When I took my first marketing director position in a law firm in 1987 (I know! A million years ago.), the function and position were so new, no one was measuring average tenure of senior marketers. Five years later when I moved to another firm to take its top spot, grumblings about the short tenure of senior marketers started to surface. By the mid-1990s, dissatisfaction was on the rise – among the marketing professionals filled with hope and promise who were racing to these jobs only to receive a lukewarm reception, and among law firm leaders whose lofty expectations were consistently unmet.
This was before we held CMO titles and before "marketing" morphed into a department with additional people and processes. Firms had no marketing infrastructure – heck, we didn't even have websites yet. And few were talking about business development or sales.
Throughout the 1990s and well into the 2000s, the average tenure of CMOs in corporate America was just under two years. This resulted in well documented frustration among the CEOs, CFOs and COOs in those companies who were hiring and firing them. Marketing Officers were getting a bum rap. In 2004, Spencer Stuart published an oft-cited study that had the CMO tenure in corporations at 23.6 months. Once we started measuring, we learned that law firm marketers averaged 1.5 – 1.9 years during this same period of time.
Spencer Stuart updated its study in 2010 and the average tenure leapt to 42 months, a big improvement, but still way behind the tenure of CEOs at the top 100 advertised brands. CEOs last 111 months (9.25 years).
As an aside, Spencer Stuart publishes research and other studies about CMOs and marketing trends that are very helpful: http://www.spencerstuart.com/articlesearch.aspx?PageID=602&keywords=&category=20®ion=-1&publishdate=ALL
There are well known CMOs (and now CBDOs and CSOs – Chief Strategy Officers) in the legal industry who have been at their firms for years – many have served ten or more. It's challenging staying put – I learned years ago that it's hard being a prophet in your own land. But there are many more stories about disastrous hires, abbreviated tenures, dashed hopes and unmet expectations – from both the marketers and the law firms.
To understand today's average tenure of law firm Chiefs, I queried several executive recruiters and market researchers who serve the legal industry. Last August – November, 2011, ALM Legal Intelligence and the Legal Marketing Association conducted a compensation survey, which also determined the marketers' tenure at their law firms. In a universe of 429 firms with 100+ lawyers in the U.S. and Canada, 197 marketers responded to the survey.
Sue Stock Allison, managing director of Brand Research Company, led the survey and is the primary contact for it. Here is what she said:
For heads of marketing, there were 11 senior titles (not all Chiefs) – but 28% were CMOs, 4% were CBDOs, 3% were a combination CMO/CBDO. This group had been in their jobs for an average of 4.9 years (4 years was the median). The largest percentage, 49%, had been in their positions for 2-5 years. 20% of the Chiefs had been in their positions 6-10 years and 11% had held their jobs for 11+ years.
In a different 2011 study conducted by Eva Wisnik, President of Wisnik Career Enterprises, she found that the average tenure of Chiefs at their firms was 6.3 years. Wisnik and Allison both found that Chiefs have been at their firms longer than non-chief positions. Wisnik reported 4.7 years for managers and 5.9 years for directors, and Allison found that non-Chiefs had been in their positions an average of 4.6 years.
Based on these data, law firm CMOs are tracking better than their comrades in corporate America – by several years. This is an interesting fact for those firm leaders who are seeking talent outside the legal industry, believing they will get fresher, better ideas. While it's impossible to compare the marketing life in a corporation to a law firm, it is important to note that the corporate marketers are not lasting as long in their positions as the legal marketers are.
The longer tenures of Chiefs bode well for Amlaw 200 and 100 firms that are conducting CMO/CBDO/C– searches today. On the one hand, these professionals are proven contributors in their current firms, making hiring them a lower risk endeavor. But on the other hand, their satisfaction in their current positions may make it harder to lure them away. Competition for the best talent is stiffer than ever – the cream of our industry has definitely risen to the top.
Chiefs who have proven success in the legal industry care about more than money – although to compete, a high salary is imperative. They want to make demonstrable contributions to top line revenue, the profits of the firm and help lawyers enjoy their client relationships more. These proven professionals have already earned their "seat at the table." They are participating in the most sensitive and strategic discussions in their law firms.
And that's how it should be.