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A version of this article originally was published at Texas Enterprise.

Marketing executives have an image problem, and it begins with the very definition of "CMO."

"There are three basic types of marketing people in an organization, and where the CMO fits in depends a lot on the viewpoint of the CEO," says Vijay Mahajan, a marketing professor at The University of Texas at Austin's McCombs School of Business. "You've got Marketing, Sales, and Communications. They are not all the same, obviously. How the CMO is positioned within the organization has a tremendous impact on his or her power to influence major decisions in the firm."

Mahajan defines CMO power as the ability to influence allocation of resources and other major strategic decisions within the top management team. "It isn't just about leadership style or personal strength," he says. "I've seen smart, dynamic executives falter in the CMO position when the job itself isn't structured for power."

Pete Hayes, principal and CMO at Chief Outsiders, agrees. "We see CMOs get stuck in a pure communications role versus one that is at the heart of the business," Hayes says. "If you are just talking about products that are developed, it is only a shiny veneer, and the rest of the organization won't value that."

Indeed, failure seems to infect the CMO suite, with the average tenure of chief marketing officers being less than two years, according to a much-discussed study by Spencer Stuart in 2004.

The Case for a Strong CMO

A powerful CMO makes for good business, according to Mahajan. "You must have a CMO on the top management team, because that is your consumer advocate, the one looking at the long-term health of the company," he says. Give the CMO power over strategic decisions, he argues, including a direct tie to revenue generation.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Wenger is communications director of The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business ;and author of the popular branding blog ID University. Find him on Twitter @DavidWenger.