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Why Aren’t More CMOs in the Boardroom?

April 09, 2021


Why Aren’t More CMOs in the Boardroom?

A recent report showed just 26 percent of CMOs attend Board meetings on a regular basis. On the one hand, this doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve seen plenty of Boards where CMOs—and marketing more generally—is absent.

At the same time … this does shock me. Almost three-quarters of organizations don’t have their CMOs sitting in on Board meetings. That’s pretty consistent with my experience. CMOs are often excluded from Board decisions.

This has always made no sense to me—and a recent Think with Google piece drives it home. CMOs should be sitting at our boardroom tables.

Are You Wasting Your Strategy?

I often find myself presenting to Boards. I am typically briefed by the team to dial down any marketing jargon, recognize that no one knows what a brand is beyond the logo. Change page 1 to “what is a brand” so they can follow along! 

Are you feeling me and what is coming next??? HOW CAN BOARDS NOT HAVE CMO’S that understand the power and importance of the brand? 

Only once so far was I delighted with one Client who had a Board Chair who was a master marketing strategist. And he promoted the right work being done. Sent us out to find the higher purpose and then armed with that information, knew how quickly things could immediately change – with the building blocks to a higher purpose revealed. And you may ask, what happened next? Which brand because the changes and potential released from a powerful strategy rooted in purpose would be evidenced and I probably saw the dramatic and awesome shift???

Well, he retired. And without this one lonely marketing person on the Board, everything slowed to a crawl and then a stop. Deadlock, after deadlock of internal collaborative meetings resulting in no action until the marketing role was simply defined as “execute this digital campaign” and nothing changed…. with the exception the CMO gave up and quit.

I cannot tell you how many strat plans have I been given; Board approved strat plans with lots of jargon and big lofty statements with no strategic underpinning OR WORSE a strategy to deliver the vision and mission that is not aligned.

Boards spend a good deal of time weighing in on strategic decisions. And the marketing team spins hours and hours pulling decks together, rehashing what has been presented ONLY to move 1 inch forward OR WORSE, nothing moves forward. And in the above example two years into the three-year Strat Plan NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. AND IT IS TIME TO WRITE ANOTHER STRAT PLAN with lofty words that takes years of alignment.  

It’s easy to see where CMOs would get frustrated when their role is reduced to execute this digital message, on a strategy that will not deliver the strat plan in the first place! Why spend all that time on writing strategies that aren’t likely to ever move forward because the Board IS NOT EQUIPPED with a set of skills like a CMO that understands the importance of the purpose, brand and ultimately the end consumer who benefits from everything the company is in business TO SERVE? And, WORSE…I have been in meetings where Board members BELIEVE THAT STRATEGY AND BRAND ARE NOT RELEVANT and a pointless exercise.

WE NEED CMOs at the table. WE NEED CMOs that understand brand, strategy, purpose, the why…. all the real value that exists in a business, to ensure the assets with the greatest power are protected and projected. We need CMOs to have a voice at the table. If they can’t be on the Board, then they need to be doing more than sitting in on Board meetings; they need to be able to have some say in the decisions. Otherwise, brands will decline, competition will come in and use our brand inefficiency against us and worse, eventually, our customers/donors/clients will begin to move away from us. 

Why Do CMOs’ Voices Matter?

You might not think this is a problem, and I think this is sometimes a big problem within organizations. Marketing is often seen as a kind of afterthought. It’s not the core of your business, and you can add it (or remove it) as needed.

In short, a lot of people see marketing as non-integral. Look at how marketing is often the first department to get budget cuts if sales are off or worse when a recession hits. Marketing activity grinds to a halt; budgets are slashed; and in many cases people are laid off. 

We saw that with the pandemic. Many organizations hit “pause” on their marketing budgets for 2020. And they slashed them in both 2020 and 2021. Departments were downsized. Production scaled back, and HR may hold off on using their hiring budget. So “core” business functions get slashed too.

Marketing investment is usually the first thing to get pitched by the wayside though—because it’s seen as a cost not an investment and necessary. Let’s pause here while I rant! HOW CAN INVESTING IN YOUR CONSUMER, THE PERSON THAT ACTUALLY FUELS YOUR COMPANY AND BRAND NOT BE NECESSARY!! Now that doesn’t mean, that your business might need to pause if you are sales are suffering with investment in place. That would suggest that you are not clear on “the why” or your root strategy. Then, yes, a short pause to get it right and come back would make sense. 

But marketing is often first in line because it has a hard time proving its value. RIGHT! How often do you walk into Boardrooms and must show variations of ROI with every tool you are investing in to build a relationship with your customer? Sales has a more direct, observable impact. You hire five salespeople; you can keep track of how many sales they each make. Then you can say, “Ah-ha, hiring those extra salespeople raised our sales by X percent.”

