Agencies Hiring Their Own Chief Marketing Officers

Heads up. There’s a client in the building.

According to Dirct Marketing News:

Several shops recently appointed their first marketing chiefs, among them Draftfcb, which named Debra Coughlin, previously CMO and EVP at Citigroup’s Citi Cards unit, to the position this spring. 

“Agencies are terrific about helping clients develop their brands, but not always terrific about monitoring, developing and guiding their own brands,” explained Coughlin, who reports directly to Draftfcb CEO and president Laurence Boschetto. She also works closely with the worldwide creative lead, she said, “because that is our product in the marketplace.” She added that she is mostly involved with winning new business.

Marian Salzman, CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America, who served in a CMO role at JWT, explained there’s a simple reason more agencies are tapping marketing chiefs: “We’re all hanging onto growth by our dear fingers.” The CMO role, Salzman said, means that someone is “out there always driving growth more objectively” on behalf of the agency.

Another role that needs filling inside of agencies (and client organizations) is Chief Content Officer (CCO).

Joe Pulizzi, Executive Director of the Content Marketing Institute, highlights the struggle:

Positioning a Chief Content Officer to take control of the brand story is going to take a while. I’ve recently talked to two Fortune 50 CMOs that are trying to find a solution for this.

They know this is important. It’s important in order to communicate effectively with our customers and prospects. It’s important because if we want to talk to customers like human beings we have to all get on the same page. But, yes, it’s going to hurt. Why? One word: politics.

Both instances above point to the fundamental changes underfoot in agencies, and marketing in general. In the case of agency CMOs, it also points to the well documented weakness most agencies have when it comes to promoting their own brand. Interestingly, it’s a problem CCOs can help CMOs solve.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Steffan Postaer says:

    Maybe not so new, David. I’d say many agencies have used CMO’s, yet they used to be called Directors of New Business, or some such.

  2. Have any of these agency CMOs been effective? Just asking. BTW, remember when an agency’s brand was essentially written by the work it produced? Now we’re appointing hucksters to hype the hucksters. Brilliant.

    • I’m glad you brought up the agency portfolio question, because I don’t think showing your work is enough at this point. Agencies cover too much ground today to neatly summarize things in a sizzle real. For instance, imagine you need to show Coca-Cola your agency’s social media listening skills…a TV reel (or any display of creative product) is the wrong tool for the job.

      Clients need to see the big picture and get an understanding of how an agency works and what type of results they’ve brought to past and current clients. The agency reel or portfolio is a great place to start, for it gives a prospective client a good clue, but that’s about all. There are at least  five or six more boxes to check before a deal gets done.

      • I typed: BTW, remember when an agency’s brand was essentially written by the work it produced?

        I did not mean to imply that only encompassed a portfolio and reel at all. I meant the work, which would include the stuff you mentioned.

        Sorry, but these CMOs – and yes, I’ve seen some of them in action – are bullshit artists. You win business and grow business by producing outstanding work, not by talking about it. Honestly, what has Draftfcb done lately? Or JWT? I’m guessing Coughlin landed her gig because Draftfcb leaders figured she had connections to potential clients. It was not about “selling the brand” – otherwise, she’d be fucked. Ditto Salzman. She’s a research planner who labels herself a trendspotter. And I’m fairly certain both women are clueless outside of the traditional advertising world. Again, it would be great to see the results of the con artistry.