Short-termism is hurting us all
A view from Claire Beale

Short-termism is hurting us all

Marketers don't tend to hang around very long. And this is just one example of the ruinous short-termism infecting our industry.

There’s a promiscuous senior marketer who’s well-known for never staying in one job very long. I’d always assumed – being cynical – that their flightiness was because they just weren’t that good, that what had sounded impressive in the job interview turned out to be meaningless bullshit when put into practice at the marketing coalface. So I asked them why they swapped jobs so often. "I get bored. I make the changes I think need making. Then I lose interest, so I quit." So, yes, I concluded: they’re not a very good marketer. 

But they’re hardly alone in riding the marketing merry-go-round. A new report on marketing short-termism compiled by Enders Analysis for magazine marketing body Magnetic found that the average tenure for chief marketing officers is just over four years. I reckon this is an overestimation. Whatever the exact figure, we know marketers – even the good ones – don’t tend to hang around very long. And this is just one example of the ruinous short-termism that Enders says is infecting our industry.

Corporate investors now demand quarterly results, procurement is more powerful than ever, zero-based budgeting has become fashionable, and there’s been a resulting demise in long-term client/agency relationships. As Enders chief Douglas McCabe points out, we now live in a world of "marketing that is being driven by non-marketing experts". Meanwhile, the rise of digital targeting and performance metrics has meant we’ve become an industry addicted to the crack of speedy – even real-time – results. And that’s fuelling a get-rich-quick-and-bugger-the-consequences approach to marketing investment (though investment is hardly the appropriate word here).

This systematic failure to balance short-term rewards with long-term, sustainable growth has unforgivable consequences. As Les Binet and Peter Field have already argued in their 2015 paper The Long and the Short of It, short-term results decay quickly and, as Time Inc UK chief Marcus Rich highlights on page 8, "could damage a brand forever".

But it’s hard to think of any part of the marcoms equation that hasn’t been complicit in creating, and feeding off, the short-termism virus. From marketers’ desire to deliver quick sales growth in results-hungry boardrooms; to media agencies’ participation in the price-led commoditisation of their services; to creative agencies’ obsession with new tools and channels regardless of their efficacy; to media owners’ willingness to bundle their content and sell on volume rather than quality engagement and context – we’re all to blame. The responsibility for recalibration rests with all of us – and here, at least, short-term results are critical. 

Claire Beale is global editor-in-chief of Campaign.