Mark Ritson's Brutal Takedown of CMOs Only Half Right?


Mark Ritson argues that companies are dismissing and downgrading the role of the CMO because, in the main, the CMO is a waste of a chair. Ritson says they're deficient in capability, fixated on the fantastical attraction to newness, and continue with a futile and career-suicidal desire to reinvent their position, their role and their responsibilities. Hard-hitting stuff. (Marketing Week)

Key points

  • McDonald's in announcing the departure of high profile CMO Silvia Lagnado appears to have scrapped the CMO position. The role will be broken up and handled by less senior, non C-suite executives
  • Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Uber, Mondelez, Vodafone, Hyatt and many other organisations have already made similar moves
  • Ritson puts the trend down to two things. First, the CMO amongst their C-suite peers is a waste of a chair - describing them mostly as ‘utter shitness’ and deficient in what it takes to contribute in the boardroom 
  • The second: a the relentless desire to discard everything that has been established and chase the attraction of newness. Whether that be their title, role, responsibilities or simply talking trendy crap about Instagram and millennials. On millennials he’s consistent
  • The CMO role is a rare opportunity for marketing to truly be a strategic, influential and senior function within a company. The brilliant ones are very much in the minority 
  • To be clear, Ritson calls out McDonald's ex CMO, Lagnado, as chair-worthy and one of the brilliant CMOs globally

My Takeout

Mark Ritson is brutal and very much on brand. Of course he’s right. You'd be brave to suggest he wasn’t. But perhaps only half right?

Consider whether the shrinking CMO tenure is actually more symptomatic of the mismatch between the CMO’s remit and the CEO’s expectations. Do CEOs get the CMOs they deserve? Ergo the CMO cohort pays the ultimate price for this misalignment, in reputation and tenure. 

Unfortunately, CMO recruitment is all too often touted as a game changer to boost the company’s revenues and profits with the authority to create a strategy for driving growth.

But what type of CMO does the CEO really need? Have the responsibilities, expectations, performance measures, and importantly the influence required been carved out clearly in the C-Suite and aligned for the incoming CMO like they typically are for the CFO, CHRO, CTO? Or is the CMO set up to fail?

Whitler & Morgan's ‘Why CMOs Never Last’ (HBR) is the go-to on this subject. Ideally, before the CMO is recruited. 

Obviously, every company can make a bad CMO hire. Fire fast. 

But if we are to believe there is a global puddle of ‘utter shitness’ in CMO capability, per Ritson, shouldn’t the tables also turn to academia, the capability-providers, whose remit it is to fashion today’s marketing leaders to fly the flag at the cherished top table and hold their course from the shiny new distractions?

Seems ‘half-wrong’ to lay the burden of failure on the CMO fraternity. Many players seem complicit. 

The worrying issue is the burgeoning undercurrent that two out of three CEOs don’t trust their CMOs. Who takes accountability for that? There is something rotten in the State of Denmark. If we are to address why CMOs fail, maybe we should start where the buck stops.

Original article featured on Mi3 here.

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