The CMO roundabout spins faster

With a 90% churn rate, the CMO50 suggests that Australian chief marketing officers are moving on remarkably quickly

Welcome to a jetlagged edition of Unmade, written in drizzly British suburbia on Wednesday evening, my time, and Thursday morning yours.

It turns out I may not have picked the ideal time of year to pop back. I’m yet to glimpse the sun since my arrival on Tuesday. Or to taste a decent cup of coffee, come to that. Still, the baked goods are top notch. And the Marmite hummus is positively terrifying. I give it six months before Vegemite copies it.

Happy International Tempranillo Day. That may be what I need. This was always going to be a bumpy week while I found my new writing rhythm.

CMO lifespans

As an editor, I’ve always loved power lists. When you get them right, they can be quite meaningful.

Back in the day, I was invited to lunch by the CEO of a large commercial broadcaster when the magazine where I had recently become editor omitted him from our list of the most influential executives. That was the reason for the invitation. In truth, it was an oversight, but I was amazed that he cared.

We experimented with power lists on a few occasions in my time with Mumbrella, and sister magazine Encore. One day, I may do them again, so allow me to take sides: I believe that well researched power lists are a good thing. They’re editorially interesting and can say something about the industry in question.

The reason I’ve been thinking about them this week is because of the recent publication of the CMO50. This is a list of top chief marketing officers, put together by online publication CMO, which comes from publishing company IDG.

I suspect I’m not the only one whose LinkedIn feed has been full of humblebrag posts in recent days from CMOs paying tribute to their teams for what is, obviously, a recognition of them as an individual.

It’s classic LinkedIn content - featuring a plethora of congratulations, often from those working for their suppliers. It would be a foolish agency CEO who fails to publicly celebrate their client’s recognition.

And what’s mostly lost in those posts is the acknowledgement that all the CMOs recognised have had to put themselves forward and share a submission. So it’s a ranking only of those who want to be ranked.

Nonetheless, CMO has been doing the list for long enough that it’s starting to yield some interesting data after seven years.

The first point to make is that many of those in the top ten would still be there if the entire marketing industry was considered, not just those with the self belief to put themselves forward.

Qantas CMO Jo Boundy at number one felt like a good choice. It’s amazing to me that the airline has managed to remain so close to top of mind, and with such positive associations, even as Covid crippled its operations for 18 months.

It wasn’t the centenary year Qantas had planned for, but for the brand to come through as strongly as it did really counted for something.

But what most interests me about the CMO50 is that it is starting to offer up pointers about the longevity of CMOs. The statistic I’ve heard a lot over the years is that the average tenure of CMOs is little more than three years. Even when that doesn’t take into account institutional knowledge built up when promoted from within, that points to a major barrier to brands benefitting from long term strategy.

There’s quite a correlation between new CMO, new strategy and new agency partners. Where that happens without institutional memory, that’s usually a bad thing for brands.

So, how long are those acknowledged as Australia’s best CMOs sticking around?

Luckily for me, somebody kindly crunched the numbers and provided me with their research.

Over seven years, there could have been 350 different marketers named, if it was an entirely fresh crop each year. Instead, there have been just 206 included on the list

Most tellingly, six years on from that first list, just five of those who were named in in the 2015 CMO50 are still in the same roles. The other 45 changed jobs, which amounts to a churn rate over that period of 90 per cent.

Those loyal five are Darren Wright, GM for products, advertising and customer experience for Flight Centre; Jean-Luc Ambrosi, GM of marketing for Telstra Super;
Kevin Ryder, Chief marketing officer for data company IR; Renee McGowan, chief customer officer at Mercer; and Barni Evans, CMO of Sportsbet.

Even taking things from the most recent years, the churn rate is still quite high - a year on from last year’s CMO50, 12 changed jobs. Two years on, and it’s 23 out of the 50. Three years on and less than half are in the same role.

So based on that data, within three years of being named in that CMO50 list, more than half will have moved on.

What the data does not highlight of course is how long people were in the role before being recognised in the first place. And there is also no obvious way of accounting for the observer effect: Does appearance in the CMO 50 make these individuals more of a target for future employers, and as a result hasten their departure?

I recall that when I was involved in the early years of the B&T 30 Under 30, there was nervousness from employers that by flagging their best and brightest they were also setting them up to be poached. Perhaps we may see that with the CMOs too.

I wonder too, how the agency management tier would look. In the big holding groups, it may be even worse. No wonder it’s an industry where everything old is always new.

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More from me tomorrow.

Have a great day.


Tim Burrowes

Proprietor - Unmade