Fostering a stronger CMO-CEO relationship

2021 edition of State of the CMO shows marketing leaders see CEOs as their biggest advocates. So what does it take to forge this executive connection?

Fostering strong relationships as a CMO with cross-functional leaders is vital to being able to exercise strategic and impactful organisational influence. And if this year’s State of the CMO is any guide, the best marketing chiefs are actively working to ensure their CEO is their biggest advocate.

In this year’s annual State of the CMO research, CMO asked CMOs to rate their biggest advocates outside the marketing function. Supporter number one was the CEO/MD (56 per cent of respondents), with sales and business development coming in a far second (29 per cent).

A strong relationship between CMO and CEO is absolutely vital to exerting organisational influence, former Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) chief, John Broome, says. Achieving it comes down to personal chemistry and a two-way connection.

Much like a Venn diagram, both the CEO and CMO have distinct value to bring to bear and a place where they meet in the middle.

“There’s a vital overlap that happens and alignment that must occur. If that is out of phase… the loser is the CMO,” Broome tells CMO. “A good CEO will know they need a CMO to be the custodian of the brand’s value proposition. The strength of that beyond price is goodwill on your balance sheet and beyond that, shareholder value.

“A good CEO will recognise that delta can disappear in a puff of smoke if you get it wrong. A CMO’s role is showing how what they’re delivering keeps that delta healthy and strong.”

CMOs who are forging a CEO partnership

Coles Group CMO, Lisa Ronson, is one CMO who is fortunate to boast a strong partnership with Coles CEO, Steve Cain. She says it’s instrumental to customer centricity.

“Steven’s belief in building a brand and experiences to solve customer problems is a deep one. That conviction has shown me that a CMO is a caretaker to a brand and its customers,” Ronson says. “My focus needs to be on the strategic, long-term shifts we are trying to create in our brand so the company can fulfil its purpose.”

Imperative to creating a positive CMO-CEO relationship is understanding what the CEO wants the CMO to deliver to short and long-term objectives, Association for Data-driven Advertising and Marketing (ADMA) chief, Andrea Martens, says.

“It’s also important for CMOs to be cognisant of the expectations of their department and by when. It’s then up to CMOs to demonstrate how their marketing strategies will enable delivery of these,” she says. 

CMOs benefit from leading indicators such as brand health metrics and Net Promoter Score (NPS). “However, they will need to educate the CEO as to the value of these metrics in flagging issues and opportunities well before they hit the financials,” Martens continues.

“It’s about how insights from these metrics can drive very clear action plans for the business across more than just marketing comms including price, product development, distribution and technological solutions.”

Of course, it’s not only the CEO-CMO relationship that’s important. Driving credibility with all colleagues is another must for both Ronson and Martens. An example Martens points to are upcoming changes to privacy laws and the risk this potentially poses to the CEO’s agenda.

“CMOs could collaborate with compliance in order to forge common ground and strengthen their position in front of the CEO.”

Verizon Media CMO, Anny Havercroft, also believes strategic and effective marketing is built on a strong foundation of partnership with the MD.

“As a valued and trusted business partner to my MD, I have the space to be more entrepreneurial and forward-thinking as a marketer because marketing has proven its value in delivering business results time and time again,” she says.

This was heightened during the pandemic with marketing one of the few functions with a tangible customer-facing relationship, Havercroft says.

“My team made it our mission to lead the charge in responding/adapting quickly and finding new ways to connect with our customers in a human and helpful way,” she says.

“All of a sudden, our MD was turning to me and asking, ‘What are we going to do next?’. This shift has made a big difference in two ways. Firstly, on a business level for long-range planning. By having the customer voice at the head of the table, marketing is shaping and influencing business strategy much more than before.

“Secondly, I’ve been able to strengthen the connection between marketing output and commercial outcomes and have a much clearer view on the direct influence marketing is having.”

Download the full 2021 edition of CMO’s State of the CMO report here.

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here.  

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page 


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