The CMO and CCO that business leaders want to hire today

There’s a lot of talk again lately among marketers and communicators about the convergence of their professions and who is – or should be – getting the top job as large companies seek to consolidate both functions into a single organization.

In almost every instance, the discussion – and the related press coverage and comment – tends to focus on the relative merits of marketing v. communications, the collapse of one into the other, and whether one has the edge on the other in vying for the overall leadership of a combined function.

Adding to and fueling the general conversation, there are a multitude of surveys and studies that have polled professional (and some business) leaders to gain additional clarity into what is happening. Yet in almost every instance, those surveys are being deployed and promoted by marketing and communications organizations, and the voices of business leaders are notably absent.

While serving as the top marketing or communications leader at different public companies, I conducted my own private polling of Fortune 1000 business leaders, primarily CEOs, CFOs and COOs. Going back about 6-7 years, these surveys were focused on extracting more and more insight into what business leaders are really looking for in a marketing and communications leader and function.

These surveys garnered 100-200 responses per year, with a high percentage of repeat, year-over-year participation. My purpose was to build a clear picture of exactly why marketing and communications teams were so often marginalized in these companies. This knowledge – and the understanding and initiative that came with it – helped me win some great career opportunities.

There are five major takeaways from the survey data:

  1. They want and need what you have, and they know it. Business leaders see Marketing and Communications as absolutely critical to their business growth and prosperity, now more than ever.
  2. They want marketing and communications to be run like a business. That’s not hyperbole – they mean it literally. That means being able to understand, calibrate and execute functional programs in light of provable impact on key business metrics, including revenue, margin and cash flow. That means a desire to maximize returns while minimizing costs – not something marketing or communications has been known for in many companies.
  3. They want to consolidate to increase business leverage. To optimize their impact on both sides of the income statement, business leaders want to unify marketing and communications into a cohesive, coherent structure to minimize costs and maximize impact.
  4. They see business acumen as the most important thing. It is not a buzzword to business leaders. It is literally their lingua franca. Given this, business leaders are weary of the traditional “function first” marketing and communications leader. They want a person who is a business leader first and last, but who happens to specialize in marketing and communications. They want context-aware T-shaped talent, they want full business literacy, and they’d really prefer someone who has experienced other parts of a business, particularly as a sales person or as a business GM.
  5. They’re tired of waiting. In the short term, they will continue to manage their perceived risk the way they always have — by cutting your budget every year. But that’s not their preference (see #1), and if no change is forthcoming, they won’t cut the budget – they’ll cut you.

If you’re wondering if these 5 points really represent the pivotal issue, look around the C-suite of a successful company today.

You’ll see leaders who not only understand how their business makes money but who organize their area to directly and concretely support those key drivers.  This is table stakes for company leadership – with the notable exception of many marketing and communications teams. That must change, and change quickly.

The function-centric perspective that has characterized marketing and communications for more than a generation is dying an overdue and necessary death.  From the C-suite’s perspective, it is business acumen – not some sort of functional preference – that will determine who runs a marketing and communications organization in a modern company.