Opinion

The ‘mythical’ head of marketing – Seth Godin unpacks why CMOs only last 18 months in jobs

The reason that the tenure of a CMO at a big company averages about 18 months is that it takes a year and a half for the boss to realise that pain-free, risk-free, easy miracles aren’t arriving on schedule – writes marketing legend Seth Godin

Most organisations have someone that they call the head of marketing, but unlike the other departments, this person’s job is usually more tactical and less strategic than it could be.

That’s because the boss isn’t willing to let go of the decisions that are actually at the heart of marketing.

The boss is holding on tight to the answers to questions like: Who’s it for? And what’s it for? The boss certainly isn’t ceding responsibility for the company’s posture and the change it seeks to make.

So, it’s a bit disingenuous to call this marketing person the ‘head’ of anything.

I’m seeing the same thing with project managers who seek to extend their span of control to things that growth hackers get all excited about.

Head of marketing operations is probably more accurate, right?

In fact, the head of marketing is often more of a consigliere, charged with making a case to the CEO. If the boss is any good, she’ll listen carefully, ask hard questions and then make a smart decision. The rest of the time, the head of marketing is mostly following the lead of the boss.

That’s because marketing is everything that the organisation does that interacts with a member of the public. Marketing is personal, it’s vivid and it has its fingers in everything. To be the head of marketing, you need the freedom and responsibility to change the way things work, not simply how they’re talked about.

At brand-oriented companies like Unilever, the brand manager has far more influence than she might at a place like Facebook, Basecamp or Slack, where it seems like the degrees of freedom are much narrower. If you want a marketing head, you need to give them the freedom to actually do marketing.

The reason that the tenure of a CMO at a big company averages about 18 months is that it takes a year and a half for the boss to realise that pain-free, risk-free, easy miracles aren’t arriving on schedule.

Seth Godin is the author of 17 books and creator of Permission Marketing – this post first appeared on his blog

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