How chief marketing officers can regain the trust of their CEOs

By our News Team | 2021

With corporate trust in CMOs apparently at an all-time low, a top agency executive discusses how to change this narrative.

Only one-third of CEOs trust their chief marketing officers to grow the business and CMO tenure is at a new low point, warns John Connors, CEO and Founder of US-based marketing agency Boathouse.

In a column for the advertising and marketing industry publication Ad Age, Connors says it is therefore crucial for CMOs to regain trust and tenure. 

He gives five strategies to achieve this, the foremost being to stop striving to emulate other top marketers and to speak their language. Instead, CMOs must have a strategy that’s unique to their business and should start listening to their CEOs and boards of directors.

“Marketing strategies are not one-size-fits-all; the tactics used by the biggest brands may not work for other businesses. The one-percenters [who have marketing and advertising budgets in the mega-millions] will only break your heart,” Connors emphasises.

How CMOs can regain trust

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

He lists the following as his other four key strategies:

Change the narrative

The CMO narrative needs to get smarter and less narcissistic. In the last year, there were roughly 10,200 articles in the United States on chief marketing officers. Approximately 22% of articles were on new job appointments (not a great sign). 

But media coverage for transformative marketing theories and models lags the other managerial professions significantly. The lack of strategic innovation is driving a growing perception with CEOs and boards that chief marketing officers and marketing departments are not keeping pace with the changing business environment.

Think beyond the consumer

Brand management has long succeeded based on the science of the relationship between a company and the consumer. In today’s business environment – where impact, alpha and growth are driven by so many subtle variables – it is no longer sufficient for CMOs to focus on consumers alone.

The CEO must deal with an incredibly diverse number of stakeholders including the media, government regulators, elected officials, employees, supply chain partners, communities, investors, advocacy groups and consumers. Preaching that “it is all about the consumer” is a largely outdated CMO mindset. We need to make a science out of all stakeholders that define a company’s success or failure and how all audiences collectively drive company impact. We need to leverage new AI and data science tools to monitor all players on the field. Brand management needs to adapt.

Advance the science of marketing

Marketing as a tactical science has grown, while marketing as a strategic science has declined. Our collective tactical innovation across digital, social, mobile have been incredible. However, if you do a search for “great marketing thinkers,” the results should be a reason for strategic concern. They are old … very old.

Finance, technology, operations and manufacturing have reinvented their strategic fundamentals multiple times over. We need to get moving and find new strategic theories and cannot be simply a collection of outdated tactics. We should not rely on 75-year-old models. There are limitless possibilities in marketing and it’s time for CMOs to think bigger.

Embrace the profit and loss statement

Since the concept of shareholder value was introduced in 1976, companies have increasingly been focused on the bottom line. There are occasional glimpses that this might change, but then reality sets back in and it always comes back to bottom line and share price.

Recent CMO studies have reinforced the fact that marketers are getting the message and becoming performance- and ROI-obsessed. The challenge is that all performance is not the same. When CMOs shows digital marketing ROI or any hyper-narrow vertical measurement to a CEO when the company growth or share price are not doing well, they look like they do not get it.

We need to stop speaking the language of marketing and start speaking the language of business. We need to talk about share price, multiples, valuation, growth rates and exit strategies. Too many CEOs and CMOs are speaking different languages. Even if both the CEO and CMO are working to better the company overall, a lack of communication means they are not aligned. For CMOs to reposition themselves within the company, it’s crucial for us to start speaking the language of business and further align our strategies with the larger business overall.

Source: John Connors of Boathouse + Ad Age, USA

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