Ask any marketing director what one of the biggest challenges they face is, and they will tell you that it’s their ability to get marketing a voice at the board table.
It’s known as the “malaise of the marketing profession”, according to Professor Malcolm McDonald, Emeritus Professor at Cranfield School of Management, but does the lack of marketing presence in the boardroom still prevail?
“Historically, the CMO may have been invited for the odd presentation or board meeting, but little more. And although it has improved in recent years, a report in 2015 by the Marketing Science Institute (MSI) revealed that just 2.6% of board members had active marketing experience.
The impact of this?
According to the ‘Father of Modern Marketing’ – Philip Kotler, professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management, it has led to “…so many companies [being] helplessly disrupted.”
Given that marketing represents the customer and client voice, why is it so hard for CMOs to achieve a deserved place in the boardroom?
Sadly, there remains a perception that there is precious little that marketing can add to the boardroom conversation, which can focus on issues such as finance, share price, and shareholder impact.
However, as is being proven on an increasing basis – both in the B2B and B2C spheres – marketing can make a significant impact in the boardroom.
Whilst the perspective of the board is invariably on strategy and risk, the marketer can, and does, bring insights beyond that of just the customer voice.
So what should a board look like?
There should always be a variety of skills, perspectives and personalities on a board, with a good spread of expertise.
Invariably this will cover legal, financial and marketing experience, as well as senior business experience in the form of CEOs from other companies.
How can marketing add value?
CMOs have an intimate understanding of their business’ markets and customers and can grow revenue (and prove it), whilst building brands – both internally and externally.
Not only this, they can help steer boards to ensure that enough attention is being paid towards changing markets or customer trends.
Their role in delivering services or products that meet the needs of a business’ customers should not be underestimated. They are, after all is said and done, the voice of the customer, bringing with them an ability to think creatively and work with a variety of stakeholders to effect change.
Not only this, they help connect corporate strategies to improve the customer experience.
As marketing has evolved to become more strategic, more and more organisations have begun to recognise the importance of its role at the board table, helping to improve the bottom line.
For their part, senior marketing professionals need to ‘speak the language’ of the boardroom, in particular the all-pervasive focus on numbers.
The addition of any CMO to the board table ought to be a welcome one, and one for which the marketing profession should no longer feel the need to lobby.
Speaking about this issue at the EMC annual forum in Hamburg last October, Tom Trainor, CEO of the Marketing Institute of Ireland commented: “The presence of the CMO in the boardroom is a good opportunity to, perhaps, challenge more traditional ways of thinking, by adding a valuable voice to the decision-making process.
“After all, decisions in the boardroom need to be made with an element of debate and a vote, because board unanimity suggests group thinking, not innovation.”
Getting the CMO to the hallowed boardroom should no longer be about winning hearts and minds.
They deserve a place at the board table not only to bring value to leadership conversations, but to ensure that boards take heed of the omnipresent customer – who invariably has real value to add to effective decision making on strategy!”
 Malcolm McDonald, (2006) “How to get marketing back in the boardroom: Some thoughts on how to put right the well known malaise of marketing”, Marketing Intelligence and Planning, Vol. 24 Issue: 5 pp.426-431