Our Point of View

The CEO-CMO Disconnect and Why it Matters

More so than other C-suite roles, the role of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) stands out as essential, yet surprisingly fuzzy around the edges. This fuzziness isn’t just a headache for the CMOs themselves; it trickles down, making it tough for them to provide direction to the rest of the marketing organization. Inspired by insights from Kimberly A. Whitler and Neil A. Morgan’s enlightening piece, “Why CMOs Never Last,” let’s dive into how this role ambiguity impacts marketing teams, especially when it comes to empowering those doing the work.

The CMO Conundrum

At the heart of the issue is a simple question: What exactly is a CMO supposed to do? It seems like a no-brainer, but ask around, and you’ll find the job description lacks consistency and varies from company to company. 

Whitler and Morgan identify three types of CMOs – Strategists, Commercializers, and P&L CMOs.  Strategists focus on the growth strategy, setting the marketing direction and using consumer insights to guide product and service design. Commercializers bring products to market, generating sales through marketing communications, advertising, promotions and events. P&L CMOs juggle both strategy and commercialization, with a mandate to deliver profitable growth. These CMOs are responsible for all of the above, plus product design, sales, distribution and pricing. 

From crafting marketing strategies to overseeing brand identity and even dipping toes into product launches and pricing, the range is bewildering. Whitler and Morgan spotlight this issue, showing how a mismatch between what CMOs think they’re signing up for and what CEOs expect can lead to major frustration and, often, a revolving door of marketing chiefs.

Why Clear Direction Matters

When the CMO’s role is as clear as mud, it’s no surprise that the marketing team might also feel lost at sea. If CMOs are scratching their heads over their place in the company, how can they chart a course for their teams? This lack of direction can leave marketing folks feeling unsupported and unsure about how their work ties into the bigger picture.


A big piece of the puzzle is the often rocky relationship between CEOs and CMOs. A shocking 80% of CEOs don’t trust or are unimpressed with their CMOs, according to the Fournaise Marketing Group. This gap isn’t just about bruised egos; it’s a symptom of deeper issues around defining what a CMO is really there to do, leading CMOs to have the shortest tenure in the C-Suite. Regular turnover in the CMO role leads to further disruption at the team level. A new CMO may arrive, with a still unclear charter, setting a new direction for direct reports and teams. This constant churn results in burnout and an order-taking mindset. Rather than taking initiative, team members idly wait for the next strategies to appear. 

Clarifying the CMO Role

So, what’s the fix? It starts with getting super clear about what we expect from a CMO. CEOs and senior leaders need to sit down and really think about what they want from their marketing leader, ensuring the role is tightly aligned with the company’s strategic goals. CEOs need to be clear on which type of CMO they seek and hire to those specifications, not just snag a marketing rockstar. With a clear charter, the new CMO can then work to empower their teams to push the envelope and achieve great things.

Empowered marketing teams are more than just satisfied workers; they’re aligned with the company’s vision, motivated, and more effective at what they do. And isn’t that the goal?


Clarity around the type and mandate of the CMO is the starting point to building empowered marketing teams. Companies need to cut through the ambiguity often found in this role, align CMO roles with their strategic vision, and ensure everyone’s on the same page. It’s about creating a culture where CMOs and their teams are set up to succeed from the get-go. Doing so not only boosts marketing effectiveness but also creates a collaborative environment that moves the entire company forward.