CEOs with a marketing background have a better overall reputation than business leaders from nearly all other areas, including those with a background in finance, engineering and economics, according to new research.

Marketing CEOs have an overall reputation score of 8.32, according to the data from Brand Finance as part of its Top 100 Brand Guardians Index. This puts marketer CEOs ahead of those with a background in finance (8.21), engineering (8.19), computer science (7.89) and economics (7.80).

When it comes to overall reputation, marketer CEOs come second only to those with a background in law who have a score of 8.58.

Compared to CEOs from other backgrounds, former marketers score particularly well on being socially responsible and promoting diversity and inclusion (both 42%).

This compares to CEOs with a background in law, where just 36% of former lawyers understand the importance of being socially responsible, as well as finance (39%), engineering (38%), economics (33%) and computer science (30%). The global average for CEOs on promoting diversity and inclusion, meanwhile, is 34%.

Marketers have a great advantage in that they can provide an insight-led vision of the future, but they can also describe how we’re going to get there.

Ash Schofield, Giffgaff

Marketer CEOs also score highly by comparison when it comes to implementing a strong strategy and long-term vision (44%). Only finance CEOs score higher at 45%.

Likewise former marketers come near the top when it comes to understanding the importance of brand and reputation for the organisation (44%), just behind finance CEOs on 46% and economics CEOs on 45%.

Former CMO Ash Schofield took over as CEO of Giffgaff in 2018. He argues there has never been a better time for marketers to transition into general management.

“Marketers have a great advantage in that they can provide an insight-led vision of the future, but they can also describe how we’re going to get there. If you can do that, you’re valued because you’re solving problems for a business,” he told Marketing Week in December.

“People in marketing have got a great opportunity to make themselves indispensable, but they’ve got to inject themselves into the core challenges of the business and they need to help the rest of the C-suite see where they can continuously transition to where they want to be.”

Rally the troops

One of the reasons marketer CEOs do so well is because 81% of the CEOs analysed for the report were appointed from a position within the organisation, according to Brand Finance associate Annie Brown.

“It’s recognised that CEOs need to have a well-established network inside their company and that’s a step ahead for them versus an outsider being recruited in,” she explains. “But the other side of stakeholder management that marketers are really good at is understanding customers and other external stakeholders, which CEOs of other backgrounds may not necessarily understand as well.”

Former CMOs to take on the top position in recent years include Kerry Foods’ Nick Robinson, First Direct’s Chris Pitt and Eve Sleep’s Cheryl Calverley, all of whom worked within the business as a marketer prior to being appointed CEO.

Brown adds: “Marketers have a lot more expertise in understanding how you create messaging to address those stakeholders and also in understanding ways to measure those different stakeholders’ opinions.”

She believes this is one of the reasons marketer CEOs are perceived as more reputable in general.

Based on the average reputation of marketers and their performance on other scores we do think there is a marginal preference or advantage to being from a marketing background.

Annie Brown, Brand Finance

Just 10% of the top 100 CEOs are from a marketing background, but this is up from 6% in 2019 when the study was first carried out. And Brown suggests the number could continue to rise given the strong performance of those already in position. The global average for CEOs’ overall reputation is 7.90, compared to a score of 8.32 for marketers.

“Based on the average reputation of marketers and their performance on other scores we do think there is a marginal preference or advantage to being from a marketing background, which may boost those marketing background CEOs into the top 100 in future,” adds Brown.

Positively, marketer CEOs are not the only business leaders who understand the value of investing in marketing. While 47% of marketer CEOs appreciate the importance of marketing investment, the same percentage of CEOs from economics and engineering backgrounds agree, and 48% of those with a career in computer science suggest they value marketing.

The fact CEOs across the board see the value of marketing, brand and reputation for the organisation is another sign companies may increasingly look to marketers to take on the top role.

“It reinforces our confidence that individuals from a marketing background are more likely to become CEOs in future because the topic of brand reputation and marketing has been elevated and is more respected alongside the other key pillars of business management,” she says.

“Marketer CEOs outperform most on social good attributes, so rather than just being seen as standing for marketing they’re standing for a greater purpose. Perhaps that is them understanding what stakeholders and consumers are looking for in the future. But they really outperform on being seen as socially responsible and therefore perform well on perceptions of having a strong strategy and long-term vision.”

Brown adds: “Ultimately, the role of the CEO is to generate a financial return for the company in the long term and it seems like marketing CEOs are doing that well.”

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