All Hail the Unicorn

May 23, 2020

The modern day CMO has an impossible job. Part IT wizard, part Van Gogh, the CMO is expected to be a hyper-empath who can navigate tech while directing the next Apple “1984” commercial with ease. On one foot. Both ways in a snowstorm. And if they don’t succeed? Whop! Off with their head like Ned Stark in Game of Thrones.

The WFA (World Federation of Advertisers) has just released a fantastical study on the woes of the CMO. You can download it here.

I don’t envy any CMO. I have the opportunity to work with many of them, and my heart goes out because their success or failure more often has nothing to do with their individual pedigree or skillset but the length of rope provided them by their executive team and boards of directors. Unfortunately, that rope’s length has more to do with those people’s understanding of the modern marketplace. And let’s just be honest: the rope is short, especially during the pandemic. If a CMO’s investment strategy can’t deliver short term results, but the infrastructure within their organization is running through chicken-wire and chewing gum, well, it ain’t a’happenin’.

Under the best of times, the modern CMO has to be a unicorn, and the people who hire them don’t always know what exactly they’re asking for. Sure, there’s a generational shift happening in the CMO role, from the Boomer type whose career was bedazzled with industry awards from TV spots to the GenX CMO who is either as digital as their own kids or as befuddled by digital as his or her predecessor. But the CMO that’s desired by companies these days must have the business acumen of any other member of the C-Suite, hence some years of experience, the adroitness with technology as their CIO, and the creativity of any award-winning agency creative director, all packaged up tidy-like and ready to deliver.

There are about, oh, five of those people in the world. So good luck. Of course, you might expect I have a rather selfish view of all of this — I believe that for a bigly number of companies, the hybrid solution is a super gifted CMO along with an agency that has all the necessary technology infrastructure (DMP, data providers and analytic chops, ESP/CRM, DSP relationships) who can sit in the glassbox of creative together.

Until companies are willing to give their CMOs CIO-level tech budgets, this hybrid model seems to be the only insurance policy to success.


So, a funny thing has happened to us recently. For the first time in our 25 year history, linear television has crept into our media plans. Being a digital agency, broadcast TV just never makes the cut if we’re backing into some sort of cost-per-something. (Is that a CPS?) But today’s television market is depressed, making its costs low enough in some categories to be considered. AdAge had an excellent panel by others in the TV market uncovering the trends we’re seeing.


I usually try and keep this blog upbeat and full of hope. Unfortunately, Facebook’s new report on the impact of COVID-19 on small business is not that. But in honor of truthiness, I believe I have a responsibility to share the good, bad, and ugly. Just don’t blame me, OK? It’s Facebook. It’s always Facebook.