CMOs: an endangered species?
A view from Claire Beale

CMOs: an endangered species?

I don't want to worry you unnecessarily, but is the chief marketing officer facing extinction?

I ask because Coca-Cola has just knifed its global CMO role, paying tribute to Marcos de Quinto, the man who has held the title for the past two years, by saying he "will leave behind a strong legacy as he has been responsible for a resurgence in the quality of Coca-Cola advertising".

A mischievous observer might see this as a very backhanded compliment. You see, Coke has ditched the global CMO function in favour of creating a chief growth officer role: marketing=ads (or "colouring-in"), not business growth.

I’m pretty sure this is not the impression Coca-Cola intended and it’s a suggestion that should be offensive to any smart marketer. But the rise of the CGO – now in place at companies such as Mondelez and Colgate-Palmolive – does raise a clear question about whether marketing is doing enough to seize control of the growth agenda.

A recent-ish Accenture study found that company chief executives are increasingly spreading responsibility for disruptive growth around the C-suite.

Yes, CEOs see CMOs as the primary drivers of disruptive growth, but they are closely followed by chief strategy officers and chief sales officers. Yet it’s marketers who carry the buck if growth stalls: more than a third of CEOs say that CMOs are first in the firing line if growth targets are not met.

And if you ask marketers, it seems their confidence in meeting growth targets is often depressingly low. According to Accenture, more than half of CMOs feel that a large portion of their marketing budget is being wasted and not delivering the results the business expects. It’s a bleak picture. No wonder CEOs are clutching at the CGO role to kick-start change.

But for marketers, the question is surely whether the emerging CGO function represents a new opportunity to step up in the boardroom (and assume a CEO-in-waiting position), or whether it will come at the expense of marketing’s C-suite access and credibility.

CGOs exist to corral a business around building revenues and engaging customers, uniting marketing, sales, innovation, R&D and so on.

For the best marketers – take our Power 100 – this seems like a natural career progression and a compelling opportunity to align marketing skills with responsibility for corporate advancement: the CGO not as a threat to the marketing function but as an adrenaline shot for it.

If this is to be the case, marketers need to grab the growth lever, prove their role in building profits and ensure they’re not simply the people known for the quality of their advertising.