Role of a CMO

First of all let us clarify CMO means Chief Marketing Officer. The revelation that News International (NI) is searching for its first chief marketing officer to oversee marketing in its Times Media and News Group Newspapers divisions, potentially diluting the roles of marketing directors raises two key questions.

What should a head of marketing do if someone is brought in over their head to take over elements of their role? And what defines the new breed of CMO emerging in UK corporate life?

The answer to the second question helps answer the first. It is mainly about fashion, chief executive of The Marketing Society. ‘CMO’ sounds grander than ‘marketing director’, just as ‘CEO’ sounds more important than ‘chief executive’.

The rise of the chief marketing officer is due partly to the creeping influence of the US, where the title is applied to anyone with a marketing remit, but is also fuelled by management consultants, who love and promote the concept of ‘Csuite’ jobs, CEO, CFO, CMO and COO, in the top ranks of major companies.

CMO is a flash title agrees Clare Salmon, who also notes with irony her own title, group director of strategy, marketing and customer at insurer RSA. But what you call it is far less important than what it involves. The situation at News International seems a pragmatic response to a business that faces a strategic challenge, falling newspaper sales.

Others regard the rise of the chief marketing officer as a significant development in the evolution of marketing. It represents recognition of the strategic importance of the discipline and consumer understanding.

Marketing directors complain they have too much to do, and are so busy with execution and managing specialist agencies that it leaves no time to think strategically. This is a way to bring strategic focus back. A marketing head in a company that had not been very customer-focused, see a CMO’s appointment as good news.

CMOs in this country tend to sit on the executive committee and report directly to the chief executive, so they can wield real influence.

They also often have wider backgrounds and broader responsibilities than a typical marketing director. They may start in marketing, but will have augmented the insight and creativity associated with it with strong financial, commercial and leadership skills honed in sales, category and country management.

They are also more accountable than most marketing directors. In research we conducted recently, one CMO said that top-line growth accounts for 50% of his total bonus.

Libby Chambers, who was recently promoted from CMO for Barclaycard to chief marketing officer of global retail and commercial banking at the firm, has a Harvard MBA and 10 years behind her at strategy firm McKinsey, as well as a wealth of marketing and management experience.

The role is seen as “a broadening of functional scope” and is responsible for product development and innovation, corporate affairs, internal communications, external PR and regulatory affairs, as well as the more conventional marketing tasks.

The CMO in its new marketing role over incumbent marketers before, and the way to make it work is to clearly delineate roles and responsibilities and make it very clear from the outset that you are there to help drive the same agenda, to support them, accelerate their work and give it more impact.

A split between execution and strategy is one solution. Head of brand and advertising at Barclaycard, loves making ads and does not want to write strategy plans, so there is only 5% overlap between roles of CMO and Ad head.

Another method would be to focus on individual brands rather than business direction, which appears to be the logic behind the developments. Whatever the reason for the appointment, an incoming CMO needs to be sensitive if the organization is to avoid losing good marketers.

This is a tension that apparently prompted the exit of Royal Mail marketing director Alex Batchelor after Alex Smith was made strategy and commercial director. The installation of a CMO can turbo-charge the marketing effort.

Only the very paranoid or immature would see such an appointment as a threat. Incumbents should see it as an opportunity to learn and look for shared agendas that will improve marketing capability as a whole. If you are doing your job well, you have nothing to fear.