A view from Gemma Charles

Want to make it in the C-suite? Be yourself

Hello there. This is the fourth edition since Campaign and Marketing teamed up and my first column, so I hope it's not too late to...

Yes, it’s still called Campaign but hopefully loyal adlanders have noticed and are enjoying the wider remit. Greetings, too, to the brand-side newcomers. I’m optimistic that our mix of the best new thinking across all platforms – whether that hails from Silicon Valley, Soho or Slough – will inspire and stimulate you.

Recently, during a radio interview about the union, I was asked about the trend towards marketers being promoted to chief commercial officers. It struck me that, for all those brands going down this route, there are also those choosing to promote their marketers to chief customer officers. It also feels cyclical. Remember when you couldn’t move for sales and marketing directors? To borrow a famous phrase from the Khao San Road, a bit of a case of "same, same but different".

But if the evolution of marketers to new, more powerful roles does represent real change, this has to be something to celebrate. It shows the "colouring-in department" slur has been finally put to bed and is a recognition of the discipline’s effect on business success. The need for marketing professionals to make sure they’re seen as serious players is of paramount importance. The best way to achieve this, however, is a moot point.

One industry figure who has been at the helm of some of the UK’s biggest brands is concerned that marketers feel they must "overcorrect" to guard against the profession’s perceived weaknesses and "out-macho" the finance director. "Doing this means they end up setting a trap for themselves," he warns.

Similarly, one boss of a major agency says his most successful clients walk into the boardroom "confident that they have unique skills and can do something that no-one else can do" and "it’s the unconfident ones who seek to be something they are not". 

To this agency chief, it’s the rise of the chief customer officer that best demonstrates the centrality of marketing by acknowledging its influence across the entire customer journey.

And what about the role of chief marketing and communications officer? Despite exploding on to the scene with high-profile appointees such as Keith Weed and Amanda Mackenzie, this title has not become commonplace in the UK. This suggests earned and paid media are often on separate reporting lines – strange given the increasing crossover between reputation and brand-building.

The arguments around how marketers make it in the boardroom will rumble on. But seeing talented people take their place in the C-suite, in whatever guise works for them, has got to be good news for the industry, brands and, most importantly, the consumer.