marlo marketing. fully integrated marketing, public relations, and creative services agency based in Boston, Massachusetts and New York City

From influencer engagement for luxury hotels to website design for restaurants to public relations for iconic beer brands, we cover a lot of ground.

In industry lingo, we’re considered a full-service integrated consumer marketing agency.

In our lingo? We just get sh*t done.

Marketing Makeover: The Case for the Fractional CMO

Marketing Makeover: The Case for the Fractional CMO

Every morning I wake up to an inbox inundated with emails, articles, newsletters, hot takes, breaking industry news, and more; most I scan quickly/delete but this morning one headline stopped me in my tracks: “Starbucks Just Dropped Its CMO Role. Here’s Why.”

I began my career in the field of marketing as a publicist 24 years ago and started my own company 20 years ago. Our services evolved as quickly as marketing evolved — and boy has it since 2004! In one of those moments that you don’t realize are life-changing until hindsight provides context, about nine years ago the CEO of a 27-unit casual full-service restaurant concept based in NH with locations from ME to PA reached out. He wanted to fire his internal marketing team of six and hire us to handle everything instead. At the time I quickly told him that was not what we did — after all, we were an agency, we worked under the direction of the internal marketing lead…at least we always had up to that point. He persisted, and I’m glad he did. Not realizing it at the time, I had unwittingly built an agency fully equipped to provide all-inclusive outsourced marketing with expertise across multiple categories and integrated tactical experience across multiple staffing levels. I accepted the project and we came in and quickly set the restaurant’s highest single day sales record in 30 years.

We repeated that success with a holistic health retreat in Florida, then a senior living facility in MA. They either had inexperienced internal marketing (the restaurant group’s team was led by a bartender who had gone “corporate” nearly 30 years prior) or no marketing presence at all. It honestly never occurred to me that there was a real ongoing need for this service or even a name for it — until COVID hit and we were brought in to urgently help a national brand two weeks after lockdown to deliver the results that a CMO, VP of Marketing, and PR firm could not. Since that time, we have worked both project and retainer-based for big national players in the hospitality space. Whether QSR or fine dining, we’ve come in, developed strategic growth plans, and quickly executed against those plans to deliver quantifiable (and better!) ROI than their previous high salaried internal marketing staff ever did. It was clear that having outsourced support at exactly the right levels and areas of need just made good business sense. But even for me, seeing that a brand like Starbucks (coincidentally my agency’s first official client) has dropped that CMO role, demonstrates the tide shift in a way that even I wouldn’t have imagined.

While Starbucks certainly has marketing staff in-house, likely under various geographic and/or tactic-based structures and this elevation of the CMO to CEO likely won’t impact that, I believe the reasons behind the rise of the fractional CMO/execution team for so many brands — large and small — are three-fold:

1.) It’s always been hard for ops to hire marketing. It’s hard to judge skill in this area. Knowing not only which skills to judge, but also how to judge them is extremely challenging.

2.) Old-school marketers aren’t nimble enough to understand the hustle anymore — and much of marketing today is hustle — constantly learning, industry changes, new tools, etc. Many of these folks are getting pushed out of the industry.

3.) New-school marketers today really need to choose an area in which to focus – social media, digital, PR, loyalty, advertising, etc… To stay ahead of the pack in any given area, you’ve got to be able to go deep and that means brands who can’t hire a full team end up with a skewed focus on which tools they use to go to market.

Unfortunately, what this means for brands hiring marketing teams is that finding C-suite level experts with a broad foundation of ALL marketing is becoming more and more challenging. Add to this the fact that a brand now needs to hire more people than in the past to execute against a wide range of tactics and what you end up with is sky-high payroll with limited core competencies.

“Starbucks’ move to ditch the CMO position comes as many brands are rethinking where the sometimes-nebulous role sits within their business, changing the title to reflect a broader range of responsibilities, hiring “fractional” CMOs in consulting-style positions and, in some cases, cutting it entirely.”

While the “sometimes-nebulous” role of CMO at a brand the size of Starbucks certainly differs from many of the brands that have begun to dip their toes in the fractional CMO pond (some of which may be smaller than Starbucks but still delivering significant business revenue), whenever I speak publicly on this subject or to new biz prospects, my closing line is typically along the lines of “Let’s be clear — if you’re McDonalds, this model is not for you.” But with today’s news, I think it may be time to rework my talking points!