Why do CMOs stay in their roles for such a short time?

The four-year itch: Why CMOs stay in their roles for such a short time and what it means for marketing

With CMOs jumping ship more regularly than ever, it’s more important than ever to have a robust marketing plan in place…

  • Chief marketing officers rarely stay in post for more than four years
  • There is huge pressure on CMOs to demonstrate a broad range of marketing and business skills
  • Brands can help CMOs remain loyal and be more effective

Chief marketing officers (CMOs) have notoriously itchy feet. Nearly seven out of 10 remain in their roles for less than four years and 57% for less than three years.

This is below the typical tenure for a C-suite post which is 5.3 years, with a chief executive hanging around for about eight years and a chief financial officer for 5.1 years, according to research by recruiter Korn Ferry.

The question of why such senior marketers reach board level but feel an urge to change jobs so frequently is an important one to answer.

After all, there have been discussions in the industry for years about the value of having marketing’s voice heard at the top table to provide customer insights that make a difference to the business and help it grow.

The Korn Ferry study is not a lone voice in pointing out the job-hopping tendencies of today’s CMOs.

Executive search business Spencer Stuart has also noticed the trend, while Marketing Week’s annual Salary Survey reveals that marketers generally are hard-wired not to stay anywhere for too long. In fact, 82% are planning to change jobs within the next three years.

So what is behind our CMOs’ desire to keep moving companies? What is clear is that so much is expected of them today and these are high-pressured roles.

A CMO does not only have to be an expert in the creative and research elements of their profession, he or she must also be an excellent leader and able to operate at board level and manage their own balance sheet. Increasingly they also need a strong knowledge of relevant technology and data science, especially as more of them are responsible for the adtech and martech budgets relating to their brands.

This balance of left and right brain skills demanded of our modern-day CMO means the pool of talent is understandably relatively small.

Many CMOs are poached by head hunters whose clients need to recruit from this relatively-select group of individuals to help them achieve their own marketing objectives, with a laser focus on customers.

CMOs can also feel the need to move on because they have become bored and want a new challenge. After all, they are among the youngest executives in the C-Suite at around 52 and many remain fiercely ambitious.

Another reason they leave is a frustration with the rest of their organisation’s C-suite which they feel is not aligned to their transformation ideas.


At Mediablaze, we know how important it is that brand owners understand the mindset of today’s CMO and acknowledge the challenges they face.

For example, when a CMO accepts a post they may be inheriting a team containing lots of long-term marketers who are used to working a particular way or in specific culture. A CMO can feel they are not getting the help they need to prove the value of any marketing activity. It can be difficult to explain to the rest of the C-suite the return on investment from marketing and to manage the expectations of the rest of the board.

Of course, there are both benefits and negatives for a brand owner when a CMO leaves after only a few years. It is certainly an opportunity to bring in some fresh thinking and knowledge from outside the organisation, but it can mean going back to basics regarding short-, medium- and long-term marketing strategy.

If this trend continues, brands will need to invest more in succession planning and up-skill other members of their marketing team who could be a future CMO. Younger marketers are already accumulating a broader skill set involving data science as well as traditional campaign expertise than their boss’s generation.

One thing that is clear is many CMOs are reluctant to rest on their laurels or stand still however successful they are, and brands must respond to avoid losing the great talent they have.

If you’d like to discuss a free content marketing masterclass at your office, just let us know.

Any other questions? Feel free to reach out to this post’s author [email protected]


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