Flex Execs: Everything to know about interim & fractional CMOs

by | Sep 9, 2022

Blocks that spell out CMO: interim and fractional CMO roles are on the rise
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Today’s CMOs aren’t exactly known for their staying power. As of 2022, the average tenure is a little more than 3 years. For CEOs, it’s twice as long.

What gives?

There are a few reasons for the instability of the modern-day CMO, including the superhero-like expectations placed on the role.

Make marketing magic, and make it fast.

Keep up with technology that changes in the blink of an eye (hello, metaverse).

Grow a gazillion digital channels and oh, don’t forget about old-fashioned marketing and OOH, either.

Many CMOs are no longer just CMOs; they’re in “CMO Plus” roles. It’s a tall order, even for the most seasoned marketers. And it’s part of the reason that fractional and interim CMO roles—what we call Flex Execs—are on the rise. Combine that with two-plus years of economic uncertainty, and it’s a perfect storm.

 

The rise of the flex CMO


“People are realizing they do need marketing help,” explains Stacy Sanford, a former tech company CMO and long-time executive consultant who’s part of the We Are Rosie community.

“They laid off their marketing departments during the pandemic—anything that looks like it might affect the economy, the marketing team just tends to get wiped out. So I think many companies are realizing that they need higher-level leadership but can’t really afford to bring someone in full time.”

With the marketing workforce trending toward freelance, more execs than ever are available for flexible, independent work, be it short-term projects or long-term engagements.

“More marketing leaders are stepping out and are willing to do fractional work,” says Stacy. “People now want more predictability and control over their time and work, and contract engagements offer that because you’re controlling the work, the work doesn’t control you. Having experienced executive marketers available for non-traditional work arrangements is a new, high-value paradigm. I think the need has been growing for years and it’s finally being filled.”

 

But, what exactly is an interim or fractional CMO?


Fractional and interim CMOs are two sides of the same coin. Both are executive consultants with deep marketing expertise. They help companies pivot, scale, solve big challenges, and unlock the marketing magic that every brand is after.

The terms “fractional” and “interim” are sometimes used interchangeably, and at We Are Rosie both fall under our Flex Execs program, which helps brands and agencies find the visionary or change agent they need. 

But there is a distinction. We usually think of a fractional CMO as someone who comes on board for a part-time, on-going role. An interim CMO, on the other hand, swoops in to save the day for a season or two.

Whether your CMO is working a few hours a week or a few months at full-time capacity, the potential for big impact usually comes from the limited scope of their work. While full-time CMOs have a laundry list of channels, initiatives, and campaigns to manage, a Flex Exec gets to home in on a couple of game-changing challenges.

 

They’re the ultimate problem solvers


“I love working with a client on something that has a very specific beginning, middle, and end, and can be measured in terms of impact or success,” says Adam Levine, an award-winning marketing executive who’s been consulting since 2016.

As a Flex Exec with We Are Rosie, Adam did just that, stepping up as the interim CMO for an agency client that needed to undertake a reorg last year.

In six months, Adam improved the agency’s efficiency by pinpointing and fixing the weaknesses in the team’s structure. Plus, he developed new brand positioning to attract the right clients for the agency’s next phase of growth. With the transformation complete, Adam was able to move on to his next high-impact opportunity.

Similarly, Stacy enjoys uncovering and solving critical problems like why a beloved brand’s new product isn’t performing or a company is losing once loyal customers.

“I’m a passionate problem solver at heart, and finding and fixing seemingly innocuous points along a customer journey or in a growth plan can have profound effects on success,” she says.

 

3 major benefits of hiring an interim or fractional CMO


There are many reasons why a fractional or interim CMO might be the marketing MVP your business needs. These are the top reasons why We Are Rosie’s clients have loved working with Flex Execs. 

 

1. Lower cost and less risk

If you’re thinking of hiring a full-time CMO, starting with a consultant can reduce your company’s risk. Like dating prior to marriage, both sides get to test the waters before committing, which usually helps avoid a bad (and costly) breakup down the line.

And although executive consulting doesn’t come cheap, when your business is at an inflection point with big problems to solve, it’s typically more cost effective than working with agencies or consulting firms—or doing nothing at all. 

 

2. Fresh eyes and outside perspectives

“Oftentimes, clients can be too close to the problem, situation, or issue that they’re bringing in external help for, and they know that,” says Adam. “We all get stuck—myself included. I always appreciate fresh eyes on my own work, and it’s the same for clients. Even the best restaurant chef asks someone else to taste their dish from time to time.”

In the same vein, small companies with an existing CMO or VP of Marketing may find incredible value in bringing on an executive-level consultant to support the team.

“We can be a sounding board for other CMOs,” explains Stacy. “No one does a job in isolation. The CMO of a small company can benefit from an experienced outside voice validating or countering ideas for initiatives when they have the internal voices of non-marketers constantly weighing in.”

 

3. The expertise you need now

With an interim or fractional CMO, you can hire for the very specific challenges of the moment, rather than trying to find someone who can do it all through every phase of company growth.

That means you get the best solutions and get them quickly.

Need to staff up your marketing org? Find an exec who’s a pro at building efficient teams.

Want to identify weaknesses in the customer journey? Bring on a CMO who lives for funnels and automation.

Lacking a foundational strategy for your launch? Get yourself a brand mastermind who can bring the vision to life.

(Pro tip: if you need a marketing exec, but aren’t sure exactly which skill sets to look for, having We Are Rosie in your corner can help. Our team provides consulting and vetting to make sure you get the right exec for your company’s challenges. Learn more.)

 

How to work with an interim or fractional CMO


So you’ve found your new flex CMO. Now what?

Make sure you provide them with everything they need to be able to work their magic as quickly as possible. That includes access to your systems as well as your people.

Stacy also recommends getting the whole team excited about the work being done, from leadership down to associates. Because solving marketing problems is a team sport that can require coordination with IT, operations, finance, and other departments. Without their help, potentially huge solutions can be left on the drawing board.

Ultimately, your flex CMO is there to invest their time and skills into your company’s success, so providing them with every support needed will pay dividends in the long run.

Looking to hire a fractional CMO or other executive-level marketing consultant? Learn more about We Are Rosie’s Flex Execs program.

Written by We Are Rosie

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Whether you’re a CMO or an independent marketer (or both), we’re here to bring you bold perspectives, inspiring stories, and helpful advice from We Are Rosie's community of experts and thought leaders. Together, we're building a more inclusive, human future of work.