CMO’s Challenges: An Interview with PwC Consulting’s Pina Sciarra


By Andrew Grenville, Chief Research Officer, Maru/Matchbox

It’s tough being a CMO. They have an enormous mandate, are required to stay on top of a rapidly changing toolkit and have very little time in which to make their mark. Are Canada’s marketers keeping up with the pace of change? That’s the question we set out to answer with a recent survey of more than 100 Canadian CMOs and senior-level marketing decision makers. Together, APEX Public Relations, ruckus digital and Maru/Blue launched CMO Lab™, a research-driven project to equip senior-level marketers with the insights they need to help their organizations succeed.

The CMO Lab whitepaper entitled Are Canada’s marketers keeping up with the pace of change? set the stage by saying “After a decades-long journey, CMOs have finally earned a seat at the executive table and an expanded mandate that goes beyond brand communications and includes data and insights, customer experience, culture, corporate reputation and new technologies. As a result, the Chief Marketing Officer has become one of the most influential roles in an organization.

For CMOs, increased influence comes with increased expectations and the knowledge that the tactics and strategies that helped them earn their seat at the table won’t necessarily be the same as the ones that will keep them there. To succeed in today’s environment, CMOs and their teams must be open to change and incorporating new strategies and tactics into their marketing approach.”

The report continued: “We hypothesized that marketers would be ahead of the curve in embracing an integrated approach to marketing communication across all channels and audiences, but what we found was that the vast majority of marketers are resisting change, continuing to rely on conventional tactics and the status quo.”

Given the challenges they face, it is disconcerting that CMOs are continuing to rely on traditional methods. To better understand why that is and the kinds of challenges CMOs face, we spoke to PwC Consulting Managing Director Pina Sciarra, who runs their CMO Advisory. 

What are you hearing are the biggest challenges facing CMOs today?

Sciarra: At the top of the heap is improving the consumer and customer experience. The bar for what represents a great experience just keeps getting higher and higher. To deliver a great experience CMOs need to know their customer intimately—their wants, needs, and rituals. And they need to leverage the right technology—including AI—to reach people in authentic and personal ways. They also need to do it at the right time, with the right offer and the right message.

Secondly, we are hearing a lot about the need for greater innovation and getting to market faster. We are also hearing it is a challenge to find the skilled talent needed, especially in the more technical areas of marketing analytics and managing sensitive customer data. All of this is happening in a time when there is intense pressure to do more with less, and to prove the ROI of marketing activity. Its not easy being a CMO.

Why do you think it is that CMOs, on average, have the shortest tenure of anyone in the C-Suite?

Sciarra: Today’s consumer-centric CMO is often tasked with transformation that requires a set of leadership skills and competencies that are not always well understood by the rest of the members of the C-suite.  In addition, we are seeing that the incoming CMO can struggle to get organizational alignment for his or her ideas. Both these conditions can make it very hard to succeed.

Why do you think the study found “the vast majority of marketers are resisting change, continuing to rely on conventional tactics and the status quo”?

Sciarra: Given the often-short tenure of a CMO, there is a tight time horizon for that CMO to have an impact. The CMO has maybe one good shot at building impactful brand or product strategies. And it takes 12-18 months to show true and sustained impact. This is not exactly conducive to taking risks, and deviating from what the CMO knows from their last role. This tends to perpetuate the status quo and more conventional tactics.

While I believe CMOs want to try new and different approaches, she or he might not feel they have the support from the CEO and the rest of the C-Suite to take a risk. More importantly, are we providing the right training and opportunities for marketers to evolve?

We work with CMOs that are often stuck with this challenge. What they find really helpful is working with our CMO Advisory panel that offers a peer-to-peer approach—giving CMOs access to CMOs that have recently had similar challenges. This produces a rapid fire approach to identifying problems and finding solutions. 

It’s tough to be a CMO. To learn more about how CMOs are managing, download the CMO Lab whitepaper and contact us.

InsightsMonica Low