‘A boardroom seat shouldn’t be a marketer's ultimate ambition’

The Co-operative Group’s decision to remove its group marketing director from its board was met with criticism from many in the industry who claimed it was a retrograde step. There is, however a body of opinion in the industry that a position in the boardroom should not necessarily be the ultimate ambition for a marketer. 

Boardroom CMO

Marketers should not necessarily aspire to sit on a company’s PLC board, it has been suggested.

The Co-op announced last week marketing boss Gill Barr will be stood down from her role on its management board.  

Barr will now take direction from the Co-op’s chief external affairs officer Nick Folland on marketing strategy. He will be responsible for ensuring that the group communicates in a more joined up way, whether it is speaking to Co-op members, staff or customers.

Barr maintains her role as marketing director and will be responsible for ensuring that senior marketers in the company’s business areas – which include insurance, food, pharmacy and funeral care – communicate The Co-op’s brand positioning.

A spokesperson says the changes have the potential to strengthen the Co-op’s focus on marketing and are recognition that it must communicate its vision, purpose and attributes in a more joined up way.

The Co-op’s decision was seen by many Marketing Week readers as relegation for the discipline. It also came in the same week as a report by IBM that appeared to find marketing wielding greater power in the boardroom, with almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of chief executives increasingly calling on marketers for their input on business strategy, second to chief financial officers (72 per cent). 

However, many marketers believe talk of reaching the boardroom detracts from what should be the goal of marketers: marketing. 

Anne Godfrey, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, says the key concern for marketers is not getting a seat in the boardroom but gaining influence. 

She says: “Frustrations about boardroom roles rarely feature in conversations we have with CMOs today. Instead we debate the influence, credibility and right of marketing to be part of the big conversations about growth.  

“As long as professional marketers have access and influence at board level, and bring the voice of the customer to the decision making process, then the company will benefit. There may be occasions when sitting at an executive table could distract from delivering real value. “

Kristof Fahy, CMO of William Hill, says there is confusion over what being on the board actually means. 

He believes marketers should not necessarily aspire to a listed company’s PLC board – led by the chairman and made up of executive and non-executive directors, but should be represented on the company’s executive where key decisions are made. 

“Marketing should be represented because it’s one of the key drivers of business growth and should be and opinion in the key business decisions,” Fahy adds.

Readers' comments (7)

  • If a board is supposed to provide strategic direction(hence 'directors') and an organisation is supposed to serve it's actual and potential customers, the marketing director should be there to ensure customer focus & guidance for whole board and hence the organisation.

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  • Marketers SHOULD be in the boardroom. And SHOULD be running the company.

    Marketing is not just advertising, direct mail and other promotional tools, it is everything about the company.

    Every decision made, internal or external will effect the marketing of the brand. If a new deal is struck with a external supplier, how will that effect the internal customer and in turn effect the external customer.

    I could go on forever, but at the end of the day, marketing is a company.

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  • ROI is the key. Many boards still believe "Marketing spends ;Selling earns!"

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  • In the 21st century Marketing (cap M) is the key business tool for brands, or any business for that matter. You can make the best 'stuff' in the world, but if you can't sell it...

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  • Not having a marketer on your board is like the England side deciding not to take any midfielders to Brazil this summer - they build, create and not infrequently, score goals too.

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  • Directors provide direction, which is what a BoD gives any organisation. People at that level, one would hope, can manage multiple tasks, so I am totally staggered that ambition to be a voice at the table, would be termed a "distraction".

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  • The Economist's new book: "Marketing for Growth" shows why and how Marketers can drive commercial growth

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