So You Wanna Be A CMO, Hope You Like Rollercoasters


NOTE: This piece is aimed primarily at those marketers out there who one day dream of becoming a CMO but there are lessons here for any CMO. 

**Be sure to see the amazing visual representation created by the insanely-talented Gary Kopervas created for this article. Trust me, you will not believe your eyes.**

About 5 years ago, someone who would go on to become one of my dearest friends, Julie Lyle, bestowed upon me a nickname that I have proudly worn as a badge of honor since: The CMO Whisperer. 

Coming from someone like Julie, who is former CMO of Walmart, hh gregg, Barnes & Noble among others – this was the highest of praise as you can imagine.

The reason I started this piece off this way is because I think I am uniquely qualified when it comes the world of the CMO. While never having served in the role itself, I have interviewed, counseled, advised and developed very close, trusting relationships with CMOs of brands of every size and shape, including many from the biggest brands in the world.

Strap Yourself In

Before becoming a CMO, I happen to think every single one should be greeted at the door to their new office by this guy:


Why do I say that?

Easy. It’s because you’re about to have a seat, no not behind some ornate mahogany desk with a chair made from rich Corinthian leather – ok, maybe you will, but you’re also going to have a seat on a ride unlike any you’ve ever experienced before.

That’s right boys and girls, you’re going on the biggest, baddest, most riveting, hair-raising, adrenaline-pumping, thrill-a-minute up-and-down journey imaginable.

Or as the Ohio Players sang in the mid-seventies: “Oh yeah it’s rollercoaster time.”


Congratulations, you’re a CMO.

The Cool Factor

On one hand being a CMO, particularly of a large brand, definitely has its plusses. For one thing you get to hang out with sports stars and celebrities on the set of that new commercial your shooting which is part of that new campaign you and your team conceived.

I know many CMOs who’ve gotten to hob AND knob with some pretty big names and I readily admit a sense of jealousy. I mean after all, we are all human, right? Who wouldn’t want to get a picture taken with a star athlete or major movie star or #1 singer or attend some major event?

If you’re thinking to yourself, you would not enjoy that part of the job; that you’d only be interested in doing what’s best for the brand and hitting your numbers and you wouldn’t have time for this frivolity… spare me.

You’re only human and there’s nothing wrong with a little fringe benefits.

On the Other Hand

To say the life of a CMO is one rife with constant change and re-direction and re-prioritization would be like saying Einstein was kind of smart. Click To TweetIn other words, it’s a gross understatement.

To make this point, allow me to reference just three of the ‘things’ I came across on the worldwide interwebs just over the past few weeks alone. Lord knows, this is only 3 of hundreds, if not thousands of examples.

Example #1: “By 2022, profitability will replace customer experience as the CMO’s No. 1 strategic priority, reducing investment in marketing-funded CX programs by at least 25%” 

This was a prediction made by Gartner back in January 2019 (yes I know this is past the ‘few weeks alone’ comment but I just came across it recently so it still counts).

The reason I reference this particular prediction as part of example of the rollercoaster-esque life of a CMO is because this prediction – from a highly-reputable source, goes against EVERYTHING we’ve been collectively hearing and led to believe over the past X number of years.

We’ve all been conditioned – and Lord knows I have espoused this myself via many an article – that customer experience, or CX, is the be all, end all for ALL marketers, let alone CMOs; that CX is the single-biggest thing on the CMO list; that NOTHING is more important. And now you’re telling me that turning a profit will supersede it?

It gets even more muddier or confusing when Gartner stated that many CMOs regard CX as an ephemeral concept adding that (many) “don’t prioritize metrics that demonstrate the value it delivers.”

I for one know of NO CMO who regards CX as being a short-term strategy. I am not doubting the source of Gartner’s report. I am merely saying this came as quite a shock to me to read it.

But it all speaks to the overarching point that what was up (CX) may be now be down on the ol’ rollercoaster ride.

Example #2: “Most Have No Idea How Much Of A Runway They Have,” How CEOs Really See The CMO

The above is a headline from a June 2019 piece on the site I readily admit I had never heard of this site before, however the piece references research conducted by McKinsey and quotes Jason Heller, Mckinsey’s global lead for digital marketing:

“Marketing’s moment is now. More so than ever before, the CMO is one of the most important members of the C-suite, and thanks to new technology, marketers now have the opportunity to power growth across an entire organization.”

