Marketers Should Not Feel Threatened By Chief Growth Officers

Many CMOs are worried its rise could mean they lose their voice at the table


In today’s fast-moving business climate, new C-suite titles are thrown around like champagne bottles at a boat race. Companies are employing chief happiness officers, chief people officers, chief knowledge officers, chief luminary officers, and numerous other entirely pointless sounding job titles that must leave the boardrooms looking more like Woodstock than a place of work.

One job title gaining particular traction lately is that of the Chief Growth Officer (CGO), which is now a position in organizations as prominent as Coca Cola, Mondolez, and Colgate-Palmolive. Coca-Cola has even replaced its Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role with a CGO, in a move that suggests it may not just be a trendy buzzword, and CMOs may be looking down the barrel of extinction in the coming years.

Richard Stein, CGO at financial recruiting specialist Options Group, explains that, ‘The CGO role is growing and it’s rising in popularity, especially among professional services firms that understand client needs and who want to be front and center to achieve long-term revenue growth and stay competitive. The CGO is free to challenge the status quo in order to discover new pathways to growth. But the position holder also leads their organizations to a heightened sense of responsibility and purpose.’

The responsibilities of a CGO are varied, sitting across four key activity areas of the business - marketing, sales, product, and finance. These areas must work together effectively if an organization is going to generate profit, and with each department now expected to strategically contribute to company growth, they often end up working at crossed purposes or working on similar initiatives from only slightly different angles without knowing another department is working on it. The CGO has a unique view of each department, allowing them to align often conflicting agendas and better collaborate. For example, the first thing Mark Clouse did when he became CGO at Mondelēz was take inventory of initiatives across the company and eliminate repetitive or conflicting ones, which were approximately 20% of the total number. This is not a unique problem, it is one experienced at organizations of all sizes.

With such a wide remit, however, there are inevitably going to be times when the CGO comes into conflict with other senior executives, particularly because the role is so new and in many people’s eyes still has so much to prove. The role most under threat is that of the CMO, but this is wrong for a number of reasons.

This concern was most succinctly expressed by Alison Lewis, global CMO at Johnson & Johnson. She argued that, ‘If I’m not driving growth then I don’t know why I really exist.’ It is her belief that the CGO is a more symbolic position than anything else. ‘To me, it’s a positioning thing because of course my role is to drive growth,’ she continued. ‘I always say I want more people to use our products more often. It’s that simple. If you interpret marketing as a fluff word and think it’s just all the over the top stuff I think you’re absolutely wrong.’

It may be that Lewis is right in certain circumstances, those in which the CGO is essentially replacing the CMO. But this needn’t be the case. Indeed, it probably shouldn’t be. When you replace the CMO with a CGO, you are saying one of two things; either your marketing team has failed, or you don’t trust them. New roles like the CGO are usually introduced to compensate for something that’s not happening but should be. There is a huge amount of pressure on the entire C-suite today to think strategically and drive growth, and this will inevitably lead to crossover and complications.

These efforts need someone to coordinate everything, and this person is a CGO. CGOs aren’t just enhanced CMOs and they should not be seen as such. They are growth-focused brand builders, trusted CEO advisers, and internal connectors who align conflicting agendas. This is not to say that it’s not understandable that marketers are worried. At Coca-Cola, the CGO was brought in to replace their outgoing CMO, but adding control of the customer and commercial teams to their list of responsibilities. Mondelez also appears to have seen it very much as being a replacement for marketing, with their top marketers no longer reporting to the CEO. Organizations need to realize, however, that for the role to work effectively there needs to be a clear delineation of responsibilities. The CGO role is not a pointless role as some in the C-suite are, and it shouldn’t be something marketers worry about. Those that are must ensure they are being proactive in driving growth using the resources and skill set of the marketing function and make sure everyone knows it If a CGO is brought in, they need to see them as a partner and not a direct threat, working with them to drive growth, as the rest of the C-suite should too.


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