Marketing Officers

Confronting the CMO Succession Gap: Five Key Findings for Improving the Readiness and Retention of Future Marketing Leaders


​Trends like Big Data, mobile devices, e-commerce and globalization are significantly reshaping the role of marketing and those who are responsible for it. Yet, while much has been written about how these trends are impacting the mission, organizational structure and leadership competencies required for success, not enough attention is getting paid to preparing the next generation of marketing talent. Are rising marketing leaders getting the developmental experiences they need? Are they being groomed for the demands of tomorrow and not just today? Are they engaged?

To help chief marketing officers (CMO) and rising marketing leaders answer these critical questions, Russell Reynolds Associates launched a major quantitative research study, capturing responses from nearly 1,500 senior marketing professionals globally. Below are our key findings, as well as a number of support tools, designed to help rising marketing leaders prepare for the next level and to help CMOs boost retention and team productivity.

Confronting the CMO Succession Gap 

Summary of Key Findings

  1. CMOs lack confidence in the next generation and struggle to name successors.
  2. Rising marketing leaders lack confidence in their managers’ ability to develop them—and a significant number expect to leave their organization in two years or less.
  3. Leading CMOs identify 18 experiences as most critical to the effective development of rising marketing leaders.
  4. A significant majority of CMOs prioritize strategy, people and emerging marketing experiences as most important.
  5. Rising marketing leaders believe their organizations are ineffective at providing the development experiences that CMOs feel are most important.


As the CMO role faces new expectations and changing business requirements, it is increasingly important for CMOs to improve the development of their team members and succession planning efforts. Helping rising marketing leaders grow by investing in the right developmental experiences will not only boost their productivity and retention today, but it will ensure a CMO’s legacy and continued success of the marketing function over the long term. To that end, we hope the findings from this study provide a useful guide.


Confronting the CMO Succession Gap - Key Finding #1 

Confronting the CMO Succession Gap - Key Finding #2 

Confronting the CMO Succession Gap - Key Finding #3 

  • During the initial stage of our research, we engaged a number of leading CMOs to identify the developmental experiences they feel matter most. They responded with the 18 experiences listed above.
  • These activities are critical to overcoming the challenges highlighted in Findings #1 and #2, as experiential learning arguably is the most effective means of individual development.

 CMO Experience Importance Ratings

How to read this graphic: This graphic shows the percentage of CMOs scoring each of the 18 developmental experiences an 8 or 9 on a 9-point scale where 9 is of highest importance.

  • Of all the key developmental experiences available, CMOs prioritize Strategy & Innovation, People & Relationships and Emerging marketing experiences (e.g., using Big Data and launching a social media campaign) over Operational and Traditional marketing experiences.
  • In other words, CMOs seem to prioritize having a clear vision of the future and effectively leveraging people to achieve that vision while using new marketing techniques and tactics.
  • These findings provide helpful clarity, showing CMOs and rising marketing leaders exactly where to invest their (limited) time and effort in terms of development.

 Confronting the CMO Succession Gap: Key Finding #5

How to read this graphic: This graphic compares the importance that CMOs place on the 18 developmental experiences and how effectively rising marketing leaders feel their organizations deliver these experiences.

  • Key gaps. A comparison of the activities CMOs believe are most important for success and those that rising marketing leaders say their organizations are the least effective at delivering reveals the following key gaps:
    • Strategy: Setting strategic vision and designing a strategic plan.
    • New Marketing Techniques: Developing, launching and integrating digital marketing and social media campaigns, and using marketing analytics/ROI tools and techniques (Big Data).
    • People: Recruiting and training direct reports and turning around the performance of a struggling team.
  • Interestingly, the experiences that CMOs believe are most important for success also are those that rising marketing leaders feel their organizations are the least effective at offering (see upper left quadrant of the figure above).
  • CMOs should continue to invest in the experiences listed in the upper right quadrant (high importance, high effectiveness) and focus on improving how effectively they deliver those in the upper left quadrant (high importance, low effectiveness).

Taking Action

To help CMOs optimize the productivity and retention of their team members—and to help rising marketing leaders develop key skills required for success at the next level—we provide below a number of tools and diagnostics.

 CMO Team Diagnostic

How to use this tool: 1) Identify key direct reports. 2) For each experience, check the box if the report has received adequate exposure. 3) Identify individual needs running vertically and aggregate team needs running horizontally (i.e., rows with the greatest number of unchecked boxes).


Rising Marketing Leader Self-Diagnostic 

How to use this tool: Rising leaders should focus on the experiences that are 1) development areas, 2) those of high importance to a CMO and 3) those to which he/she currently receives low exposure.


Experience Corollaries 

How to use this tool: When designing Individual Development Plans (IDP), CMOs and rising marketing leaders can utilize these corollaries to identify a large number of potential/relevant developmental experiences.

Leadership, Succession and Search | Russell Reynolds Associates is a global leader in assessment, recruitment and succession planning for Chief Executive Officers, boards of directors, and key roles within the C-suite. With more than 300 consultants in 41 offices around the world, we work closely with both public and private organizations across all industries and regions. We help our clients build boards and executive teams that can meet the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital, economic, environmental and political trends that are reshaping the global business environment. Follow us on Twitter: @RRAonLeadership

Sign up for our newsletter

Get the newsletter that prepares you for what's next with valuable insights across industries and geographies.