More Companies Are Hiring CMOs With Performance-Marketing Backgrounds

Companies looking to hire CMOs and other top-level marketing executives amid an economic downturn are increasingly favoring candidates with deep experience in so-called performance-marketing.

Performance-marketing campaigns push consumers to take a specific action, such as clicking a link or providing an email address, while brand marketing aims to increase awareness of a company and shape perceptions of that business. By recording exactly how many people take their desired action, these campaigns can be more directly tied to sales at a time when many CMOs are expected to do more with less.

The trend will create a challenging job market for senior executives whose careers are centered on more traditional, brand-based marketing. Businesses may also lose out in the long term if they emphasize sales at the expense of brand-building, according to some industry analysts.

“I’ve never seen [such] a myopic focus on profitable revenue growth. For the next five or ten years, I can’t imagine a marketer who doesn’t have strong performance chops making it,” said Greg Welch, partner at executive search firm Spencer Stuart.

To be sure, many companies still believe branding is important for them.

The ideal candidate in this environment is a “full-stack marketer,” meaning they have held positions specializing in both performance and brand work, according to Jay Haines, founding partner of search firm Grace Blue.

“A modern marketer today has to be able to deliver against both brand and performance,” said Jill Cress, chief marketing and experience officer at tax preparation firm H&R Block Inc.

Ms. Cress said he accepted her current post last year because it combined brand transformation work with the sort of performance-based marketing she had managed in the past at companies such as fintech firm PayPal Holdings Inc.

“If we are awesome at performance marketing and don’t understand what it means to engage a consumer—in reality that means brand-level marketing as well—we will lose.”

— Destinations XL CEO Harvey Kanter

Big-and-tall men’s clothing retailer Destination XL Group Inc.

hired Jim Reath, formerly senior vice president of marketing at home-goods chain Bed Bath & Beyond Inc.,

as its CMO last fall thanks, in large part, to his experience overseeing both brand and performance campaigns at commerce-based businesses, said DXL Chief Executive Harvey Kanter.

“If we are awesome at performance marketing and don’t understand what it means to engage a consumer—in reality that means brand-level marketing as well—we will lose,” Mr. Kanter said.

Yet very few candidates currently fit this full-stack profile, and when given an overwhelming choice, the majority of companies will choose an executive with a performance background, according to recruiters.

“Nine times out of 10, when I got calls for either CMO positions for companies under $1 billion [in revenue] or heads of marketing for larger companies, these are companies that really want a deep performance-marketing background,” said Andrew Fried, senior vice president of direct-to-consumer marketing at telecommunications firm Mint Mobile LLC.

This shift toward performance coincided with the rise in recent years of direct-to-consumer brands that rely on social-media ads to drive sales and don’t invest as heavily in brand development. But the pandemic-era growth in online shopping, as well as the economic uncertainty of recent months, helped the trend spread beyond data-first tech companies.

To address this increasing demand, executive search firms have adopted strategies that would have been unthinkable a few years ago, such as looking to online automotive retailers for candidates to lead marketing at packaged goods companies, Mr. Welch said.

Industry leaders frequently debate whether brand and performance marketing should be separate disciplines run by different people. Some companies, such as DXL, hire executives who oversee performance, report to the CMO and hold titles such as chief digital and analytics officer or senior vice president of marketing.

Others opt to combine the two roles or even eliminate the CMO position altogether. Kristin Godfrey, co-head of recruiting firm True Search’s go-to-market practice, said one client hired a senior vice president to focus on search engine optimization and customer relationship management, rather than a CMO, as its annual paid media budget dropped to $20 million from $100 million. The company had previously parted with its CMO due to that change in direction, she said.

The current demand for performance-focused, senior vice president-level candidates is so high that many are interviewing for four or more different jobs at once, said Lindsay Stevens, senior partner at search firm Kirk Palmer Associates.

But brands won’t succeed if they “try to turn marketing exclusively into ones and zeros” or make consistent messaging more difficult by completely bifurcating the brand and performance functions, said Jeff Weiser, partner at private-equity firm L Catterton and former CMO at e -commerce company Shopify Inc.

“If you have two C-level people who are splitting this, guess who the real CMO is: It’s the CEO,” said Mr. Weiser.

A generational divide has developed among marketers, with older executives rushing to beef up their performance qualifications and younger, more data-focused candidates attempting to learn the world of brand marketing or becoming too specialized risk.

Twenty years from now, most marketing executives will be equally adept at brand and performance marketing, but for now the two disciplines don’t naturally coexist, said Peter Giorgi, chief marketing officer at meat substitute company Emergy Inc., which does business as Meati Foods .

Mr. Giorgi said he was fortunate in that he had no choice but to learn performance marketing after accepting a job as CMO at Celebrity Cruises in 2016.

“My approach was just to admit that I wasn’t an expert and then asked for help to become one,” Mr. Giorgi said.

Write to Patrick Coffee at [email protected]

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