Marketing has a harder time with this. Ad campaigns don’t always turn into sales immediately. Even when they do, it’s hard to track them the same way we can track sales. How do you pull apart from what is going on at shelf, messaging itself vs. the ad spend? It’s a lot harder to look at marketing and say, “We did this campaign, and we got this many sales out of it.” There’s not always a direct line.

And a lot of Brand Managers come into a business with a strategy in place and are simply trying to communicate it, to the best of budgets and tools available. Nothing may work as the strategy may have been Boardroom massaged to the point, where the original intention was lost. And marketing communication investment is producing less visible results, requiring more aggressive tactics to deliver monthly or quarterly sales. 

And then the question becomes, when do you check in to see if the root of all of it – the brand strategy is firing on all cylinders? This is considered a COST vs. one of the most IMPORTANT INVESTMENTS a business can make. 

I am faced with people that see marketing, especially the strategic underpinnings as simply jargon and a statement in time vs. a living and breathing component of a brand. The strategy is LITERALLY THE HEART, pumping blood in and out of a brand, ensuring it is fit and relevant. Businesses that get it, really get it…. are iconic and the ones we refer to all the time. Businesses that are average, simply do not get the most important ORGAN in their business. But in time, it is always true, eventually the road will get bumpy, questions will be asked and with luck the right conversations will happen before it becomes too late. 

And if a company sees marketing as a cost vs. the team with the OWNERSHIP ON THE HEALTH OF THE HEART OF A BUSINESS, they often don’t give marketers a seat at the table. 

Marketers Are Closer to Our Customers

This is a weird way to think about what Marketers do, she says in a calmer tone! Look again at brand strategy. Brand strategy has a lot of similarity to business strategy. It asks us who we are, what we value, and how we embody those values. Our overall business strategies ask us that too: what’s our vision? What’s our goal? And what are our values?

Brand strategy is a way of translating that “big picture” business strategy to our customers. Branding is a way of relating to the people who buy from us. It clarifies our identity, so we can form relationships with our customers!

More than ever, this is so crucial to the success of our businesses! Products don’t make us unique anymore. It’s branding, all the way down. People can go to the grocery store and the store has an “in-house” brand that offers the same snacks for less. Why are they choosing to buy your brand of snacks instead?

Same with clothes. Jeans from the Gap, H&M, and other retailers are similar, especially since they follow trends. A lot of the brands are coming out of the same factories abroad. So, why does someone go to H&M instead of the Gap? It comes down to branding, by and large.

So, branding is crucial to our organizations. It crafts our identities and gives us what we need to connect with our customers and maintain these relationships with them.

And, in a world where relating to our customers is increasingly important, we need to engage the people who are standing right next to them!

That’s our CMOs. CMOs are the executives standing closest to our customers. They are getting the word on the street. They’re seeing how customers are responding to the brand. They’re figuring out what our customers like and dislike.

Branding Is All We’ve Got

A lot of people are thinking, “Oh, well, branding isn’t that important.” But it is! It’s actually core to our organizations. It is the HEART. Like I said, brand is our identity, and identity is how we relate to our customers.

If we don’t have an identity, if we aren’t building relationships with our customers, what are we doing? You can’t expect to sell things to people just because you happen to be there. Branding is core to our organizations—which makes it strange that people treat marketing like an “add-on.”

And that attitude is why we don’t have CMOs at the table, and that’s where we run into the Board deadlock. When CMOs aren’t present, when they don’t have a voice or power in decision making, then we have a problem. CMOs are, as I said, closest to our customers. And they’re involved in crafting that identity—our brands—and those relationships.

In short, they both craft and execute strategy. Strategy is a way of understanding how we want to relate to our customers. Yes, it can also refer to where we want to take our organizations. But doubling profits relies 100% ON THE RELATIONSHIP WE HAVE WITH OUR CUSTOMERS AND OUR POTENTIAL NEW CUSTOMERS/DONORS.  

So branding is our identity, and it is integral to our business. When we craft these strategies—spending three years on them—we must have the brand, our identity in mind.

And when we leave CMOs out of the boardroom, out of the conversation, we’re missing key insights into making those strategies. It's nearly impossible to execute the strategies we do come up with.

CMOs oversee the health of the heart…. they must be at the table.

More than ever, CMOs and other marketing talent in our businesses are vital. If we want to understand our customers, if we want to write strategies that work, then we need those insights in the boardroom.

So, like always, we need to start with the why!


Here to inspire and create conversation!

I am a businessperson who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing to inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles, I have written to inspire others

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