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Marketers’ only shot at influence is to embrace the CMO title

marketing influence CMO


Marketers’ only shot at influence is to embrace the CMO title


Let’s be honest, all those league tables that rank chief marketing officers are a little suspect. How do you decide whether the senior marketer at Asda is better than the woman in charge at KFC?

In reality, there is a simpler and more practical measure for a CMO – the Saatchi method. During the 70s heyday of Saatchi and Saatchi, Charles Saatchi would review the creative output of his teams with one of two words. Either the draft creative was shit. Or it was brilliant. There was no other option.

And the same polar scale can usually be applied to CMOs. Ask around town about a famous marketing name who is running a big brand and generating plenty of headlines and it does not take long to run into someone who knows of the senior marketer and can provide the appropriate assessment.

There are very few average CMOs. Either they are brilliant, or they are shit at marketing and have navigated their way to the big job with a combination of political finesse and opportunism.

McDonald’s loss

There was never any doubt that Silvia Lagnado was one of the brilliant ones. She came with a gilded CV, having not only been a Unilever all-star but having stewarded Dove to much of its success. Everyone and their mum has claimed to be part of the Dove back-story but Lagnado, who was the global brand manager, really was the brains behind much of the ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’.

After a stint at Barcardi, Lagnado’s appointment as McDonald’s CMO in 2015 raised a few eyebrows. The company usually promotes from within but at a crucial juncture in its history it had recruited someone with no experience of food retailing to run all of its marketing.

And yet Lagnado’s subsequent reign as global CMO can only be rated as a brilliant one. She exhibited all the skills you want from a good CMO. She understood the tricky dynamic inherent in a franchise-run operation that demands that you keep the many thousands of McDonald’s restaurant owners onside.

McDonald’s scraps the global CMO role as Silvia Lagnado departs

She pushed a clear strategy for the brand and went out of her way to avoid the tactical flotsam and jetsam that so often occupy a crap CMO and obfuscate their duties. “Tech is a means to an end,” she recently explained to a marketing conference. “It’s people first, not digital first.”

Lagnado fundamentally understood the power of brand codes and refreshed assets like the golden arches to great effect. She was also instrumental in menu updates and a new deal that ensured a long running co-branding arrangement with Disney.

During her tenure same store sales grew quarter after quarter. Not bad for a 60-year old franchise that many thought had seen its best days.

So on Monday, when McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook announced Lagnado would depart the role there was genuine surprise within the marketing community. Initial rumours suggested either Lagnado had a bigger even more senior job to go to (bigger than McDonald’s?) or that she had tired of the sniping from colleagues, who accused her of being too conservative in her approach to brand building.

The wane of the CMO

What makes the departure all the more dispiriting is that she will not be directly replaced. Like so many CMOs these days, the role will now be broken up and handled by less senior, non-C-suite executives. Like Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Uber, Mondelez, Vodafone, Hyatt and a host of other organisations, the fast food giant appears to have scrapped the CMO position.

Rebranding CMOs as growth officers doesn’t help market marketing

What is motivating the move? In many cases it’s the utter shitness of the outgoing CMO. All too often, marketers wank on about the need to get “marketers into the boardroom” without ever pausing to consider just how deficient most of the candidates are, or the negative impact they immediately have within the C-suite.

Talking crap about Instagram and millennials might get you to the top of the marketing ladder, but once you get to the big room on the top floor these superficial, tactical robes are quickly ripped away to reveal the naked impostor beneath.

The 18-month tenure of most CMOs is not a function of short-termism or the CFO. It’s because the CMO in question is a waste of a chair.

Despite the cliched conclusion of a thousand pointless, soul destroying panel sessions at marketing conferences, the 18-month tenure of most CMOs is not a function of “short-termism” or “the CFO”. It’s because the CMO in question is a waste of a chair and the C-suite killers sat all around can smell it a mile away.

But while that may be the main reason for the extinction of some CMO roles, it’s not always the case. Lagnado certainly was chair-worthy and yet, after her departure, McDonald’s is dispensing with the role nonetheless.

An alternative explanation might be found in the endless desire of most marketers to throw away everything that has been established and replace it with the fantastical attraction of newness. It’s a trait that only marketers exhibit.

You don’t find CEOs proposing that the balanced scorecard be abandoned or that Porter’s ‘five forces’ be renamed Porter’s ‘seven magical pressures’. Finance people don’t go to their conferences and debate whether the ultimate position within their profession should be changed from chief finance officer to chief money person or investment supremo fantastico. They are too busy discussing finance to give a shit, and too prosaic and switched-on to think that name changes matter.

But in marketing we love nothing more than taking our few established wins and transforming them into innovative and ridiculous losses. The very fact that marketers even bother discussing the relative advantages a chief marketing officer over a chief customer officer or chief growth person demonstrates we aren’t worthy of a C-suite role. We are children playing with the grown-up’s cigarette lighter.

Only chance for influence

With the CMO position, we had a rare opportunity to make marketing into an established, strategic and senior function within most companies. No surprise then that a bunch of idiot marketing commentators spent the last few years critiquing the role and suggesting it needed to be retitled for the new challenges of the 21st Century.

Meanwhile the CEO, CFO, CTO, CHRO and general counsel looked on with the bemused, embarrassed countenance of friends who have discovered you are still breast-feeding your 12-year old.

Unilever CEO says Keith Weed’s replacement will be a ‘CMO++’

Perhaps we should give thanks for all the nonsense because it helps to reveal the minority of organisations and marketers who really know what they are doing. After the departure of legendary CMO Keith Weed, there was much speculation that Unilever would follow the trend and also permanently remove the role.

CEO Alan Jope, no shoddy marketer himself, was quick to extinguish the gossip. “I’m sure some companies are thoroughly enjoying having a chief growth officer,” he told Marketing Week during Cannes, “but we are going to have a CMO++.”

At least there are still a few, no-nonsense marketing businesses out there like Unilever that avoid the bullshit. And in Silvia Lagnado we still have an exemplar of a proper, world-class CMO.

If only there were some way that they could get together and…oh, hang on.


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