The global pandemic is reshaping the way employees work and the structure of organizations. According to Forbes, roughly 36 million jobs have been lost since the lockdowns began in the U.S., and the University of Chicago believes 42% of these layoffs could become permanent.
Companies are questioning whether employees need to be in the office and which roles are necessary at all. With marketing budget reductions and layoffs, one role coming into question is the CMO. We asked industry leaders if fractional CMOs are a growing trend, what the advantages and disadvantages are, and which companies should consider hiring one?
Are Fractional CMOs on the Rise?
“I don't believe that the trend toward remote work necessarily has an impact on this decision,” said Alex Azoury, founder & CEO at Home Grounds. Whether a leader will be remote or in-person, there’s still a choice for any role to be part-time, temporary, or contract. “The difference is in the way the CMO will work with you and your team.”
That said, there may be more marketing leadership talent available due to the pandemic. “CMOs are among the casualties of businesses who have downsized or restructured their teams,” Azoury explained. This could make it easier to find a fractional CMO that’s a good organizational fit for those companies thinking about experimenting.
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The Pros and Cons of a Fractional CMO
For companies on the fence about experimenting with a fractional CMO, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of hiring one.
Pro: Limited Commitment
“Fractional CMOs can provide some of the needed guidance of a full-time CMO without the salary burden of a full-time CMO,” said Nate Nead, CEO of SEO.co. When they’re hired, fractional CMOs typically have a certain number of hours per week for a set amount of time, which is usually less costly than the salary, benefits, and other perks given to full-time executives. “In some cases,” he continued, “fractional CMO contracts can be started and paused, depending on the needs of the company.” He believes this flexibility allows companies to mitigate the risks of external events like the global pandemic or a poor economy.
Con: Negative Revelations
Companies that hire a fractional CMO will need to be prepared to accept constructive criticism in order to get the most from the relationship. “A fractional CMO is not hired to please everyone,” Azoury warned, “even you.” They may have suggestions to improve your team, business strategy, or processes that are difficult to accept and could cause tensions. That said, Azoury added, “It's important to remember that they've had broad experience across a range of verticals, “so their advice and opinions are worth consideration.”
Pro: Fresh Perspective
“When you're working closely with your marketing team,” Azoury said, “it's not unusual to miss ways to improve your strategy.” You could have gaps in your brand messaging or outdated methodologies that aren’t immediately obvious. A fractional CMO has an experienced and fresh perspective and may not be afraid to point out flaws that you’ve failed to notice. “Identifying and implementing a solution for even one aspect of your marketing strategy,” explained Azoury, “may provide an ROI that more than covers the cost of your CMO's salary.”
Con: Lack of Cohesion
While an external CMO can bring a fresh perspective to the organization, they’re still an outsider. “Your existing team may find this disruptive or question why this is necessary,” Azoury said. Without discussing the idea with staff members first, they could be annoyed by an outsider dictating how they operate. “Once they understand that this is a temporary situation,” Azoury explained, “and that the goal is to benefit them and the business as a whole, your team should see this as an opportunity to learn and grow.”
Companies That Should Consider a Fractional CMO
“The decision has to take into account factors such as size of the business, state of the business, and how your other teams are aligned to the marketing team,” said Prayukth K V, head of marketing, IoT division of Subex. For example, a startup may hire a fractional CMO until they grow enough to justify a full-time CMO while a more established business may not want to downsize their CMO role.
Fractional CMOs are also flexible, so companies can choose which tasks they oversee. “A fractional CMO is qualified to take on many roles within your marketing department,” Azoury explained, “but you may not need them to do everything.” For companies with specific goals or deliverables, such as improving marketing operations or overhauling the brand’s image, hiring an outside CMO on a temporary basis could make sense.
“There is much uncertainty in the market already,” Prayukth K V concluded, “and this might not be the time to try something this radical.” But with remote work and flexible work arrangements trending, fractional executive roles may be just around the corner.