In my conversations with Siegel+Gale’s clients as well as countless other CMOs over the past decade, one topic consistently sparks both immense interest and a perplexing lack of progress—CMOs on public boards. Study after study reveals the void of marketing expertise in the boardroom. For example, in the United States, fewer than 40 of the thousands of board seats are occupied by current CMOs.
On November 16, I hosted a Future of Branding panel where along with six CMOs, we unraveled the mystery of CMOs and corporate governance. We were also joined by a special guest, Richard Sanderson, Marketing, Communications & Sales Practice Leader, Spencer Stuart. Together we explored the unique value a CMO brings to a public board, managing multiple commitments, diversifying the makeup of boards and how serving on a public board can inform a CMO’s day job, ultimately benefiting the brands they lead. (You can listen to the full conversation on my How CMOs Commit podcast.)
In closing, I asked our six panelists, as marketing leaders, what is your commitment to promoting the value of CMOs/marketers on boards? Here’s what they had to say.
CMOs are naturally wired to think about consumer and customer behavior, how it is changing and how that impacts business strategy. One of the things that’s really important to acknowledge when you think about your role on a board is that you’re focused on how companies win in the long-term. Being able to bring that perspective on what’s going on with behavior, what risks and opportunities that might present is I think something that CMOs are uniquely suited to doing.
My commitment is networking with people who are interested in getting on boards. I also want to make myself available to folks who are joining a board for the first time to tell them some of the lessons I’ve learned from the four boards that I’ve served on over the past 15 years.
—Cammie Dunaway, ID, Planet Fitness and Red Robin & CMO, Duolingo
There’s no one better to bring that type of perspective to the boardroom than the CMO. We’re the ones who are charged with bringing the purpose of our companies to life. I believe that CMOs can help board members and companies refine or define their purpose. But I think equally important is you have to do it in an authentic, empathetic, and logical way. And I think if you can help a company bring their purpose to life using those three, you build trust. If you don’t have all three, that’s where trust can wobble.
I’m a founding member of the Black Executive CMO Alliance (BECA). Along with about thirty other Black CMOs, we started this organization this year expressly to provide a place for people to go if they’re looking for African American CMOs, including for board slots. And so that’s my commitment, to help stand this organization up, to help bring forward the next generation of African American chief marketing officers. If in five years we’ve helped place some additional people, then I’ll feel good about that commitment.
—Paul Alexander, ID, Johnson Outdoors & CMO, Questrom School of Business, Boston University
In today’s world, user-first means digital-first. I’ve found in my experience, boards of non-tech companies aren’t always thinking about how they can be digital-first and really what the right consumer trends are to focus on. Those are the things that are driving a lot of growth. Many of the new companies that are disrupting older ones are the companies that understand how behaviors have changed in people and how digital is so crucial to everything that all of us do right now. As you think about growth and the investments needed for that growth—which is a big part of being on a board—bringing our perspective is essential.
As far as commitments, participating in panels like this is necessary. It is spreading the word that CMOs are very effective on boards and in other organizations that I’m a part of for board service, like the National Association of Corporate Directors. Being a visible CMO starts to bring more awareness to other board members that this is someone with a skill set that you should think about and how it would complement the boards they serve on.
—Zena Arnold, ID, EZCORP & Chief Digital and Marketing Officer, Kimberly-Clark
A lot of companies see inside out. From my perspective, one of the things that CMOs can bring to a board is that they see outside in. When you see outside in, you’re definitely trying to win today, but you’re also trying to win tomorrow. By putting a marketer on the board, if you do it right, you are focusing on the marketplace, and where it is going so the company could slot itself in there, versus the company just forcing its way into the marketplace based on what it is doing.
That being said, I think marketing is the least understood and least consistent C-function in business. And so, I’m totally committed to helping anybody think about how they want to get to boards. Even being ready to interview for boards and putting yourself out there is a huge deal. And then also how to use the network to get practiced and prepare for the board. I’m happy to help because marketers have a lot to offer, and I’m not sure the industry is as consistent with understanding what marketing offers. Anything I could do to help, I’m always available.
—Mike Linton, ID, loanDepot & CRO, Ancestry
CMOs can provide perspective on how boards should think and evolve digital transformation and growth strategies. Not only to achieve cost efficiencies and improve customer experience but, in some instances, to think about how new business models and new revenue streams can drive growth.
My commitment is to help educate other CMOs interested in board service on the value that marketers can bring to the table. Not only in the classic branding sense but more about the value that marketers can offer as an engine for growth. Participating in panels such as this, perhaps even if anyone’s interested, and time permitting, providing one-on-one coaching and sponsorship to help them sharpen the value proposition as marketers that bring value as an engine for growth.
—Sonita Lontoh, ID, Sunrun and TrueBlue & CMO, Personalization, 3D Printing & Digital Manufacturing, HP
As CMOs, we are hardwired to look externally and watch what the customer is doing and what our competitors are doing. Our contribution on a board is to challenge the rest of the board. To consider every question from the customer’s perspective, the competition, society, and think about how any decision will impact them and how any decision plays out in front of them.
I don’t spend enough time talking to other marketers about my board experience, my board role and the value that it brings both to myself, but more importantly to both companies, non-exec and executive companies. My commitment is really to do so, panels like this, on my social media, I tend to always talk about the executive side and not the non-exec side, so that’s what I’ll do.
—Nina Bibby, Non-Executive Director, Barratt Development & CMO, O2 (recent)