Why the Tenure of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) is Getting Shorter

In this article, Ellen M. Steinlauf explores why the tenure of the CMO role is getting shorter and what marketers need to do to extend their time in this pivotal role.

Ellen M. Steinlauf
11 Dec
December 11, 2023
 min video
11 Dec


The tenure of a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) in today's corporate landscape is facing unprecedented challenges. According to the annual study by leadership advisory firm Spencer Stuart, the average CMO's stint in the hot seat has dwindled to just 4.2 years, down from 4.5 years in 2021, marking the lowest level in over a decade1. This average drops further to 3.3 years in the top 100 US advertisers.

Chart 1 - Source

Spencer Stuart's findings corroborates Boathouse Thinking's 2021 CMO Study which suggests the tenure is declining.

Chart 2 - Source Boathouse Thinking 2021 CMO Study

The CMO role has become one of the shortest tenures of any C-suite executive. This rapid turnover raises the question: Is the CMO role simply too demanding? In this article, I'll delve into the factors contributing to this trend, exploring why CMOs seem to be facing a more uphill battle compared to their C-suite counterparts.

“Average CMO tenure remains at the lowest level in more than a decade.”

The Power and Pressure of the CMO Role

It is unmistakable that the traditional CMO has had to continuously increase their knowledge, skills, and abilities to be successful in what has become a highly complex role. Certainly, they must understand and balance many more complexities than their predecessors.

While CEOs recognise the importance of marketing, Boathouse Thinking's CMO Study 2021 found that only 34% have "great confidence" in their CMOs2. This suggests a disconnect between expectations and reality.

In the same study, CEOs largely believe that the main role of the CMO is to grow the business and 86% of them think the CMO has the power to influence the C-suite, so clearly, the position of the CMO is still viewed as one that has quite a significant amount of power.

Chart 3 - Source Boathouse Thinking 2021 CMO Study

The Multifaceted Modern CMO

Today’s CMO faces a complex landscape, requiring a unique blend of skills:

  • Strategic Visionaries: Modern CMOs are tasked with thinking strategically and aligning marketing efforts with the company's overall strategy. They must craft long-term marketing plans that dovetail seamlessly with the business's broader objectives.
  • Operational Maestros: CMOs also need to be adept operational leaders, capable of directing multifunctional marketing strategies and executing them with precision.
  • Data-Driven Decision-Makers: Data has become the cornerstone of modern marketing. CMOs are expected to harness big data and analytics to measure, optimise, and inform their marketing campaigns. The pressure to deliver results has never been higher.
  • Tech-Savvy Innovators: The marketing technology landscape is evolving rapidly, especially with the disruption AI brings. CMOs must embrace new technologies and platforms, becoming omnichannel strategists who integrate marketing efforts across all channels.
  • Leaders and Adapters: CMOs must be strong leaders capable of building high-performing teams that span geographical territories and diverse cultures. They also need to respond swiftly to external forces and be comfortable adapting their leadership style in environments where there’s a high degree of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
Ellen M. Steinlauf - Fractional CMO, VCMO
“CMOs need to align their vision with the CEO's vision to set their priorities and tailor the marketing strategy accordingly.”

4 Key Challenges That Plague CMOs

1. Lack of Alignment

One key issue plaguing CMOs is a misalignment with the CEO’s vision and business objectives, which can lead to early replacement. Successful CMOs understand these goals and tailor their strategies accordingly, ensuring that their messaging and positioning resonate consistently across all channels. They readily articulate the firm’s go-to-market messaging, positioning and value proposition and ensure these constructs are utilised across all channels to differentiate the company’s brand. CMOs who fail to create cohesive brand positioning and messaging may face a short tenure.

Chart 4 - Boathouse Thinking 2021 CMO Study
“CMOs cannot rely on intuition or gut instinct, but instead of data-backed strategies are the backbone of marketing.”

2. Insufficient Data-Driven Insights & Strategies

Another issue that may contribute to a reduced tenure for CMOs is the over-reliance on gut instinct to inform the marketing strategy. Effective CMOs collect, analyse, and interpret data to make informed decisions and formulate strategies closely aligned with these data-driven insights. They readily use data to measure the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, identify areas for improvement and reporting results to the Board. CMOs who rely on their intuition in lieu of data-driven insights are setting themselves up for an early exit.

“The modern CMO must leverage new technology to drive marketing innovation without confusing Boardroom executives.”

