The case for a stronger CEO-CMO alliance

The strongest businesses are propelled by a strong, virtually unbreakable CEO-CMO alliance. DataXu's Chris Le May explains.

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Tim Cook became CEOs—roles they continue to hold today. But these individuals have more in common than a twelve-year leadership streak; they also play pivotal roles in fostering bold, creative thinking at their companies.

But most CEOs don’t stick around so long. Twelve years is over two and a half times the average tenure for CEOs at FTSE 100 companies. And most aren’t so concerned with creativity, either. New CEOs spend a lot of time focusing on the bottom line, leaving them with little time or leeway to think about creativity .

But when CEO tenures are short and innovation initiatives scarce, there’s another member of the C-suite well-positioned to help out: the CMO.

Short-term CEOs stifle innovation

CEOs have a lot to worry about, but their main concern is the bottom line. That’s why CEO succession can wreak havoc on revenues, earnings and stock prices.

But it can also impact another critical component of business: innovation. In fact, creativity and innovation are the areas of business most likely to suffer during a CEO handover. More interested in creating stability than starting a shake-up, new CEOs will be too focused on budget-balancing to sign off on investments that might be perceived as risky. And if a CEO moves on before being able to take a creative leap, the company may get trapped in a cycle of new CEOs too bogged down in the day-to-day to pioneer a new creative vision.

So if long-term CEOs à la Zuckerberg are rare, and short-term leaders tend to play it safe, who’s making sure the company is fostering creativity and innovation?

CMOs pick up the creative slack

CEOs and CMOs don’t always see eye-to-eye. CEOs, who often arrive in their leadership positions after stints in finance, legal or IT departments, tend to be concerned with revenue and company growth. CMOs, on the other hand, are often seen as creative types who spearhead the company’s hard-to-measure artistic endeavours. This hints at what has traditionally been the largest disconnect in the CEO CMO alliance: unfortunately, marketing is sometimes seen as expensive, imprecise and impossible to measure.

But at many leading companies, the CEO-CMO divide is diminishing, thanks to the advent of data and actionable analytics. Today, many CMOs and their teams are using data science to increase marketing effectiveness and to measure the success of their investments.

As a result, marketing departments have become increasingly responsible for large portions of corporate profit and market share. And with access to streams of high-quality data and consumer profiles, CMOs are invaluable sources of consumer information.

These changes have placed CMOs closer to the top levels of leadership. They’ve also set the stage for CMOs to rise to a new challenge: stepping up alongside CEOs to promote company creativity.

How CMOs can recover creativity amid CEO turnovers

Here a few things CMOs can do to promote innovative risk-taking and creativity:

  • Become crucial to the C-suite: As the role of the CMO evolves and becomes increasingly central, CMOs can make themselves invaluable by using data to explore innovation, growth and profitability. Most recently, our report found that over half (55%) of marketers believe that being data literate is one of the most important skills in becoming a successful senior marketer.
  • Cooperate and communicate: CMOs are customer experts and can use data to prove the value of their marketing efforts. They can also share useful insights with other departments, fusing creativity and technology across the business. In fact, 71% of marketers currently share their data with other departments.
  • Innovate and take risks: There is no creativity without risk-taking, so don’t be afraid to be bold and experiment with new campaigns. Disney CEO Bob Iger understood this when he said ‘the riskiest thing Disney can do is maintain the status quo.’ (Iger has been CEO for longer than twice the FTSE 100 average.)
  • Keep up with tech: As CMOs become better versed in today’s latest marketing technology, they’ll gain greater access to critical market research and proof of campaign performance. Companies can harness this expertise to their competitive and creative advantage.

At many companies, this advice has never been timelier, as 2015 saw the highest rate of CEO changes in the past 15 years. But a CEO in transition doesn’t have to put a company’s innovation strategies on the backburner. With access to cutting-edge data analytics, CMOs can reclaim creativity and innovation for the C-suite. As CEOs come and go, it has becoming increasingly important to have a data-driven and creative CMO by their side.

Chris Le May is the SVP and managing director for Europe and emerging markets at DataXu.

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda Nair

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.