The CFO as Chief Creative Officer

December 10, 2012

In this market, there are few positions being placed under more pressure to be creative than the CFO. We all know how short the tenure of a CMO is. We all know that CMOs have been trying to find their rightful place in the C-Suite in a path to CEO.  But what do we know about the CFO—the man or woman that approves or sponsors our efforts?

For years I have worked closely with CFOs—and worked with them well—because I was a bookkeeper before I was a marketer…and I’ve been a CFO myself. It is daunting, particularly in this economy, to go out on a limb for a discipline (marketing) whose returns cannot be guaranteed. Arguably, no business outcomes can be assured to a certainty, but marketing is particularly sketchy.  So much depends on the buyers, so much depends on timing, so much depends on follow-through, so much depends on reputation, emotional triggers and other intangible influences.

CFOs used to be more administrative in nature and their oversight was viewed heavily as a role to provide historical financial context, checks and balances. Increasingly though, according to a recent article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle by C. Richard Cotton, the CFO is being pressed to be a more forward-looking leader in most organizations. You can read the full article at but you need to be a subscriber to the ABC (which I recommend).

The article covers a trend I see more and more. This forward-looking position is right in the center of the action. Five or ten years ago everyone told the CMO to get in the center of the organization joined at the hip with the customer. Marketing should be customer-centric—and the organization should be marketing centric. In this economy, people are defaulting to a sales-driven reality and—in companies large and small—they have set the CFO on the mission to find the financial silver bullet. What is the secret to financial success: the revenue model, the cost of goods sold, supplier costing methods, staffing to revenue ratios, customer retention or attrition rates, competitors’ market share, the cost of capital or the the greatest pressure and speculative exercise…what is the organization’s potential valuation in a buyer’s market?

The important thing to know for agencies and marketers is that the silver bullet lies in all of the above. And, marketing has a significant influence on many of the above things. Marketing relies on—and ideally informs—the pricing or revenue model. Proper positioning enables leaders to negotiate more competitive supplier agreements. Strategic marketing programs can make sales people more effective and reduce the burden of staffing ratios to revenue by increasing the top line without requiring more sales staff. Active customer marketing and appreciation and retention programs can reduce attrition and help turn customers into strategic partners.

There are many more ways that marketing can see eye to eye with the CFO and help his or her cause. As more is required of the CFO, understand how important this individual is to your effectiveness as a marketer. The only way to get buy in that marketing is a smart investment is to prove it by connecting your results to the strategic objectives of the company. Say it out loud (and make this your reality), “My CFO is now marketing’s greatest advocate!”