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The Changing MO of CCOs and CMOs

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Could Chief Communication Officers (CCOs) become CMOs? Would they want to be CMOs?

Many already have. They are few and far between but those who have made the transition are thriving in a world of silo-busting integration. We all know who some of them are: Jon Iwata of IBM; Beth Comstock of GE; Christa Carone of Xerox; and Anne Finucane of Bank of America. But some are less celebrated.

When Simon Sproule was promoted from director of communications at the Renault-Nissan Alliance to corporate vice president of global marketing communications, effectively the CMO, of Nissan, he was interviewed by a PR trade in the UK that shall go unnamed. This publication also interviewed a few PR people on Sproule’s new role and the comments were almost universally negative.

I asked Sproule about this, and he said that, “They felt that PR needs to be independent; that PR is different to marketing.” He continued, “I talked to the reporter afterwards and said that this is the classic kind of silo mentality that we don’t need. I suggested that they ring up each one of those skeptics and ask them the basic question that if the CEO walked into their office and said I want you to become the head of marketing and PR for my company, will you do it?”

Sproule firmly believes that integration is the way of the future. “It’s neither PR nor marketing coming into each other. It is the creation of a third discipline, a new profession as Jon Iwata calls it,” he says. “We are not eliminating PR. We are not eliminating marketing. There will be people who have specialized skills who will continue to operate in their universe and do it very well. But we have a need for a third type of individual who ultimately will become the norm rather than the exception. This will be people who are much more comfortable thinking in terms of integration and 360-degree communications as opposed to just thinking about marketing and PR.”

It’s a lofty goal, but Sproule believes, as do I, that if we want to rise to the top of our profession we need to become an “integrationist.” We need to become comfortable not only dealing with but also leading a broader mix of functions with a wider array of tools and analytics.

PR professionals are in the strongest position ever to take on an even more important role in their organizations given our comfort in engaging with a wide variety of audiences, encouraging dialogue, navigating unknown territories and managing through issues. But we are less-versed in traditional marketing disciplines and terminology.

When asked if there are disadvantages coming to a marketing leadership role from largely a communications background, Jon Iwata said, “The challenges included a complete lack of familiarity with the vocabulary of marketing. I’d call it the orthodox use of marketing. I have no formal background in marketing, so that’s everything from the funnel to the basket to the four Ps. So in that regard, it was a different tribe.”

But as everything from the purchase funnel to traditional advertising is breaking down, CEOs and boards are much more open to new ideas and approaches. The question is: are we ready to take on a bigger role in our organizations? And do we want to?

MaryLee Sachs was most recently U.S. chair and worldwide director of consumer marketing at Hill & Knowlton. Her new book, “The Changing MO of the CMO, How the Convergence of Brand and Reputation is Affecting Marketers,” is out this month. The quotes included here are from that book.

About the author

MaryLee Sachs


  • I arrived at Nortel in 1995 as CCO and was named to the additional role of CMO at Nortel in 1997. It was a tough transition.  I knew the language of marketing and business strategy since it was how I was educated and where I first worked,, but I found that I had to understand the technology much more than I did when I was just CMO.  I had come from the pharma industry and this was tough moving into high tech.  Being CCO was much easier since I was able to understand enough, but CMO really showed my ignorance of the granularities in the business.  It all really depends on how long one has been in the company and how deeply ingrained they are.  Jon Iwata and Christa Carone are two people who were “raised” in their corporations and have made a great transition.  They are both incredibly smart and have learned their companies along the way.  I was at Nortel just two years before my promotion. Being CMO is much harder than one thinks.  It is more hands-on and much more involved in the daily business than communications usually is.

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