Hold that thought about the CMO being one of the most important members of the C-suite for a second and let me do a deeper dive into the McKinsey research. As I delved more into all this, I came across a piece penned by Jason Heller and Biljana Cvetanovski, herself a McKinsey Associate Partner as her per LinkedIn.

You want to talk rollercoasters, in their piece — which references the fact they (McKinsey) conducted in-depth interviews and surveys with more than 200 leading C-suite executives — they share quotes from various c-levels that when you read them in order on the screen is pretty much like riding a…

Going Up…

“Marketing and data in particular are first-class citizens in a way they were not four to five years ago.” — Direct-to-consumer entertainment company CEO


“Marketing as a support function is antiquated.” — Retail CEO

Coming Down…

“Marketing isn’t brought to the table as frequently with the C-suite as other parts of organization.” — Financial-services CMO


“If a campaign goes well, it’s because the sales team did well. If it goes badly, it’s marketing’s fault.” — Former entertainment-company president

Ok, back to that whole ‘CMO being one of the most important members of the C-suite’ belief. It’s the perfect segue to:


That’s the title of July 2019 piece in Ad Age in which the writer takes a “deep dive into why companies are ridding themselves of the long-respected chief marketing role.”

Wait, what? You just told me how important the CMO is to an organization and now you’re tell me organizations are getting rid of the role entirely?

Well yes, I am. In his piece, EJ Schultz correctly reports that “Chief marketing officers, who have among the shortest tenures in the C-suite, are used to pressure. But now their very existence is coming under threat. Several big-name companies have recently done away with the CMO position altogether—including Johnson & Johnson, Uber, Lyft, Beam Suntory, Taco Bell and Hyatt Hotels.”

All of what he writes is 100% accurate:

  • CMOs do have the shortest tenure.
  • CMOs are used to pressure. (at least they better be)
  • Several large brands have eliminated the role of CMO.

But is there more to this than meets the eye? Could it be that these same brands that are ditching the CMO role are in fact doing something else like perhaps simply changing the title of the role to something different?

I mean someone STILL has to be responsible for marketing, right?

A former CMO of a very large brand told me the following on the condition of anonymity:

“The problem is that not many really understand what marketing is, so it’s hard for them to grasp what a CMO today should do. So instead of shifting their perspective to include brand, full funnel, end to end experience, performance, PR — the ill-informed are more comfortable using different names. I think it’s the blind leading the blind.”

Source: Kopious Notes by Gary Kopervas

Stop the Insanity

Hopefully by this point, if you are someone seeking a CMO seat, I have not scared you off, running wildly down a dark alley seeking refuge. I hope you still want to become a CMO because I believe it is the single-most important role in a given brand.

Yes I am biased. Of course I am biased. What would you expect?!

Yes, it is clearly a role filled with the proverbial ups and downs. I think I’ve made that point pretty clearly.

There are some immutable facts I want to share in closing:

  • There is no one-size-fits all when it comes to being a CMO.
  • There is no universal playbook and if there were it would be written in pencil to account for the inevitable rapid rate of change that will occur.
  • Being a CMO is not easy. Understatement of the century, but…
  • …being a CMO means you are the gatekeeper of a brand; regardless of how much equity the brand you inherit has, it is your responsibility AND pleasure to grow, nurture and foster that equity and along with it the corresponding ROI which makes everyone giddy.
  • Yes I said pleasure because this to me is what marketing is all about. Taking a given brand and doing it the right way; working your tail off to make sure the brand is better off than when you found it kind of thing. That my friends, is very cool. At least to a marketing nerd like me it is.

Sure many in the C-suite won’t like or respect you or what you do, so be it.  This isn’t about them at the end of the day anyway. This is about that person on the other end of that line AKA your customer or prospect. This is about what you do for them, what message you deliver to them and when via which channel, and how you can make their life easier.

You do that and the rest will take care of itself.

And as far as this being an overly simplistic view…

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