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How to Fix Marketing Leader Tenure: Develop Effective Proxies

How to Fix Marketing Leader Tenure: Develop Effective Proxies


When SpencerStuart released their annual CMO Tenure Study earlier this year, we saw a continued decline in average CMO tenure. Average tenure declined to its lowest point since 2009, and median tenure fell to 25.5 months, the lowest on record.

Source: Mediapost, 2021

And it’s not just CMO tenure that has been challenged. Major agencies went through their own house cleaning over the past year, “right-sizing” to address the Pandemic. Many senior jobs were eliminated. Many agency execs departed for client-side opportunities or to start their own firm. Tenure is declining everywhere.

It has never been more precarious to be a senior marketing or agency leader.

The jobs are nearly impossible to manage and these leaders face greater expectations than ever before. Their organizations expect them to do more with less. There is a greater focus on delivering both short and long term results. They are dealing with constant changes in marketing technologies and the need to invest in new capabilities. And their jobs often have more responsibilities than ever before including the overall customer experience and/or managing an inhouse agency. The senior leader of today simply cannot be everywhere and can’t make all decisions.

What can these senior execs do to increase their odds of success?

The key to senior marketer success is to develop effective proxies.

These proxies are team members that are effective stand-ins for the CMO or senior agency leader. They are execs that share the same vision and judgement as the senior leader. How can you develop such proxies?

There are two keys to developing effective proxies: clear philosophies and clear priorities.

Leaders need to clearly articulate and constantly reinforce their business and marketing philosophies in a manner that resonates with their teams. What do they look for and expect in strategic analysis? How do they expect the brand to be represented? How do they evaluate creative work? In other words, these senior leaders need to clearly explain and reinforce how they view the world so that their team members can take that into account when they are faced with important decisions. The point is not to create an army of mini-me replicas that mimic the leader’s style. Rather, it is to ensure that there is a common understanding of the leader’s expectations so that everyone can operate from the same set of filters.

Leaders also need to be clear about their priorities and ensure that their organization’s resources are properly aligned with those priorities. Since marketers and agencies are universally expected to accomplish more with less, the best leaders ensure that all marketing resources (people, partners, capital and operating investments) are aligned to support the vital few priorities of the organization. They routinely ask how their people are ensuring that resources are aligned to support the most important goals of the organization. And great proxies are clear about these priorities and how their work – and the work of the teams they lead – align to support the broader goals of the organization.

What To look For

It’s easy to see when there are not effective proxies. Is there a ton of rework? Little agility? Unhappy staff? Underperforming agencies? All of these can be symptoms of a bigger problem – the lack of effective proxies for the CMO or senior agency exec.

It’s easy to know when a senior leader has effective proxies. Things move briskly! There is little rework; few wasted cycles; happy teams; and productive agencies.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.