fellows programmes have been redeveloped and are due to be relaunched between April and June as "the pinnacles of professional development and practice"; in April, membership is set to be enhanced with a range of benefits for students, marketers and companies.
"The health of the business is not in any doubt - we increased cash flow eight-fold last year," says Fisk. "We are finally delivering lots of great stuff, including a massive package of benefits to be launched on April 5, that will allow members to become better-informed, connected and more professional. And we will be refocusing on the chartered marketer status, for which, in this post-Enron climate, there is a real appetite."
But while Fisk has made the CIM more marketing- and less institute-focused, it faces a stark future. The leadership team is about to depart, with no second-tier in place and no succession plan. Staff are pessimistic about a rudderless CIM sustaining the momentum of change, and despite what is seen as an excellent 'product', its training and education supporters fear it may have squandered its last chance of breaking with the past.
The involvement of blue-chip marketers and chief executives is seen as essential to preserving its credibility. But significantly, neither CIM president and Camelot chairman Dianne Thompson, nor any of its illustrious vice-presidents - the so-called 'marketing knights' - Sir Peter Davis, Sir John Egan, Sir Paul Judge and Sir Clive Thompson, were prepared to comment on recent events or how the Institute should move forward.
Others have been more forthcoming. Martin George, director of marketing and commercial development at British Airways, believes the industry must rally around to help create a professionally run Institute. "It is important to have a strong CIM that can play a key role in developing the competency and credibility of future generations of marketers," he says.
But the focus has to be on professionalism rather than profile, he adds.
"Whether or not marketing sits on the board is irrelevant. What is important is that it demonstrates it is core to the success of the company."
This distinction must be borne in mind by those seeking Fisk's successor.
Trying to engage a marketing 'star' of the Jane Frost variety would merely confirm suspicions that it is suffering an identity crisis.
"The CIM's role as a trainer makes it feel worthy, but not worth talking to at a party; and its bottom-up federal structure makes it prey to a committee of regional mandarins who lend an air of reactionary parochialism," says Mike Sommers, a marketing consultant and CIM fellow.
The chartered marketer status, he adds, carries neither the professional importance of a chartered accountancy qualification, nor the lustre of an MBA. "All it says is that you are dealing with someone who thinks filling in forms and collecting badges like a boy scout will qualify them to write a customer strategy."
Perhaps the road to redemption lies in focusing on its core strengths and values, as Pinnell suggests. The choice of chief executive will be key.
But the CIM's navel-gazing to determine the structure and governance it needs as a charity amounts to just more tinkering around the edges.
It rather needs a root-and-branch restructuring to give clarity of direction to a properly elected board of experienced blue-chip marketers more interested in genuine leadership than ego trips. As one observer puts it: "If you appoint a bevy of shopkeepers, the CIM will continue to be run like a corner shop."
KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
Financial Total incoming Total surplus/ Qualified Students
year resources deficit members
(pounds m) (pounds)
1999 14.9 119,000 29,674 30,150
2000 15.3 525,000 30,408 30,336
2001 16.2 -178,000 30,436 25,200
2002 16.3 -8000 30,107 23,911
2003 16.2 -954,000 28,732 28,450
2004 n/a n/a 26,038 31,416
Source: Chartered Institute of Marketing
TIMELINE - CIM
1911: Twelve sales managers meet on May 16 to form the Sales Managers Association (SMA) to improve sales techniques and give their role a more professional footing.
1921: The association is incorporated to become the ISMA. In 1925, it holds its first conference and launches a magazine.
1928: The ISMA holds its first annual examinations. Three years later, in 1931, it renames its magazine Marketing.
1946: The association expands its definition of sales management to include distribution.
1960: The ISMA changes its name to the Institute of Marketing and Sales Management. A year later, it re-introduces its exam as the Diploma.
1968: The body is renamed the Institute of Marketing. Three years later, it launches marketing groups for specific industries and moves to Moor Hall in Cookham, Berkshire.
1989: The Institute takes on chartered status to become the CIM. Nine years later, in 1998, the concept of the individual chartered marketer is introduced.
2001: The Charity Commission grants charitable status to the CIM, its constitution is revised and an International Board of Trustees is appointed.
2003: Peter Fisk joins as chief executive in February. He realises charitable status has not been implemented; dissent about his reforms surfaces. In December, the CIM announces losses of £954,000 for 2002-2003 and former chairman John Edmund announces his intention to propose a vote of no confidence in Fisk.
2004: Fisk resigns as chief executive in March.