Dead Veep Walking – the Marketing Director

VP TombThe life of a hummingbird rarely exceeds four years.  The life expectancy of a Marketing Director (or CMO or VP of Sales & Marketing) at any given company is even less than that. The typical tenure these days is a little more than 3 years and this is up from about 26 months in 2004.  In fact, as you stroll through the offices at many companies, it’s an easy bet which executive is a dead man (or woman) walking: the Marketing Director.

What are some of the reasons causing such a short tenure? What are some things a Marketing Director can do to be successful? How much of that is on the company and how much is brought on by the individual?

  • It starts before the hire is made. It’s been said that over 60% of companies don’t know what they’re looking for when they recruit a Marketing Director.  In many cases, these companies can’t spell out coherently what the person would be accountable for.  Are you and the President/CEO on the same page? I’ve heard it more than once: “I was brought in to drive change, but the organization wasn’t aligned behind the change agenda.” Whose fault is that?!?
  • There are sky-high expectations surrounding what a Marketing Director can and should do.  The best Marketing Director can’t turn poorly made or poorly priced products into marketplace winners every time, nor by themselves create a culture of innovation to make sure new, exciting products are always being developed.
  • As I written about previously, everyone in the organization thinks that they know how to do that “marketing thing,” so they have no compunction in second-guessing the marketing strategy or the creative. Everyone’s an expert even though they’re not.
  • There is an impatience in the effectiveness of marketing. People want results right away and it is probably because the economy has been in the toilet for a few years.  So there is a pressure on reporting how marketing is working for a brand and the CEO/President is looking for a more immediate payoff.  It doesn’t help that chief executives and chief marketers often have very different imperatives.
  • Some companies are finally realizing it is time to ramp things up and yet there are too many Marketing Directors ‘hiding under the table,’ relying on the same old people…internally as well as their external marketing “partners”. Think: Different horses for different courses.
  • As more is written about different ways to seize on new business revenue, you have a Marketing Director who is being forced by a company President/CEO to incorporate these “must haves” into the organization’s marketing activities.  As important as social media platforms are, for example, they are not necessarily of equal worth or equally effective for all businesses and all products.  But it is a brave and daring CMO who can resist CEO pressure to devote scarce resources in chasing what “everyone knows” is today’s “marketing must.”
  • There is more confusion than there should be between sales and marketing roles, what they can do, and how they must work together.

Ok, so how much of this is do you see or experience in the world that you live in? If you’re like the vast majority of Marketing Directors in this country, you see any of these issues popping up on a fairly regular basis. Here are a few things to consider in order to make sure you’re not having to call your executive recruiter anytime soon.

  • Do not become stale in the way that you market, from the strategy to the creative to the channels to your thinking. The status quo is a communicable disease that will infect everything you touch if you let it.
  • Become the voice of the customer. And what’s important is not just understanding the customer ….but the end user.
  • Be personally inquisitive about new technology and new markets and the social implications of new technology.
  • Be responsible and accountable for nurturing, growing and protecting the brand. Successful marketers truly must understand the convergence of product, brand promise and experience and get the company to understand that convergence as well.
  • Listen to align the rest of the organization around the need to build “our change agenda” not “my change agenda.”
  • Continue to make an investment in your own education to keep yourself exposed to things out of your comfort zone. From books and seminars to online webinars and articles you find on your LinkedIn groups. There are so many invaluable resources!
  • I would suggest, too little effort is made to educate and promote the marketing role within the organization.  It is the Marketing Director’s job (another one) not merely to develop and define strategy but to explain it – not only to customers and prospects but to employees and other senior level executives.
  • And, the need for a strategic marketing partner is imperative. Now and in the coming years, it will be more important than ever to partner with an agency that doesn’t simply fulfill projects for you, but one that offers you the advantage of broad strategic experience in the trenches. One thing is certain about the years to come: companies will have to stay nimble and adjust strategies on the fly.  Who you choose to have on your team is going to mean everything.

While the marketing landscape changes so quickly, the good news is that a Marketing Director can succeed in the face of headwinds no matter which way he/she faces. It may be more challenging than it should be, but stand true to your brand, be current and always in the know, and be bold enough to make a difference….otherwise, chances are, you might be dusting off that resume.


Rolf Gutknecht is vice president, director of account services for LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Rolf on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit  You can also connect with Rolf on LinkedIn.

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