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The C-suite of the future


A changing industry requires a changing business model. What does this mean for the marketing industry? Here's a look at the ways in which leadership roles have begun to change, what all of these new titles really mean, and predictions for what's to come.

The focus will be on people

Cathy Lang, global client officer, Epsilon 

The marketing industry is undergoing a significant change. Traditional agency models are no longer the norm, with holding companies buying technology companies and large global consultancies purchasing creative shops. The C-suite is evolving to meet these changes, which is why you see key roles emerging like chief client officer (CCO) and chief people officer (CPO). The former allows agencies to operate in large, matrixed organizations while remaining laser focused on clients. For a business run predominantly by its people and their skills, CPOs are crucial to ensure focus on a very diverse group of employees. With our industry's dependence on digital channels and platforms, I believe we'll continue to see a whole new breed of digital titles emerge in the C-suite as well.

Technology will allow roles to constantly adjust

Reid Carr, president and CEO, Red Door Interactive 

One of the biggest shifts I see taking place is in how technology enables all areas of the business. The rate of change in technology is increasing every day, but it isn't always focused on the major systems in the business, but rather in smaller applications that affect smaller groups of people. Therefore, companies need to continuously evaluate how technology can empower their people independently and/or create efficiencies in every area of the business not just in product development, major systems or in marketing.

So, while CTOs are nearly ubiquitous, or even chief marketing technologists in some businesses, I expect that one or both of these roles will adjust in the near future. Someone will be responsible for evaluating how employees use technology in their daily work and they will apply micro-instances of technology that are customized person by person or role-by-role. For instance, they may deploy artificial intelligence for some tasks, or recommend extensions and plug-ins to support work for others.

Outside consultants will play a larger role

Peter Platt, president, PSquared Digital

The C-Suite of the future is going to be a much more dynamic group. We're going to lose the "I" and "T" titles as information and technology become automatic and a non-issue. "Operations" and "finance" will stay in place at the helm, with vision coming from the "executive." They'll all be expected to understand the technology in the same way that very few people understand motors -- but we all drive cars and get around with ease. It'll be nice to see "finance" having a stronger role, as more and more companies will be held accountable to bottom line instead of relying on venture funding ideas. We'll see some other titles in the C-suite going forward -- but those will be dependent on the industry. We'll also see a larger array of consultants acting as resources with practical skills needed for the business vision -- that will likely not be on payroll, but rather brought in to deliver as needed. Now, of course, I've left off the CMO role…sales and marketing will continue to battle and it'll likely be operations and executive roles who drive direction here.

People will work beyond their titles

J. Barbush, VP, creative social media director, RPA Advertising

Titles are necessary, but constrictive. The best people work above and below their titles, while others hide behind them or use them as a weapon. You don't earn respect based on your title, you earn respect by giving respect. Our agency is people-first, and titles are used for business cards and not much else. Otherwise, they become divisive, exclusionary, and prevent collaboration. Everyone at an agency knows the food chain, and those who feel the need to assert a title are not strong leaders.

People today need to be multi-dimensional, and take on a wider range of sometimes divergent responsibilities. Because of that, some get hung up on naming a duty that never existed. Often times, they end up with inflated job titles that are hard to take seriously.

Management styles will adapt to a new corporate culture

Kent Lewis, president, Anvil Media 

The C-suite has changed significantly in the past 10-20 years. In my experience, the roles have flattened and began to overlap, as silos break down due largely to technology. For example, chief marketing officers (CMOs) now have larger technology budgets than chief technology/information officers in many larger organizations. The cost of marketing technology has increased along with functionality, but keeping up with the evolving marketplace has proven challenging for many CMOs. Forward-thinking brands are also investing in chief data officers to understand efficacy of sales, marketing, and customer service processes and tools.
Another evolution is a focus internally on corporate culture and externally on the customer. This is perhaps the most refreshing evolution in the C-suite. Chief customer/commercial officers (CCOs) are responsible for the complete customer experience, from the start of the journey to the finish. Similarly, the chief cultural office is tasked with evolving from a traditional HR role to a focus on creating a remarkable and sticky work environment. Perhaps the best example of a strong corporate culture transcending HR into its own recruitment and marketing tool is Zappos. Regardless, in the future, quality customers and employees will be scarce, so these roles will only increase in importance.

