When times are tough and heads are on the chopping block or deadwood is being removed, marketing is among first (after HR) to be decapitated, axed, or trimmed. Why is that?

It's hard for Marketing to measure its value, especially compared with Sales or Engineering. We are also always in front of the rest of the company—thinking about broad-based, longer-term strategies—and not necessarily in touch with the twists and turns of the current economy.

Sometimes it can be good, in fact essential, to be thinking ahead, but it has got to be frustrating for the CEO to be struggling with making payroll or hitting the numbers for this quarter, and then get a presentation from Marketing about a great long-term opportunity or the latest milestone on a far-reaching (and expensive) ad campaign.

As a result, a lot of marketing jobs are being cut right now. And yet, right after marketing is laid off, I know that the CEO is likely to pick up the phone and hire a marketing consultant.

When I ask CEOs why they have set aside budget for outside consulting at the same time they are laying off marketing team members, they usually say two things:

  • The old marketing team wasn't creating enough value to be worth keeping. (In fact, many of the marketing teams I've seen aren't involved in the business's strategy.)
  • Now is when marketing is most important—companies need a focused, market-driven strategy to avoid wasting limited resources.

For most CEOs, good marketing is a bit like pornography—it's hard to define precisely, but they know it when they see it. Still, it's clear that one of the problems is that most CEOs cannot put their finger on what Marketing isn't getting done—but they can envision that nothing much would likely change if the whole marketing team were to disappear.

So, what's a CMO to do?

1. Stay informed about what's happening right now with the company

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Robbie Kellman Baxter is president of consulting firm Peninsula Strategies (www.peninsulastrategies.com).