Opinion: Perspective - Why recession will raise the status of marketing

Good news from America. US marketing directors are staying in their jobs a little longer now that recession's embedded in corporate life.

Apparently the average tenure of a US marketing chief has risen from a shockingly promiscuous 23.2 months in 2006 to a slightly less shocking 28.4 months in 2008. It's likely we'll see a similar sort of (relative) stability here too and this newfound loyalty (if an extra six months' corporate service can really be described as loyalty) should be good news for agencies.

The marketing merry-go-round has meant more account reviews as the newly installed marketer imposes his own team and vision. And it has also meant that any sort of long-term planning or consistent strategy is cripplingly compromised.

So if marketing directors are now hanging around for longer, there's more scope for agencies to build the sort of professional partnerships with their clients that recession-survival will require. Isn't there?

Except that a new study from the Chartered Institute of Marketing and Accenture published this week finds a depressing disconnect between strategy and marketing within many major corporations. We've known for a while that marketing directors - here at least - have seen their corporate status eroded over the last few years; marketing is rarely rewarded with a seat at the boardroom table.

So not surprisingly the CIM study shows that more than 80 per cent of UK marketers feel dissatisfied about the role and positioning of marketing within their organisation. And the study also found that almost two thirds of marketing functions are divorced from a strategic role within the overall company.

Perhaps marketers in the US experience similar frustrations. Does that explain the new figures from headhunters Spencer Stuart showing marketers are more wedded to their current jobs than ever? Is this simply a result of the sort of nervousness an economic downturn can engender in employees? After all, we're all more likely to feel fortunate to even have a job. And companies are more likely to be shedding staff or freezing hirings, so the opportunities to move companies are more limited.

But writing in AdAge this week, Harvard's John Quelch suggests that US marketing chiefs are staying in place for longer because they are now more valued by their chief executives. Quelch argues that the recession has enhanced marketers' standing within their own corporations and they are being given a louder voice in the boardroom.

Again, this is very good news for agencies, who for too long have found themselves dealing, at best, with marketing directors who themselves have little clout with the chief executive. So could we be about to see a new respect for the marketing function? The credit crunch has shifted consumption patterns significantly, and company chiefs are now engaging urgently with their marketers on issues such as customer segmentation and research and price positioning, Quelch says.

Making marketing budgets work harder, leveraging new (cheaper) digital opportunities and re-engaging consumers have also now become serious boardroom preoccupations. And as the corporation's key interpreter of these issues, the marketing chief is coming to the fore.

But Quelch finishes on a word of caution. If marketers are to deserve this elevated role well beyond the urgencies of a downturn, they need to get much better at financial accountability. And, by implication, marketers' agency partners need to get much better at accountability too.

So proving the effectiveness of the work they do will only become more important for agencies over the coming year or two. Well, why did you think Sir Martin Sorrell is investing so much into WPP's research and insight divisions and shifting the balance of his business in that direction. Not for the first time could he prove to be ahead of the game.