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In-depth: Brand-marketer relationship – the long lost love

The average tenure of a CMO at a brand has been on a downward spiral. What makes a marketer to quit jobs and switch to other companies? Are they feeling insecure due to shrinking job opportunities or they simply believe that ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’. talks to industry experts to find out

According to a research, the average tenure of Chief Marketing Officers (CMO) at a brand has reduced to 43 months, a little more than three-and-a-half years, in the US. Whereas, for other CXO positions, the average tenure is seven-and-a-half years.

Gone are the days when marketers used to be the custodian of a brand. They were not just the spokespersons of a brand, rather carried it on their shoulders. For example, Rajeev Bakshi, former Managing Director, Cadbury India Ltd, stayed with the brand for about a decade (eight of which he spent as VP, marketing and sales, and the rest as MD) before moving to PepsiCo Holdings India in 2001 as Chairman, where he saw the company through the pesticide controversy.

However, the fast-paced present generation that believes in moving on after staying with a brand for just a few years has indirectly affected the earlier generations who are still in corporate India.

So, what makes or compels a marketer to quit jobs and switch to other companies and how does it affect a brand whose marketing plans take a beating because the marketing heads quits too early?

Recently, Pallavi Singh left MG Motor in less than two years of joining. She left at the time the brand was being launched in India.

Why have marketers become job hoppers? Are they feeling insecure due to shrinking job opportunities or do they simply believe in the philosophy that ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’.

Bharat Puri

“With the coming of the digital age, internationally there’s a lot of concern about growth, which people earlier used to take it for granted. Nowadays, brands are focussing a lot on growth, e.g. Mondelēz created a position of Chief Growth Officer, which was a mixed profile of CMO + R&D. So, it’s about expanding the role rather than confining it,” says Bharat Puri, Managing Director, Pidilite.

But there could be other reasons as well. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) report says more than 80% CEOs did not trust their CMOs. A research conducted by HBR itself revealed that the majority of CMOs believe that their jobs do not allow them to maximise their impact on the business.

So, growth is not the sole reason; the life span of all jobs, including that of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), has reduced considerably due to the explosion of categories. In the past 20 years, new companies/categories such as telecom, BFSI, insurance, media and entertainment, retail, and more recently, consumer tech and e-commerce, have emerged. These companies do not have baggage and are perceived to be less hierarchical, leading to CMOs and CXOs to believe that they can stamp their capabilities and gain appropriate rewards and recognition. All these businesses want to build top brands and hence attempt to lure top-tier CMOs.

Diganta Barua

“In the past, a marketer would move from Levers to Reckitt to Pepsi to Vodafone in a 30-year span, averaging 7/8 years. Today, a person moves from Levers to Pepsi to Amazon to Citibank to Facebook to Spotify in 15 years. In fact, most CMOs usually want to move to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) roles, with all functions reporting to them, after a successful stint in marketing,” says Diganta Barua, Managing Consultant, Credence Consulting.

In fact, like all senior professionals, CMOs do invest in building their own personal brand, gaining credibility and recognition among recruiters much faster.

Prabhakar Mundkur

For many, a CMO role is actually no different from any other function. According to them, most people move for greater responsibility, bigger company, better money and future prospects. So, does a CMO. In fact, moving on quickly has become the nature of the business today. “However, continuity is important for brands. In fact, often an ad agency provides continuity even more than the marketing department. They are aware of the history of the whole brand and its important milestones,” says Brand Strategy Adviser Prabhakar Mundkur.

Fear of losing a job

Today, the attrition rate of any company is certainly going high and the average tenure of a CEO and CFO is five years. The same stands true for the CMO as well. There’s always a fear of losing a job as one can run out of ideas of how to take the brand forward.

“Once a brand is built and established, at times, in single product companies the challenges for the CMO reduce along with the excitement and fatigue can set in, especially if there are no new opportunities internally or the category plateaus,” says Barua.

Also, there’s constant pressure on the CMO, whether it is sales growth or market share gain. In fact, many a times if a CMO feels there is too much pressure, he or she may say I can’t take it anymore and quits.

Evidently, marketing itself is evolving because the traditional media is changing very rapidly. Therefore, in order to stay relevant, the marketer has to evolve too.

Also, not many people knew what social media listening is. Today a person is not just responsible for communicating, he is also expected to steer conversations around the brand. So, in a way it has become very challenging. Earlier, there used to be only one-way communication — from the brand to the audience. Today, it has become a more participating and inclusive way of communicating, and even an audience can start a conversation.

Nitin Chaudhry

“To be a good CMO, you need to have a good understanding of the business. You just can’t be a communication person. Given the number of mediums through which one has to communicate these days, it just can’t be a communication’s person. It has to be BTL, ATL and what not. One has to ensure a piece of communication is placed in the right media,” says Nitin Chaudhry, CEO, Fevicol-Pidilite.

Getting the right talent

Organisations when looking outside to find a new CMO look for a combination of competencies. This varies from case to case. In addition to track record and technical competencies, all companies want leaders who can adapt rapidly to change, bring in positive disruption, and agility to deal with a tech-savvy consumer who is always engaging with a brand, 24X7. But most important is leadership. It was and will always be.

Most companies would like to promote people internally. However, a CMO is hired by a company from outside only if there’s no potential candidate to take up the job. And there are two ways of doing it — look for someone in the same industry or you bring in someone from a very different industry so that he or she can give a new direction to the company. Accordingly, the company would create a profile and approach a job consultant to look for a suitable candidate.

The important thing is that the CEO will be hiring the marketing head, and if he keeps changing the marketing head regularly then he can’t have a better brand custodian. So, a CEO has to be a great brand custodian first.

MG Parameswaran

According to MG Parameswaran (Ambi), brand strategist and former adman, who is also the founder of, “The CEO has to be the torchbearer and say I am the brand custodian and there are 10 things about the brand that cannot be changed but I am willing to accept any other change. So, it’s purely the responsibility of the CEO to hire the right talent and also retain it.”

“While a CMO has a clear job profile and well-defined role, goal, etc, but who’s going to maintain the continuity, e.g. one just can’t change the logo of the brand, or the product positioning. Hence, it’s the responsibility of the CEO to maintain the continuity and take responsibility,” says Parameswaran.

All in all, brands and organisations have to build a second tier of leadership. All successful companies have strong talent management and succession plans to avoid that risk. It is no secret that the companies that are most successful have the best talent practices, ranging from acquisition to exit.

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