Lastly, another key change in the C-suite level is management styles and behaviors, driven in part by the growing Millennial workforce. For example, C-suite members are learning to be less objective-setting sage and more inquisitive and a connector. The role has become more fluid and dynamic in nature. It's no longer about having all the answers, but being able to ask pointed questions that lead to inspiration, insights and solutions.

Strategic tension will drive innovation and stability

Jim Nichols, VP marketing, Apsalar 

Right now, there are essentially two "models" for the CMO in large organizations. One is CMO as leader of the marketing team. The other is CMO as change agent, driving innovation across the organization. Over time, I think the "change-agent CMOs" will be rebranded as chief customer officers, performing as the core advocates for customer needs. They will be responsible for both envisioning and defining the overarching customer engagement model, and for privacy issues as they arise. CMOs will be marketing leader/managers, responsible for the creative, data, and measurement infrastructure. Further, it will be far more common for CMOs to have math or computer science backgrounds than today, to reflect the elevation of customer data as primary marketing currency. In a few years, when brands have their core data apparatus fully implemented, the roles may again converge.

While one might think that the CTO and IT organizations could define and implement the data infrastructures instead of tech savvy CMOs, I believe companies will be best served by "strategic tension" -- between a tech team focused on security and homeostasis/stability, and a marketing tech team pushing for innovative collection and use of data. By tension, I don't mean a hostile relationship, but rather one where both sides of the data challenge are represented at the highest levels of a company.

The CEO will become the conductor

Mark Naples, managing partner, WIT Strategy

As interactive specifically and marketing as a whole becomes more fragmented and complicated, C-suite leaders have to rely on those with the specialization more and more. The best, most effective leaders have always been those who can enable specialists around them to thrive. But that will become even truer as our industry continues to evolve. It's not just about the CMO getting closer to the CIO or CTO, as has been covered pretty much everywhere. It's about the CEO becoming more of a conductor, who enables each musical section to work together harmoniously.

C-suite leaders will get in the trenches with their employees

Charlie Ray, president, Broad Street Co. 

What it means to be an executive has changed dramatically since the time I first sat in the CEO's office on the top floor of the building. By the time I became a C-level executive that ivory tower with a gatekeeper out front was long gone. I think that's for the best, because today the CEO isn't isolated. In my case, I'm in the trenches with my team and we're working collaboratively in ways that CEOs have never done before. I think this is critical to our success. Business changes quickly today and we have to be strategic and tactical every day.

We don't get hung up on titles anymore. Everybody does everything these days and contributes to our success. CEOs are no longer this oracle in a big office protected from the day-to-day crises that unravel and are only consulted on the big decisions. CEOs today have to be involved and constantly working on behalf of their clients. The advertising agency of today is under attack from every direction: vendors going direct, new startup agencies with smart people calling on clients, clients taking things in-house -- and that's not including shrinking margins and new technology to learn. If the CEO isn't navigating all of these things then the agency is going to lose clients and talent. While I may be a tiny bit jealous I never got to have the giant office with two assistants and a martini lunch at the club, I am inspired and motivated every day as I get to interact with my team in ways my father never did.

Feature leaders will need to be knowledgeable in all areas

Jay Friedman, COO, Goodway Group

Rising within an organization has typically been determined and/or limited by a two-dimensional scale. One dimension is "zoom range," or zoom into details yet quickly and accurately zoom out to see broader ramifications. The second has been "horizon" or the length of time over which someone can foresee impact and change. Of course EQ, IQ, and other factors play into it, but I've found zoom range and horizon to typically limit more quickly than other factors. While it's historically been important for great leaders to be able to weave knowledge of finance, marketing, manufacturing, sales, and other disciplines together, this has not been a common limiter because there are many who could do it.

