Average tenure across sectors

Top 100 consumer-focused advertisers

CMOs in the top 100 consumer-focused advertisers, a core segment of the market, recorded an average tenure of 3.1 years in 2023. Companies in this category typically engage heavily in consumer advertising and brand activities that need dynamic marketing strategies that frequently adapt to rapidly changing consumer preferences and market conditions. 

The relatively shorter tenure reflects the intense competitive and operational pressures these CMOs face, which often leads to quicker shifts in marketing leadership compared to other sectors.

Overall Fortune 500 average

Across all Fortune 500 companies, the average tenure of a CMO stood at 4.2 years in 2023, aligning with the tenure observed in 2022. This stability suggests that, on a broader scale, CMOs are maintaining their positions long enough to implement and see the results of strategic marketing initiatives. 

The term of 4.2 years spotlights a period that potentially allows developing and executing long-term marketing strategies, balancing the rapid changes typical of specific sectors like consumer-focused advertising.

High turnover challenges

CMOs at the largest consumer advertisers consistently face a high level of job volatility, which can be attributed largely to the pressures of managing extensive media budgets and the expectations of public market performance. 

Marketing leaders must navigate through changing brand perceptions that can shift due to external factors, including economic fluctuations and cultural trends. High turnover rates are a direct consequence of the demanding nature of these roles, where outcomes are closely scrutinized in terms of ROI and market impact, often leading to frequent leadership changes to stimulate brand growth or redirect marketing strategies.

Entry and advancement of CMOs

First-time CMOs

In 2023, an impressive 71% of all Fortune 500 CMOs were serving in this capacity for the first time, a statistic that rises to 74% among CMOs within the top 100 advertisers. There is a shift towards fresh leadership in the marketing sector, driven by strategic decisions by firms to inject new perspectives and innovative approaches into their marketing leadership. 

Organizations appear increasingly inclined to appoint leaders who can bring innovative ideas and strategies to face the complex, digital-first marketing environment that now dominates consumer interactions.

Career progression opportunities

In 2023, 34% of Fortune 500 CMOs were not limited to traditional marketing roles but also managed additional functions such as communications. Expansion of responsibilities here indicates a trend in which marketing chiefs are seen as integral to the broader strategic functions of their companies, highlighting their growing influence in corporate leadership. 

To add to this, 68% of CMOs who left their positions were either promoted within their current organization or secured a lateral or more important role elsewhere. The CMO position is often seen as a critical stepping stone to higher executive positions, suggesting that experience in the marketing department is increasingly valued for broader leadership roles.

Internal vs. external hiring

Promotions within the company

In 2023, internal promotions of CMOs in Fortune 500 companies rose to 58%, up from 54% in the previous year. This reflects a growing preference for cultivating leadership within the ranks, suggesting that companies see value in developing marketing talent in-house. 

Internal candidates are likely perceived as better aligned with company culture and more aware of the ongoing business processes, potentially leading to more seamless transitions and sustained strategic continuity.

Industry crossover in hiring

The trend of hiring CMOs from outside the industry also saw an increase in 2023, with 43% of externally recruited CMOs coming from different industries, compared to 37% in 2022. This potentially indicates that companies value diverse experiences and fresh insights that executives from unrelated industries can bring. 

Cross-industry hiring can infuse new strategies and ideas into a company’s marketing efforts, which can be crucial for innovation and adapting to changing market conditions.

Case studies of prominent CMOs

Recent executive transitions include Sean Tresvant’s promotion from brand chief to CEO at Taco Bell and Brady Brewer’s appointment as CEO of international operations at Starbucks, previously serving as the global marketing chief. These point out the evolving perception of the CMO role as a key leadership pipeline in major corporations, showcasing the strategic importance of marketing in driving business outcomes and leadership competency.

Research and analysis sources

Spencer Stuart’s reports, now in their 20th year, present a longitudinal view of CMO tenure and dynamics, providing key insights into the career trajectories and strategic roles of marketing executives in large corporations. 

Leveraging these authoritative sources, the industry can gauge shifts in executive roles, responsibilities, and diversity, facilitating a deeper understanding of how marketing leadership adapts to changing business environments.

Tim Boesen

May 9, 2024

4 Min