How to get hired as a CMO: a CEO’s view

It’s not often that a CEO tells you exactly what he is looking for when interviewing CMOs. It’s like being given the exam questions in advance. Yet we have been given the inside track from Martin Glenn, CEO of the Football Association, former CEO of United Biscuits and Birds Eye, and previous PepsiCo and Cadbury marketer. It might not turn a turkey into a turnkey, but it will certainly give you a head start as you seek your next job.

Speaking at the 2015 International Marketing Leaders Programme, Martin Glenn revealed that when recruiting a Chief Marketing Officer, he looks for 10 attributes. 5 are functional skills and 5 are personal characteristics. I’ve listed them here. How many can you display at an interview, and what gaps do you need to fill?

Functionally: it is the CMO’s role to spot in the external world, the ingredients to drive demand. Candidates need to demonstrate:

1. A point of view about the future

Can you look outside your business to connect the signals and articulate what will shape demand in years to come?

2. Application of the laws of marketing

Knowledge of the science of marketing gives marketers credibility. It’s not all about creative ideas – there is logic too. Segment the market. Build penetration. Pay attention to light users. Measure and refine.

3. The ability to define a strategy and its right to succeed

A good CMO will make strategic choices and will keep the organisation engaged and focused on these choices.

4. Successful proposition development

Profitable propositions require clear thinking, creativity and patience. Nobody ever said innovation was easy – but a great CMO will have a successful track record.

5. Passion for executional detail

Do you notice every detail? Care about every detail? CMOs aren’t satisfied by a brilliant strategy alone. (When I worked for TESCO my weekly shop took hours. If you’re a B2C marketer and can walk through a retailer without optimising the display of your brand, you’re in the wrong job).

Personally: it is the CMO’s role to enthuse, inspire and mobilise companies to change. Candidates need to demonstrate:

6. Speak the right language

It doesn’t take long to learn about DCF and NPV, but you have to be able to do it to construct a business case. Equally, if you only talk balance sheets when engaging creative agencies, you’ll hardly succeed.

7. Objectivity

Like many of the IMLP speakers, Martin Glenn advised that CEOs don’t look for passion. They look for resilience, maturity, the ability to admit failures, to kill projects and to find solutions.

8. Curiosity

How much time do you allocate to encountering the new? Whether it’s neuroscience, customer insight or a piece of technology, constant curiosity will help you spot opportunities and shape change. As Andy Bird argues in his recent leadership white paper, that curiosity should extend to insight into the people you work with.

9. Courage

By the time you reach CMO level, you need to have taken risks, gone out on a limb and have stood for something. I particularly liked the advice to 'promote conversation and indignation' – a clear sign of a change agent.

10. Diverse experiences

Glenn’s own route to the top seems consciously managed, and his advice echoes this. He advises people to fill in their career gaps. In his view, candidates who have worked in another function like sales or R&D, and ideally in another country, are better able to understand a business.

I’m sure we can all argue what our particular top 10 would be, and no doubt it will vary depending on the needs of the hiring organisation.

In the end it comes down to Glenn’s contention that brands and people are virtually the only assets that can appreciate. If you want to be a Marketing Leader, you need to be able to grow both.


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