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What board members say about the CMO—off the record

Some straight talk about the CMO 

We’ve seen all the dire predictions. The role of chief marketing officer is facing existential threat. The average tenure for a CMO slipped to 43 months last year, according to executive search firm Spencer Stuart, which has tracked CMO tenure for years. Some companies have sidelined the CMO role or gotten rid of it altogether, handing duties over to other C-suite execs or creating new roles like chief growth officer. 

But the truth is, even where the CMO title has disappeared, the responsibilities haven’t. Seventy percent of Fortune 500 companies still have a CMO. Tenure, while not ideal, could be much worse. In 2006, it was 23.2 months

It’s clear that there are still challenges surrounding the role. While tenure has gone up, it’s still half that of the CEO. And there seems to be a fair amount of frustration and confusion about what the role of the CMO should be. The title itself implies a role that sets strategy and controls everything from product launches to customer relations. But in reality, many are limited to marketing communications. As the Harvard Business Review wrote in “The Trouble With CMOs,” “when responsibilities, expectations, and performance measures are not aligned and realistic, it sets a CMO up to fail.” 

We were interested in starting a conversation about elevating the role. So Google teamed up with Deloitte to interview 30 high-profile board members to see what they thought about the role of the CMO heading into the next decade. 

But if you’re in the C-suite yourself, you don’t have the time to sift through over 100,000 words of responses. So instead of publishing the transcripts, we ran a topic modeling analysis on all responses to determine the most mentioned subjects and distilled those thoughts into one paragraph. It’s enlightening.

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