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CMO Leadership in the Boardroom

While marketers are qualified to bring their unique knowledge to the board as corporate directors, that rarely happens. This report delves into the successful transformation model CFOs have used and adapts it to the unique context of CMOs.

  • January 2024

Internet, technological developments, the plethora of data, and the arrival of Artificial Intelligence (AI) have fundamentally changed the Marketing profession. These changes, combined with changing consumer behavior, mean companies and organizations must know exactly who their customers are and what they want. Marketers are qualified to bring this knowledge to the board as corporate directors.  

But that rarely happens. We noticed that many Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) are stuck in operational work, narrowing the scope of work to advertising, media, and other less strategic areas. At the same time, the definition and working field of the marketer have become much broader. Rather than looking for all-around CMOs, most companies started looking for other boardroom members. ICT, Digital, Innovation, Growth, and Commerce got increasingly more attention and a bigger share of C-suite positions. 

A collaboration between CMOtalk and Egon Zehnder titled "CMO Leadership in the Boardroom" delves into the successful transformation model CFOs have used and adapts it to the unique context of CMOs. Motivated by the observation that only a few CMOs ascend to the boardroom, particularly in supervisory capacities, our goal was to explore the reasons behind this reality and explore how marketers can actively change this trajectory.

How do leading CEO and CFO boardroom players look at the CMO role? 

There is not a one-size-fits-all option when it comes to the role of the CMO, as we found through both the interviews and the survey we conducted. Companies and sectors seek their own interpretation of the marketing function based on the stage they are in. We will further investigate the typology of CMOs and their suitability in the follow-up continuation of this program. 

The main takeaway is that CMO roles, based on all the changes companies are experiencing, could and must be claimed more robustly than is currently the case. In addition, we see that some CEOs (at least the Dutch CEOs who were so kind to share their views with our CMOs) more often have a commercial background, showing the boardroom potential for the function. Nonetheless, CMOs must enhance their positioning as strategic leaders within organizations to embrace their role as change agents on behalf of customers. This way, they can contribute as CMO to the overall success of the company, irrespective of whether the CEO has a background in commerce or marketing.

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