Hiring a Marketing Leader Part 1: Why It’s Hard

Hiring the right marketing leader has become increasingly difficult. Growing businesses need experienced marketing direction, and they can’t afford to get this hire wrong, as the fallout can be serious. A bad hire in the marketing leadership role is not only painful from a talent turn-over and expense perspective, but runs the risk of damaging the company’s overall brand reputation, culture, and revenue potential. 

This reality begs some important questions which this three-part series of articles addresses:

  • Why is it so hard to hire a marketing leader?
  • How can businesses confidently bring strong marketing leadership to the table?
  • What are realistic expectations when hiring a marketing leader?

First, the facts. CMOs have it hard. In fact, the CMO role is well documented as having the shortest life-span in the entire C-suite. Statistics from various sources tell a story of rapid turn-over and burn-out, with average CMO tenure ranging from a scant 18 months for high-growth businesses to 43 months (for top US advertising spenders)

In addition to lack of tenure, there’s a significant lack of trust on both sides of the table. A recent Adweek article sums up the sentiment situation well:

A global survey of CEOs by the Fournaise Marketing Group revealed that 80 percent of them don’t trust or are “unimpressed” with their CMOs, whereas only 10 percent feel the same way about their CFO or CIO. That sentiment cuts both ways: Harvard Business Review found that 74 percent of CMOs believe they aren’t being allowed to exert maximum business impact for reasons ranging from unrealistic expectations to misaligned performance metrics. 

There’s a lot of pain and missed expectations on both sides of these statistics. And it’s not getting any easier for companies to hire confidently for the CMO role.

There’s a lot of pain and missed expectations on both sides of these statistics. And it’s not getting any easier for companies to hire confidently for the CMO role.

Why is it so hard to hire a marketing leader these days?

Let’s start with a look in the rear-view mirror. Twenty years ago, in the late 90’s, I entered the sales and marketing scene for the first time. I was fresh out of college, at a time when the internet was a shiny new object, and companies were building their first ever “online brochures”. While the promise of innovation and disruptive marketing strategies peeked up from the horizon, the actual toolbox for sales and marketing leaders was traditional and simple.

Back then (which feels like several marketing lifetimes ago, but in reality, is relatively recent history), the typical marketing plan included: print advertising, public relations, sponsorships, collateral, and an outbound calling list. Websites, SEO, and e-Commerce were just beginning to emerge, and were considered more experimental than necessary. 

In that emerging-internet era, the most important skills for a marketing leader included: general communications, creativity, branding, and agency relationship management. Hiring a marketer for these credentials was fairly straight forward. The recipe for success was predictable.

Fast-forward to today: a world that has been completely reshaped by digital capabilities and extreme shifts in buyer behaviors and expectations. With exponentially-increasing access to information and competitively priced options, buyers – both B2C and B2B – interact with businesses, and their brands and sales organizations, very differently than they did just one or two decades ago. 

Technologies have emerged at a break-neck pace to support the ever-evolving customer lifecycle. Today’s marketing plan must consider a universe of options, in order to prescribe the ideal blend of owned, paid, and earned media. Within those three seemingly simple categories, the balance and integration of programs, campaigns, content, and activities is truly unlimited.

In today’s digitally-driven era, the most important skills for a marketing leader have shifted tremendously. Fundamental communication, creative, brand, and leadership skills are still essential. But now add: data, analytics, funnel and lifecycle strategy, content strategy, demand generation, digital product innovation, advocacy and retention, sales enablement…and the list goes on.

Why is it so hard for companies to hire a strong marketing leader? Because the game has changed, and most businesses haven’t caught up. Companies are hiring using an outdated recipe, rather than seeking a master chef who can design the custom menu that they need.

In this ecosystem of extreme complexity and limitless shiny objects, the most important ingredient a marketing leader can bring to the table is focus. No marketer can do it all, and no marketing organization or business can do it all.

Strong brands are built by strong leaders who can see the big picture, and effectively eliminate distraction, so that resources can be directed to high value outcomes. 

Ready to bring a strong marketing leader to your organization, but want to make sure you get it right? Check out part two of this series to learn how you can confidently bring strong marketing leadership to your organization.

Not sure you need a full-time marketing leader? Find out if a Fractional CMO could be a part-time, flexible solution that moves you to the next level.

Share This Post

Follow me

Jennifer Zick

Founder and CEO at Authentic Brand
Jennifer Zick is the Founder and CEO of Authentic Brand, a Minneapolis-based marketing consultancy that helps great businesses attain next-level growth through Marketing Traction™.
Follow me

Latest posts by Jennifer Zick (see all)