Brands are largely reinventing the CMO position amid cost-cutting efforts and managerial reshuffling, with some even axing the chief marketer role altogether to bifurcate it into multiple focused positions, such as McDonald's creation of two new positions underscoring the importance of tech and data in marketing. As a result, the chief marketer role has floated in a state of transition for several years, a situation that ramped up this year with a flurry of high-profile departures by Lyft's Joy Howard, Johnson & Johnson's Alison Lewis, Taco Bell's Marisa Thalberg and others.
Across multiple Advertising Week sessions, panelists unpacked how brand marketers' renewed focus on diversity in leadership could serve as an equalizer for female candidates in a historically male-dominated environment, raising the question: As the CMO role evolves, is gender parity within the C-suite in sight?
"I think the glass ceiling is sort of ever-present. Even when you feel like you've broken through it, there appears another one," Leanne Fremar, chief brand officer at JPMorgan Chase, said on a panel. "I think you have moments of glory, but you're always going to walk into the room and generally speaking, you'll be outnumbered, and people will automatically count you out."
While the takeaways from Advertising Week were generally positive for women in brand-side marketing departments, the picture wasn't as clear for women in advertising agencies, which have a deeply entrenched reputation for discrimination. Data revealed last week by She Runs It and Diversity Best Practices identified a drop in female representation in the advertising, media and tech industries. Just 29% of executives in these industries are women, down from 30% last year.
Despite a few setbacks, the dividends of many trailblazing women were readily apparent amid discussions at Advertising Week, accompanied by tales of their career trajectories, tips for younger players and broader talks of where more progress is needed.
Internal pressure cooker
A fresh report from management consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates notes that female marketers are increasingly winning spots in the C-suite, with 48% of chief marketer appointments going to women in the first half of 2019. Women appear to be making gains at the highest level within companies, as the previous record was in the second half of 2016, when 47% of women were hired as CMOs. The report went so far as to say that "gender parity is almost here." Examples include hires such as Jennie Perry, CMO of Amazon Prime North America, and Allison Peterson, CMO of Best Buy.
Average tenure of the modern CMO is just 43 months — down one month from 2017 and nearly half that of their chief executive counterparts, per a June study from executive search firm Spencer Stuart. The CMO role historically was focused on branding, PR and advertising, but the role has evolved to require these executives wear several hats. Aside from overseeing all branding, marketing and advertising, many brands now also expect the CMO to bear responsibility of the customer experience, personalization and targeting technology while growing revenue.
"I think the glass ceiling is sort of ever-present. Even when you feel like you've broken through it, there appears another one,” said Leanne Fremar, Chief brand officer, JPMorgan Chase He stressed, "There is often greater pressure to do it all as a high-ranking woman in a company."
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