Tenure of CMOs is lengthening. But will that last?

In late June Spencer Stuart released its annual survey of CMO tenure and the results were a bit surprising. Tenure has lengthened to 35 months, up almost seven months over 2008. Tom Seclow, in an interview with BrandWeek, speculated that there were two main reasons. “The trend has been increasing and we assumed that marketers were doing a better job getting it right and becoming more attuned with CEOs and management teams and doing all the things they should be doing. I suppose the dramatic jump from last year to this year has got to be influenced by the economy as well.”

In my experience, CMOs leave their jobs for one of three main reasons:

1. They failed – to improve the business results or to fit into the culture. This is the most publicized reason for departures. Often the cause of the failure is due to misaligned expectations by the CEO and executive team. The new CMO is hired to “fix the brand” but is given control over only one of the four Ps: promotion. After launching a dazzling new ad campaign, enthusiasm wanes and, after a year of business results that didn’t fundamentally improve: The CMO must go!

2. They succeeded – in improving business results. They are hailed as “talented change agents” or “effective business leaders” and either promoted into a general manager/COO role within the same company or recruited to apply their skills at a new firm. AdAge recently published an article on the changing nature of CMOs, highlighting their increased focus on business accountability.

3. They got bored – and were ready for a new challenge. Marketing leaders are generally very curious people and are driven to solve problems and overcome challenges. After two to three years, the primary mission they were brought in to achieve has been achieved. The brand has been revitalized. The company has grown. The marketing organization has improved its effectiveness. “Now what? I need a new challenge.” And off they go to slay the next dragon.

During the past two years the economy has affected all three of these reasons. It has been hard to blame the CMO with everything else that has been going on as the industry tries to reconcile itself to the current economy. It has been difficult find major success stories with which to credit the CMO. And it has been too turbulent an environment to risk a secure job just to cure boredom.

So I predict that as the economy improves we’ll see more movement in the CMO offices. That’s my take. What’s yours?