September 29, 2016 – As companies become more global and complex, marketing — and the chief marketing officer (CMO) position in particular — has taken on an increasingly crucial and strategic role in moving businesses forward. Executive recruiters, for their part, are stepping up, landing senior marketing and brand management leaders with an eye on both the top and bottom corporate line.
Recruiters bring hard-won insights when searching for CMOs, say hiring executives, that are tough to replicate — even by in-house functions that purportedly know where the absolute best talent can be found. In this function, at least, who you know matters as much as what you know.
A Bird’s Eye View
“Executive recruiters have a unique perspective that makes them ideally suited to understand the skills needed in C-level marketing roles,” says Christine DeYoung, a partner at DHR International, who with Kim Whitler PhD, of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, conducted a revealing survey of executive recruitment firm’s recently.
“To be a true and valued partner to our clients, it is our job as recruiters to understand how different career paths can develop different skills and competencies in executives,” Christine says. “Executive recruiters have a bird’s-eye view and can compare companies across industries. This provides us with a unique vantage point from which to identify the companies that develop the top C-level marketing leaders.”
Christine and Kim recently spoke with me about general trends in the CMO function, which they gleaned from research based on surveying executive recruiters at 19 recruitment firms, including boutiques, mid-sized operations, and large generalists.
Clearly, the CMO role is in the midst of change. More and more, CMOs are taking a respected seat at the C-suite table and are helping companies move ahead in ways that would have been unheard of in the past.
“Today’s CMO works with the CEO to accelerate the organization and drive transformation,” explains Kim, a former CMO herself. “CMOs also collaborate with other members of the C-suite, especially with a company’s top HR executive to shape the company brand. As such, chief marketing executives are gaining rapidly in stature and influence in the C-suite.”
Christine and Kim’s research reveals that it’s the large, global companies that provide marketing academy training, such as Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo, and they are the ones turning out top C-level marketers.
“The importance of marketing, and therefore the role that marketers play within companies, varies significantly,” says Christine. Consequently, she says, the best talent comes from companies that: 1) have a systemic approach to training that has been proven over time to develop strategic P & L marketers; 2) place marketers at the center of the strategic decision-making table, as opposed to on the periphery; 3) operate in highly competitive industries where marketers hone their skills to compete; and 4) have sufficient budgets so that marketers have the opportunity to test, learn, and improve.
“There frankly aren’t a lot of companies that do all of this well,” she says.
Applying Potential Talent
Based on the level of strategic thinking and business impact they have, the most successful CMOs tend to have training across a general management approach, as opposed to pure marketing levers, says Kim.
“In other words, the best CMOs often were at a training ground where ‘marketing or category management’ were at the hub of the wheel,” she says. “This allowed them to learn how all aspects of marketing are driven, effected, and collaborated across all functions of the company and then these CMOs understand the total P & L and the impact the marketing can have on price, positioning, placement, packaging, etc.”
One can see the difference in how various organizations apply the potential talents of their marketing talent. “The best companies tend to put marketers in strategic roles, rather than marketing communication roles,” Kim says.
“In some industries, marketers are relegated to communicating the strategic innovations led by others. In the best companies, marketers are in the driver’s seat in terms of developing the direction for innovation. This is a big difference. The former tends to prepare marketers to be communicators while the latter prepares marketers for the C-suite,” she says.
Vulnerable to Talent Raiding
In a sense, academy companies therefore make themselves vulnerable to talent raiding. But Christine and Kim don’t regard that as always bad. In fact, there are benefits to losing such talent.
Christine points to consulting firms as an example. “They plan for consultants leaving, in some cases, to join clients,” she says. “The benefit of placing a consultant at a client is that the ex-employee may be more likely to hire the consulting firm in the future.”
In the case of P&G, for example, she says they have leveraged their ‘alumni’ database to source solutions to unique problems. “They hold global alumni meetings and tap into the broad network of past employees as needed. So while they may lose valuable employees to other companies, they have found a way to stay connected with alumni to leverage them as needed.”
Contributed by Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media