New Reality for Marketers

It’s a new world for marketing leaders

In my more than three decades as an executive recruiter in the field of marketing, I have never seen employers facing such tumultuous times. There has been more change and uncertainty crammed into the past six months than many organizations experienced in the previous 5 years. It wasn’t long ago, in early January, when the stock market was at all time highs. Covid was waning. Rising inflation was seen as “transitory”. There was an abundance of talent to fill key openings, there was hope that supply chains would soon loosen up, and surveys showed executives were generally optimistic about the coming year.

That has all been flipped on its head.

Those in the C-suite now suddenly have lots of worries to keep them up at night, not the least of which is out of control inflation the likes of which few have ever experienced during their entire working careers.

Those at the top are truly on the hot seat.

Against this backdrop, the C-suite is under unrelenting pressure by their Boards, stakeholders and investors to reset and recharge. Top operators have responded by pulling all the levers to do just that: They’ve reduced expensive office space, they’ve cut or paused other operating expenses, they’re filling only those openings that they see as mission critical to the business, they’ve even eliminated perks that were used as inducements to attract star talent. Board members are becoming more involved in operational decisions. Two of my clients, just this year, needed Board approval to make offers above the pay range for Director-level candidates, something almost unheard of just a few years ago.

If it’s true that business leaders are only as good as the caliber of talent they entrust with key pieces of the business, then those department heads are going to have to up their game. That applies especially to marketers who will be forced to adapt faster.

New Reality for Marketers

All of this adds up to a new reality for marketers: We’re about to enter a new phase that will create new winners and losers. A recent spate of high profile executive departures provides the proof that the tide is turning (according to the executive search firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the number of CEO’s who left their posts at the beginning of this year was up a whopping 40% from the year before).  Who will be the winners?  One group will be senior marketing candidates with solid track records of introducing new ideas and concepts that helped take former employers to higher levels of business success.  You say that’s always been a highly sought after attribute?  It has. But not in an unprecedented environment like we’re in now. For marketers, the days of pre-COVID are truly in the rear view mirror.

The message is clear: Business owners are facing enormous challenges. They need all the help they can get. Now is a great time for marketers to step up.

Contrary to what many may think, the days of in-office marketing teams are not waning. For lower-level individual contributor roles, the need for proximity and in-person collaboration and ideation is less critical than at the more senior leadership level. But Presidents and CEO’s, who themselves for the most part remained on-site, are going to need more than just virtual communications with their senior executives in order to win.

What does this mean for marketers? The future will open up for marketing visionaries who thrive in environments of ambiguity, and just as importantly, who also believe in the importance of in-person leadership. I’ve had a front row seat for more than three decades watching thousands of marketers advance their careers across businesses big and small, some rising from entry level coordinators all the way to CMO’s. I know what it takes to attain the status of marketing “rock star” in today’s marketing world. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t see how you build a highly impactful marketing career by being inflexible and insisting on always working at home.  I have written a lot over the years about the importance of flexibility in the modern marketing workplace. That is more important now than ever. Employers are looking for that, in all aspects of your work.

Bottom line: We are witnessing a strategic inflection point in the evolution of marketing.  C-levels have spent this year prioritizing and optimizing everywhere they can to position their organizations for the next phase of growth post-Covid. Their owners, Boards and stakeholders have demanded it.  They’re telling me that their growing businesses need a new level of marketing direction.  The message is clear: Those who drive business results (sales, revenue, customer acquisition, etc.) will be more highly valued than those solely focused on marketing metrics (clicks, opens, etc.). Multi-industry background will be valued more than ever as business leaders and owners look for novel solutions and breakthroughs. Digital expertise will only get you so far-  communications and branding will be essential skills.  Owners want marketers who can build relationships and talk the talk with their C-level peers  in a presence-together environment.

Are you ready for this?

Jerry Bernhart

Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC


Post Category: New Reality for Marketers