When Is the Right Time to Hire a CMO? Dare We Say: NEVER?

ThinkstockPhotos-482557164Are you looking to take your company to the next level through significant organic growth, mergers and acquisitions and/or outside investors? Wherever your firm stands in the changing staffing and marketing landscape, it’s critical at this juncture to understand the value of marketing in your strategic plan.

For most staffing firms in growth mode (I’m not talking the size of Manpower, Kelly and Randstad here), the reality is that you need the strategic marketing component about 20% of the time — far below the 100% investment that would be required in a full-time hire of a chief marketing officer. Where does that 20% go? Definitely into creating a strategy that aligns with your overarching strategic business goals. Marketing should meet regularly with management and have direct accountability into sales and recruiting, and the results of your company.

Can all these elements really fit into 20% and not 100%? Absolutely. Once you have your strategy and vision in place, implementation and follow through become more of an accountability checkpoint: Marketing will touch base to ensure complete understanding of the company’s direction, will communicate what’s happening (and the results) from a marketing standpoint by presenting metrics and insights into that data.

PREMIUM CONTENT: March 2016 Growth Assessment: Marketing/Creative Staffing

Getting marketing results requires more than strategy

To say that the average salary of a chief marketing officer is a major investment would be an understatement. Here are a few top markets, along with the average salary of a CMO (according to salary.com):

  • Denver: $218,377
  • Chicago: $227,214
  • Seattle: $230,952
  • New York: $254,573
  • San Francisco: $263,838

When firms focus on investing in a CMO and make that 100% commitment, what often happens is that the strategic element is strong, but implementation falls very short. Implementation of a cohesive strategic marketing plan has many elements, including design, development, events, writing, public relations, social media management, project management and more. Firms need a marketing team to put that strategy into motion.

I understand this type of situation very well. Early in my staffing industry career, I actually started in internal communications. As my career advanced, I eventually progressed into a role running global marketing for the $1 billion tech division of Spherion. I left and went to work for a smaller company with multiple locations, but they had a very limited marketing budget and couldn’t afford to execute a full plan. They expected me to be a Jack of all trades, and at that point in my career, I just wasn’t able to fill that type of role. It was an excellent learning experience for me, however — I learned not only to ask about salary during negotiations, but for a marketing budget that doesn’t include salaries!

The solution for growth mode staffing firms

In today’s staffing market, most firms are in a similar position they end up hiring either a VP-level person and can’t keep them or a junior-level person who can’t do it all (and lacks a mentor within your organization). The answer to this challenge — one that allows flexibility in cost plus the ability to scale up or down as needed — is an outsourced marketing model. So it isn’t NEVER, it’s just not all the time.

In the Staffing Industry Analysts report “2015 North America Staffing Company Survey: Staffing firm use of outsourced services: usage rates, satisfaction & best practices,” 38 percent of respondents reported outsourcing marketing/social media to some degree and offered some important advice: “Focus on sales & recruiting, and/or whatever is core, and outsource the rest.” Wise advice from your industry peers! As more staffing firms gear up to take advantage of the outsourced CMO opportunity, your ability to devise and implement a strategic marketing plan becomes increasingly important.

When you consider an outsourced solution, these are the components that we have found to result in a successful initiative — and what’s important for your organization to identify:

  • Industry experience coupled with the ability to devise a comprehensive marketing strategy to eliminate a long ramp-up time
  • Executive presence and a seat at the table to ensure your marketing strategy aligns with your overarching business goals
  • Strong mentoring skills to nurture the growth of an internal resource (if needed)
  • A strong team of experienced marketing professionals that can be tapped when needed as your “expanded team” to provide strategy and implementation that 20% of the time you truly need it

Rather than spending $250k+ on a full-time CMO who is only needed — I would argue — 20% of the time for most growing firms, an outsourced CMO provides the same level of experience, plus the range of marketing skills needed for a fully staffed marketing team. Consider taking a dose of your own medicine! Similar to the message you share with your clients — tapping into outsourced expertise can be a game changer while offering flexibility to scale up and down to the business demands.

MORE: The future of work is here

Leslie Vickrey
Leslie Vickery is founder and CEO of ClearEdge Marketing. She can be reached lvickrey (at) clearedgemarketing (dot) com.

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