Across the corporate landscape, the length of a chief marketing officer’s tenure with a company is becoming shorter, with the average now roughly less than the amount of time it takes to get a college degree.
A new analysis released by Spencer Stuart, a leadership consulting firm, illustrates the trend of CMOs on the move in nearly every industry, from hospitality to tech and retail, with the average length of their tenure dropping to 43 months. The study was a supplement to the firm’s annual CMO tenure tracker, which has followed the careers of chief marketers at 100 of the most advertised brands since 2004.
Brands listed in the graphic below either just lost or dismissed their CMO, are actively seeking a new one, or recently hired one.
These include heavy hitters like Netflix, whose CMO retired in July after seven years with the streaming service; McDonald’s CMO Silvia Lagnado left in July after just shy of four years with the company, which created two new positions to fill her role; and also in July, Uber laid off a third of its marketing team including CMO Rebecca Messina, who had been with the rideshare service for only nine months.
The turnover is a testament to the difficulty of the job, said Greg Welch, a consultant at Spencer Stuart. “The volatility of the job has continued—it’s not slowing,” Welch said. “If you look at some of these sectors, it’s a little out of control.”
“These are difficult jobs to be successful [in]”
When Spencer Stuart first started tracking CMO tenure in 2004, the average was 23.6 months. It peaked at 48 months in 2014, but recently it’s been on a downswing, falling to 43 months in 2018. While people are staying in the job longer on average than they were 15 years ago, recent volatility points to a challenging atmosphere for marketers.
Among the reasons for these transitions, Welch pointed to the evolution of the job itself. While complex in its own right, the responsibilities of a chief financial officer haven’t changed nearly as much as that of a CMO, tasked with navigating technological disruption, the irrationality of advertising, and the growing expectations of consumers.
“These are difficult jobs to be successful [in],” Welch said.
Another reason for the trend could be related to what Welch called “inflated expectations” for CMOs as brands seek unicorn candidates with a deep understanding of both the creative and analytical elements of the position.
“It’s hard to find a single person who has done it all. Lawyers aren’t usually doctors,” said Mayur Gupta, CMO of Freshly, a DTC meal delivery company.
Gupta, a self-described “hardcore engineer” who’s never taken a marketing class, spent about two years at Spotify before leaving. He works alongside the vice president of brand and creative at Freshly.
In the CMO position, “what you will find are people who acknowledge the gap,” Gupta said. “They understand how to connect the dots and bring the right players who are experts in different areas.”
For the future of the role, Welch sees it evolving to fit a CMO’s lifespan with a brand, suggesting that companies may only be looking to retain a specific CMO for two to three years.
“You might think differently and take a more provocative stance on campaigns if you were not thinking about job stability,” Welch said. “Rather, let’s do the absolute best for this brand and company.”
And for one of the premier executive search firms, business is booming for Spencer Stuart.
“Our team is as busy as it’s ever been,” Welch said. “It’ll be a wild ride for the next several months.”