Are Fractional CMOs the future or a strategic sacrifice?

Marketing Leader Visha Kudhail explores the impact of Fractional CMOs on modern business

Visha Kudhail

Marketing Leader


Let's start with the facts. CMOs are essential for businesses as one of the critical leaders responsible for growth through marketing strategies. For a business to be sustainable in the long-term and be truly relevant to their audiences then it's fair to say that this role is indispensable.

But a new trend is emerging that leaves me a little concerned; the rise of the fractional CMO. This is where businesses look to cut costs by bringing in executives on a contractual basis for their expertise. Though I see so many benefits to this trend such as flexibility for the fractional CMO and the business. As well as fledgling start-ups being able to afford to have a marketing pro come in and support without having to worry about the full-time salary. There are more opportunities for fractional CMOs to move around and try new businesses and learn new sectors. I’m even personally taking on some short-term projects for these reasons so I can speak to some of the positive attributes. But here’s why larger businesses need to think twice.

The Fractional CMO structure can lead to businesses focusing too much on short-term thinking. I know this may upset some of my marketing peers that are for it. But let me offer a few of my reasons on why I think the CMO role needs to be protected and why businesses should give this very important role the proper attention it deserves and bring it back.

The Fractional CMO structure can lead to businesses focusing too much on short-term thinking.

Visha Kudhail, Marketing Leader

CMOs don’t just do campaigns 

The notion that CMOs just run campaigns has been my biggest frustration in my career as a marketer so far. The assumption that marketers only plan events and campaigns. Their remit is broader than this. They offer grounding to an incredibly important function that has to consider a business’s story through customer insight and define its promise to the world, as well as consider how to drive revenue.

Growth marketing strategies require long-term thinking and consistency but also readaption to plans as the world changes fast due to global economic issues that has led to the unrest in society.  An in-house CMO is deeply embedded into the business challenges and problems. They are critical stakeholders in the business to align teams together for a common goal. Building and nurturing relationships takes time and is difficult to do on a contractual basis.

The notion that CMOs just run campaigns has been my biggest frustration in my career as a marketer so far.

Visha Kudhail, Marketing Leader

Consistency in storytelling builds audience trust 

Research has shown us that a brand's superpower in building trust with consumers is all down to the fluency of its story. Byron Sharp speaks about this in ‘How brands grow’ and Orlando Wood in his book ‘Lemon’ refers to the power of characters that create memory structures in people’s minds. Without a dedicated marketing brain on this it can be in danger of becoming more and more inconsistent and confusing for the audience. Building trust with the consumer is vital for sustainable growth. 

Limited vision and execution 

Businesses change shape multiple times over the course of a year. Gone are the years of the five year marketing plan. Today marketers need to keep up with the introduction of technologies that affect ad campaigns, changes in society that requires us to consider inclusion at every checkpoint, changes in business goals should the company need to steer the ship in a different direction and changes in talent turnover as people make choices of whether they stay in the company or not. Providing a plan for a short period of time doesn’t seem viable, especially when the Fractional CMO's time and attention is divided amongst multiple different clients simultaneously. As a result, a business may not benefit from deep strategic insights and comprehensive planning that a full-time CMO can provide and again, going back to the point around constant changes in our societies and structure, could lead to missed opportunities for growth. 

CMOs are key to collaboration within the business 

Senior marketers need to hold and foster relationships across multiple teams including sales, product, comms, customer service, content and creators and new business. Being able to foster authentic relationships and aligning on common goals is critical to a successful company strategy. If you’ve read ‘The five dysfunctions of a team’ then you’ll see it as I do. The adoption of a first team mentality is a beautiful thing. I love this book for the it’s eye-opening take on how leaders should collaborate and partner. If you haven't read it then  I urge you to pick up this book as it focuses on cross-functional relationships in leadership teams. Businesses are made of people not spreadsheets so effective communication and building strong relationships with key stakeholders (without egos) is priority and the lack of this integration can hinder the cohesion of marketing campaigns and its success. 

Lack of role models in marketing

We all have people we look up to when we are working up in our careers. There are some leaders I’ve been lucky to work with that are inspiring and remind me of why I took on a role in this industry. But that’s because I saw them in action on a day to day basis. I saw how they interacted with people, how they spoke and the content of their speech and how they pushed and challenged in the room. I grew up around role models and I would highly encourage businesses to think about that as younger people develop in their careers within the business. Talent is 100% individual but talent also learns from talent.

So finally, though I am sure I have presented a slight for and against debate here. This opinion isn’t written to take away the brilliance and flexibility of short-term projects, but instead act as a reminder of the value of a senior marketer and their role within a company and to the Chief Finance Director. Choose full-time or even interim to have someone deeply invested.

While the past year has been incredibly tough for most businesses, it should be a time to lean on your marketing leadership more than ever. For it is marketing leaders who will provide strategic thinking for growth, collaborative leadership and consistency in voice. As well as acting as much needed a role model for the next generation of marketers 365 days a year.

Guest Author

Visha Kudhail

Marketing Leader


Formerly Director of Business Marketing, EMEA at Pinterest, Visha led marketing Pinterest for business audiences across Europe, driving its positioning and awareness across the region over the past 3 years. Prior to Pinterest she worked across YouTube Ads marketing at Google, going on to lead industry brand and reputation for both Google and YouTube in the UK. Before that, she spent twelve years at Thinkbox - the marketing body for commercial TV, leading TV campaigns, large scale events and initiatives with leading industry bodies in the UK. Visha is a 2013 WACL Future Leaders Award winner, and in 2015 co-founded the FUTURES Network to bring all winners together to support and inspire each other as they continue to develop into even stronger female leaders. Visha champions diversity and in 2020 she launched Pinterest’s EMEA chapter of Women@ and then became the Exec Sponsor for the global group. She is a huge supporter of industry initiatives that recognise and celebrate diverse communities. Visha is also an Advisory Board member for OK Mentor, was awarded 2021 BIMA 100’s Champion for Change and recently was awarded Best Marketing Leader at the 2022 Global Women In Marketing Awards.

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