3. Failure to Adapt to an Evolving Marketing Landscape

The rapidly evolving marketing landscape requires the CMO to have a high level of technical proficiency and adaptability. Technological advancements like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, personalised customer experiences, and data analytics are tools that CMOs must leverage and develop deep working knowledge. Those who fail to do so find themselves out of step with the times. A big watch out for CMOs is not getting too distracted by ‘shiny new toys’ and not ‘bamboozling’ Boardroom executives with complex technical jargon.

4. Failure to Meet Boardroom Expectations

The CMO is still regarded as a key role by Boardroom executives. However, in this digital era there’s increasingly high pressure on the CMO to deliver instant results and meet unrealistic expectations. Oftentimes this unrelenting pressure to deliver can break the resolve of some CMOs.

Is the CMO Role Too Tall an Order?

Sadly, for some chief marketing officers, the answer to this question is ‘yes’. Boardroom pressure, a constantly changing business environment, rapid advances in technology and the expectation to deliver immediate results can be overwhelming. However, success is most definitely possible for CMOs who:

  • Align With the CEO's Vision: Understand the business priorities and tailor the marketing strategy accordingly.
  • Embrace Data and Analytics: Use data to measure and optimise campaigns and present these insights clearly to stakeholders.
  • Become a Lifelong Learner: Stay ahead of the curve with new technologies and marketing trends.
  • Build a Strong Team: Delegate tasks effectively and empower the team.
  • Focus on Long-term Success: Balance immediate results with building a sustainable marketing foundation.
  • Communicating Value: Showcase achievements and the impact they are making to the CEO and other key stakeholders.
Chart 5 - Source Boathouse Thinking 2021 CMO Study

The CEO's Role in Supporting the CMO

CEOs must recognise the pivotal role of marketing, especially in today's technology-driven environment. Successful CEO-CMO relationships are characterised by several key factors that underpin their collaboration:

  1. Trust: Mutual trust is essential, as both the CEO and CMO must rely on each other. The CEO trusts the CMO to make the organisation more customer-centric, while the CMO trusts the CEO to guide critical marketing plans in alignment with overall organisational goals.
  2. Empowerment: Empowerment is another critical aspect, with both parties empowering each other in decision-making processes. An empowered CEO ensures that organisational goals align with customer segment needs, while an empowered CMO understands the long-term impact of marketing strategies on organisational growth and shareholder expectations.
  3. Teamwork: Effective teamwork is crucial, as CEOs and CMOs rely on their respective teams to succeed. Collaboration with broader teams ensures holistic decision-making at the highest level.
  4. Co-creation: Both the CEO and CMO should be actively involved in shaping the organisation's growth path and strategic priorities. While the CEO typically plays a more substantial role in this aspect, giving the CMO a seat at the strategic table fosters innovation.
  5. Minimising Conflict: The CEO and CMO must work together to ensure that conflicting priorities do not hinder the implementation of strategic initiatives. They should strive for alignment between organisational and marketing initiatives to facilitate smooth integration and actionability.

When the CEO and CMO work collaboratively on these characteristics, a successful CEO-CMO relationship can be built, enabling the organisation to thrive in today's dynamic business environment, potentially extending the CMOs tenure.


The shortening tenure that we are seeing with CMOs reflects the complexities and challenges they face in the modern business landscape. To thrive in this role, CMOs must be strategic visionaries, operational experts, data-driven decision-makers, tech-savvy innovators, and adaptive leaders.

To minimise the CMO ‘merry-go-round’ in businesses, which can be disruptive and slows growth, CEOs need to adopt a supportive role to ensure CMOs are well-equipped and empowered to thrive in an ever-changing marketing landscape.

The CMOs that embrace these challenges, have the ability to adapt their personal style, and can meet the short- and long-term expectations of key stakeholders will thrive in this pivotal leadership role.

Data Sources Used:

1 CMO Tenure Study: An Expanded View of CMO Tenure and Backgrounds - Spencer Stuart (Published May 2023)

2 CMO Study 2021 - Boathouse Thinking (Published August 2021) NB This is gated content requiring contact details for the study.

About the Author

Ellen M. Steinlauf is a Fractional CMO at VCMO and specialises in working with CEOs and Boards of B2B startups and SMBs in the SaaS, Technology, and Professional Services sectors. Read her bio.

About VCMO

VCMO offers Fractional Chief Marketing Officers to owner-managed and investor-backed companies that operate without a full-time marketing leader. Through its roster of Fractional CMOs, auditing and training solutions, VCMO’s mission is to help SMEs transform their marketing potential into a competitive advantage that delivers predictable revenue and sustainable growth.

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Ellen M. Steinlauf
Fractional CMO

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