One of the most frequent topics I discuss with my clients is when it’s time to hire a CMO. Many clients come to me because they’re not ready and want an “interim CMO” or because they don’t know what to look for and it spurred me to write this post and help you navigate these waters.
The first thing we need to discuss is the difference between a CMO, a VP of Marketing and a Director of Marketing. Most CEOs think these are all one in the same but you need to know they are different and the difference is important as you start your search. The big difference between a CMO, a VP of Marketing and a Marketing Director is in terms of the level of strategic direction and influence this person will have in your company, along with their expertise and basket of marketing goodness they carry with them.
A CMO sits in on board meetings, drives all brand decisions, builds all marketing plans, controls the budget and is often a press contact for commentary. They typically lead a team of people, rolling up their sleeves on positioning, branding, planning and strategy, but looking to members of their team to run with the details of content strategies, campaign execution and the like. They often manage agency relationships and are influential members of the marketing community. They are responsible for communicating results to the exec team and board regularly and work with their team to adjust and shift priorities and execution based on learnings. One of the deciding factors along with title, strategic prowess and marketing muscle is salary, which for someone with this type of street cred is meaningful but should not deter you from hiring if this is in fact what your company needs.
A VP of Marketing is also senior and may be part of the exec team, but typically works more closely with the CEO, taking leadership and direction from her as it relates to the brand and strategy. The VP, Marketing might have a seat in a board meeting but typically prepares the presentations and decks and may not be in the meetings. They are strategic but tend to also be more tactical in nature, often building the campaigns themselves or with freelance help. They have budget accountability and are responsible for metrics as well. I see most early stage start-ups hiring VP, Marketing types because they can get someone to do the strategic thinking and roll up their sleeves to do the execution. They are often growing in their career and expertise and it might be their first VP role, meaning salary is typically more negotiable.
A Director of Marketing is an important role and one that can make or break a company or a marketing department. I observe so many companies hiring someone for this role and they often go for the junior, cheap resource just to get someone to help. Look, I get budgets are important. I really do. But a Director of Marketing is often your brains, your muscle, your “go figure it out” girl and the linchpin of your marketing machine. They need to be resourceful and make it happen. Cheaping out just to get a body is something you will most likely regret. It’s funny to me that many companies hire this person first instead of the VP or CMO. The challenge with this approach is that a Director of Marketing or Marketing Manager type is often still green. I have been there and I thought that I was way more senior than I really was and had to figure a lot of stuff out on the fly. While you can find rockstars, they are hard to come by and the person in this role is still learning and growing. For most companies, Marketing is critical to their success, so it’s often worth paying a little bit more for a more seasoned marketer who can be a utility player and strategic, especially if you and your execs are not marketing savvy types. Really vet these candidates as, in my opinion, it’s tough to find good ones.
So, when is it time to pull the trigger and hire a CMO?
- You understand the value of a strategic marketing leader
- You are ready to allocate significant budget to marketing
- You see marketing as the way your business will grow
- You are ready to invest in a marketing team and resources
- You want to build a customer-obsessed marketing culture
And then what?
Once you’ve decided you’re ready, the hard part begins: finding the right person. The CMO role is no easy fill. I have a high bar for the type of person I would want in this role and there are a lot of CMO types that talk a good game but can’t deliver. I have helped many of my clients fill this role, I have been in this role and I know what it takes to be a rockstar in this role. Vet references carefully, pose tough questions, ask for strategic thinking. If all else fails, call me.