MBA meet MI5

Mi5, copyright Alan Turnbull Something remarkable is happening in the world of marketing.  According to Brandweek,

The tenure for chief marketing officers at the 100 top consumer branded companies has continued to decline…. Over the past three years CMOs at these companies have seen their time on the job drop from 23.6 months to 23.2 months, said Greg Welch [Spencer Stuart, Chicago]

So what does this mean?  Many things.  But one of them is that every CMO must now arrive at the corporation with a team in place. Specifically, the CMO wants to arrive with a "pre-existing" connection with an agency.  There's no time to play "getting to know you" paddy cake.  No time to audition the agency world.  You want to come with an agency in place.   (For the source of this image, Alan Turnbull's website, please go here.)

And what does this mean?  Many things.  But one of them is that the agency needs to start early.   It won't do to get to know the CMO as a CMO.  It won't even do to know the CMO as a brand director or brand manager.  No, it would be nice to spot CMO talent the moment he or she clears the MBA.

And this means, among other things, that the agency wants to reach out to b-school profs the way MI5 did.  MI5 (Thames House headquarters, as pictured above on Alan Turnbull's the security service responsible for protecting the UK against threats to national security.  In the old days, the British secret service relied upon a network of professors who kept an eye out for espionage talent.  It was all very discrete.  In the course of a conversation over lunch at the club, names would come up and references would ever so casually change hands. Approaches would be made.  Connections would be fashioned  The British secret service didn't need executive search.  It had a deeply intelligent, observant, thoughtful corps looking out for recruits who were in their turn deeply intelligent, observant and thoughtful.  

It could work in the world of marketing.  If the tenure of a CMO is less than 2 years, perhaps it's going to have to.



Babej, Marc E. and Tim Pollack.  2005.  Who Needs a CMO Anyway?  October 5, 2006. here.

von Hoffman, Constantine.  2006.  Length of CMO Tenure  Continues Decline.  Brandweek.  August 22, 2006.  here.

the website for MI5 here.

4 thoughts on “MBA meet MI5”

  1. all very true. and often the case. the good advertisers i know work exactly like this to develop their account… always entertainig a portfolio of aspiring marketing people. – only one thing: the change of cmo tenure from from 23.6 months to 23.2 months in six years is not so drastic, as to indicate that they have to start earlier now.

    but something else actually is key. – when you take an exposed job in a highly competetive environment you want allies from the outside. – as harsh as this may sound, but if you take a cmo position – or any leadership position – within a company that is new to you, you’d better come in with a plan and and army. otherwise others will have their play with you. – such are the dynamics of systems.

  2. Did not the CIA and its progenitor, the OSS, also operate in this way? That’s what Norman Mailer’s long novel, “Harlot’s Ghost”, and the recent film loosely based on it, “The Good Shepherd”, suggest?

    But there is a long tradition here — the Elizabethan dramatist, Christopher Marlowe, is believed to have been recruited as a spy for Elizabeth I’s foreign intelligence service while still an undergrad at Cambridge University, and spent time in Europe pretending to be a Catholic seminarian while OHMSS (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service).

  3. Six days reduction in tenure over three years is not exactly earth-shaking. Using Mark Twain-style extrapolation, however, in about 730 years CMO tenure will be zero. Relativistic effects may prevent this outcome, because the revolving door at company headquarters can’t spin faster than the speed of light.

  4. The countervailing view would be that it relied on a rather decrepit band of academics at institutions who put rather unsuitable people forward…Philby, Burgess, Maclean etc.

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