The Insidious Link Between CMO Turnover and Agency Searches

It’s no wonder that so many companies are swirling around in their results when you take into account the following:

Record numbers of CMOs are losing their jobs because they are unable to demonstrate the true business impact of huge marketing budgets.
– Over 50% of top advertisers will be reviewing their marketing/media agency assignments this year.
– And if you Google, “Advertising Agency Model is Dead” or better yet, “The New Advertising Model,” then you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of wading through hundreds of millions of posts.

Clients publish RFPs chock full of disruptive–and disruption–language, and agencies answer with their new disruptor model rhetoric, their press releases promising the new marketing utopia.

And all this set against a background of Digibabble mixed with worry:

– It’s Mobile First…or is it Digital?
– Amazon is eating our lunch…What’s your drone strategy?
– I must get into in VR with experiential content.
– Those quick-draw Tweets are brilliant, but not really impacting my sales.
– My Facebook program isn’t delivering.

Meanwhile, Google and Amazon (including AWS, Amazon Web Services) are running major campaigns on morning TV. Yes…the Today Show and Good Morning America are hosting Amazon  business advertisements.

So what does it all mean? Beyond that we are twisted into knots and need someone to cut the cord and untangle us all? (Excuse the borrowed phrase.)

Frankly, it seems to me that everyone has lost the plot. A simple plot, in fact, that would keep CMOs employed long-term, save clients the cost and true disruption of conducting search after search, and keep agencies focused on delivering value instead of feeling the pressure to reinvent.

The plot goes like this:

There exists a consumer, user, and buyer. Listen to them. Understand them. Follow them to the purchase and beyond. Therein lies your entire story.

Everything you do, every decision you make, every partner you hire had better be centric and adding value to that plot.

Make no mistake, the discussions you are having today have been had before:
– The confusing demands of technology.
– How to measure success.
– What to do with data.
– Fragmentation of media.
– How to reach and impact the younger crowd.
– What’s the true value of advertising campaigns.

We are not unique in this era, but we are blessed with a myriad of new tools and technological applications that need to be understood and harnessed… or, perhaps the more difficult task, ignored. But most importantly, we must make sure that whatever we do applies to the plot.

And let’s be clear: Anything but Consumer First is a sideshow. Just ask Jeff Bezos.


In the last century, a prior generation of Y&R’s leadership realized that keeping track of their client’s customers and consumers was becoming increasingly complex. While it did not require a new model per se, more resources, more expertise, more capabilities were needed. In addition, they knew it all needed to be kept singularly focused outwardly (that is, being about the customers), as opposed to being focused internally (on themselves, or some new model). They called this the Whole Egg.

But the Whole Egg was not about spinning in 360-degree circles. Rather, a holistic approach was brought to bear with an accountable central team. This included Data, CRM, PR, Insight & Strategy, Brand, Experience, Media, Content and more.

Did they tout disruption and a new model? In this century, they might have. But back then, they simply saw it as core to the plot. And in the 21st century, the holding companies followed suit. Today’s WPP is more impressive.

Now full disclosure: I work for WPP,  whose suite of resources and capabilities is second to none, and frankly, far surpasses those available to clients in the days of the Whole Egg. In fact, a recent announcement by Kantar shows just how core to the plot the thinking is.

So while many are trying to follow, it seems to me that they’re just following the wrong plot. Media companies want to be agencies, consultancies want to be agencies, even clients want to be their own agencies. And the agencies themselves? They’d rather be anything but.

To better articulate this, the plot is to follow the consumer to the checkout because they have all the money. If we all follow the plot, then we all will benefit…even the consumer. Win/Win/Win.

This is my guide to following the real plot, embellishing it and ending up with a bestseller or blockbuster:

  1. There is no model, nor should there be.
    Run from the newest, greatest, most modern rhetoric. What does your model have to do with the client’s business? The only critical model is theirs. Agency engagement needs to compliment, add value, fill in the holes and be a credible partner to the client. To suggest that a client needs to fit a new Agency model makes CMO turnover easier to understand. The Agency needs to provide accountable and inspirational leadership across all client resources. Rather than think ‘new model,’ think better training…more holistic, Renaissance-type leaders.
  2. Shared accountability on outcomes is critical, and a surefire way to speed up any process.
    Everyone needs to be open to this notion. Trust, transparency, collaboration and shared accountability are required to achieve the best outcomes.
    I’m ready to bet that ‘the agency needs to work quicker’ has been a complaint since the dawn of time. How about everyone needs to work quicker? And shared accountability relates to ideas as well. How many times do we hear clients saying, ‘I’m not seeing fresh, new ideas,’ and agencies complaining that all of their fresh new ideas get shot down?
  3. No one has all the resources you need.
    Successful marketing has always meant the seamless meshing of multiple moving parts… and in today’s world, those parts just keep coming. It doesn’t cut it to keep hiring resource after resource looking for answers, using some as hammers against others and creating competitions elsewhere, chasing the perceived latest and greatest. Reassess your primary partnership; creating an accountable center to deliver whatever metric it is that keeps you in business. Sales anyone?
  4. Data is not insight.
    Data is a historic record that can be predictive, or not, but in and of itself is only so much bits and bytes. Insight is the window into the soul. We are serendipitous beings and will be so through many more lifetimes. Without insight, we will always be stuck with wondering how to make the other 50% of our marketing work…and why the data isn’t as powerful as we thought.
  5. Don’t be seduced: not by data, Digibabble, drones, or anything else.
    Focus on the plot…not on whatever the self-serving are throwing at you from paid conference stages. Digital is Everything But Not Everything is Digital. Shop in an Amazon or Warby Parker store; go to a concert or sport event; walk through a cool neighborhood to remind yourself. It’s your job—our job— to seduce the consumer.
  6. Cost control is critical.
    In an environment where the number of resources we need to apply keeps on growing, it is easy to lose sight of spending. Yet I wonder… how many consumers buy products from the procurement group? Remember: focus on the customer and win/win/win.
  7. Have fun!
    Great ideas don’t get created in fear. Marketing should be the most fun place to work…anywhere.

So I started with the Triangle of Stagnation:

CMO Turnover


Agency Search                                    New Agency Model

No one benefits, least of all the consumer, who has the money to keep us all in business.


“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
— Sam Walton

And there you have it.

All our fates are inextricably linked…CMO to Agency and all in between.

But there is only one plot.

What do you think?


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