Kerri Martin is looking for a job. "And I've got plenty of time on my hands to do it right," she declares. Martin—the branding superstar who made a splash reintroducing BMW's Mini to the United States before switching gears to become director of brand innovation for
There are many others who should too. The chief marketing officer, or its org-chart equivalent, may be the riskiest job in the American C-suite. A veritable who's who of companies—
Greg Welch, author of the survey and an accompanying report, observes, "Clearly, every departure has its own story." But the new reality is that CMO jobs are incredibly perilous. Today's marketing chiefs are shape-shifting beasts who grasp not only advertising and promotions but also public relations, IT, finance, manufacturing, customer service, and branding across global markets. "It has more strategic importance than ever before," Welch says.
That challenge helps explain why "we're seeing CMOs getting ambushed," says Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, an international peer-support network whose 3,000-plus members control more than $70 billion in annual marketing spending. One recent casualty was Michael Linton, who was pushed out at Best Buy last year with barely a warning after nearly five years. Linton, now a senior VP at
Some marketing honchos do buck the trend. Russell Klein has lasted four years as CMO at
So what's it going to take to get the CMO off the endangered-species list? Perhaps a clearer definition of the position and what's expected—which is a job for the CEO. After all, no company could welcome such regular turnover in a top management position; among other things, it's inefficient. Indeed, over the past two years, three-quarters of marketing departments have been reorganized, according to a recent
Or maybe they aren't. Maybe the CMO post should be acknowledged simply as the "fall guy" job in the C-suite. If the numbers turn down and CEOs need to make changes, the first instinct certainly won't be to step aside themselves. Getting rid of the CFO might spook Wall Street, while changing a COO or CIO could disrupt operations. Dumping the CMO seems easy in comparison.
So the best way to keep your job, as Klein admits, is to make sure business keeps growing: "We look at lots of diagnostics to measure the health of the brand," he says. "But clearly there is no better tonic than top-line sales." While every senior exec faces a tension between long-term performance and short-term expectations, for CMOs, the scrutiny is especially intense.
As for ousted CMOs like Kerri Martin, there's an upside in all this: plenty of openings. And, as she puts it, "when it works, it's the most fun job in the world." Just don't count on it lasting too long.
A version of this article appeared in the June 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.