This is changing with the addition of technology and the sifted play-doh human/machine combination we now deal with. "Technological weaving" ability is now a legitimate potential limiter for aspiring C-suite executives. The human/machine recipes and the technologies that drive them change every day. A CMO must not only understand what tech can and can't do, a CMO needs to have a relatively strong understanding of how and why the tech does what it does. Blending this ability with a powerful zoom range and solid horizon is a major enabler for leaders at Amazon, Tesla, Apple, and many other high market-valued companies. It's also rare, and will require us to think differently about how we train our future leaders.

Executives will surround themselves with specialists

Ruairi McGuckin, managing partner, West Coast, Fetch

Most digital-savvy brands and agencies have been slightly ahead of the curve for some years now, but it wasn't always this way. Agency leadership has shifted to adapt to these trends and ensure they're ahead of the game. Enter the chief digital officer (CDO). The CDO is one of the newer titles to enter the C-suite. He or she is typically a strategic appointment by agencies or brands who need to pivot. It's his or her job to take the company in the right direction and often times create new revenue streams.

The problem is that, today, there is always a new digital specialist needed, for when new technologies emerge and future trends change the direction we were all heading just 12 months ago. Emerging media tends to be a catch-all term for the newest and not yet fully explored. Depending on where you sit, this can be the responsibility of one CDO or many specialists -- search, social, video, mobile, and programmatic specialists, to name a few. It's becoming extremely difficult to be an expert in all areas of emerging technology, often spreading the "digital guy" too thin.

An additional consideration that will also increase in importance over time, is whether or not you need a CPO (Chief Product Officer) to manage your suite of specialists that focus on various forms of product technology.

There you have it -- the modern agency cannot truly be "full service" unless you have a full team who can build it, advertise it, measure it, report on it, and so on and so forth. We're moving toward a C-suite that covers it all, but the question now is how many specialists do you need to handle the additional workload, keeping you at the front of the race?

Companies will be ready to change direction at any time

Doug Robinson, CEO, FreshDigitalGroup

The C-suite of the future must possess a multifaceted skill set including strong strategic skills based around the consumer, and a focus on the creative that drives this. The consumer is in control, and they influence the decisions we make day-to-day. Due to the nature of technology, we don't know what the future holds. Technology is moving so fast, and the opportunities are so vast, that it's critical for CEOs to know when and how to adjust to the new speed of information flying around and drive insights -- or else their company will continue to play catch-up.

All businesses need to be multidisciplinary to understand consumers and data, then take insights that drive their success metrics. So this also means that companies need to be able to pivot very quickly with the new data. At small companies it's not about a few people with titles, it's about a core group of people who know how to get the job done.

Divisions within the company will focus on right and left-brain tasks

Adam Kleinberg, CEO, Traction

The marketing landscape has fundamentally changed, so the C-Suite will inevitable change as well. Marketing used to sit in silos: advertising, PR, digital, etc. In today's advanced marketing world, one might expect a new set of silos like content and mobile, but that is not the case.

The new marketing landscape now includes two very distinct turfs - -call them "brand" and "commerce." The brand side includes advertising, as always, but has a broadened purview that includes the entire customer experience across every consumer touch point. This includes product innovation. It includes customer service and delivery. It even includes culture. And of course, it includes advertising.

The commerce side is also broader because it includes not just the marketing of products and services, but in many cases the sales of those products, and the harnessing of the business processes, technology and data that are empowering this in organizations today.

There's a lot of overlap here -- great customer experience, for example, requires leveraging technology and data to make that experience personal and relevant. At my agency, Traction, we have a chief of creative and a chief of technology. Perhaps enterprises of the world will evolve to emulate agencies like mine to maximize the left-side and right-side of their business brains.

Becca is currently an editor at iMedia Connection, as well as a freelance entertainment writer for ScreenPicks.com and The Televixen. In the past, she has worked as a social media/community manager at SEO Savvy, Empower Digital, and Mahalo. ...

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