May 23, 2024


The Business & Finance guru

More CMOs Are Investing in Their Personal Brands

Chief marketing officers are spending more time, and increasingly spending money, to build a different kind of brand: their own.

Eighty percent of marketing executives say they are actively developing their own brands, with more than half of that group planning to invest more time and resources, according to a survey of 186 executives conducted between Nov. 2 and Nov. 9 by CMO Council, a trade group that includes more than 16,000 marketers.

Their goals range from simple self-promotion to marketing their employers in a different way than usual. Efforts can include carefully composed LinkedIn posts about everything from corporate leadership to their costumes at the company’s recent Halloween party.

Many executives have help in crafting and sharing their material, in some cases outsourcing most of the process to ghostwriters or third-party firms, according to companies that provide such services. However, critics may ask if such efforts truly support companies’ business goals, especially as some executives take their personal brand-building from LinkedIn to less-formal venues such as TikTok.

Jonathan Mildenhall,

co-founder and chair of consulting firm TwentyFirstCenturyBrand and former chief marketing officer at online travel company

Airbnb Inc.,

said modern marketers have to invest in their own brands to do their work effectively.

“The CMO’s work is always in the public domain, and the CMO should have the closest proximity to the community that the business serves,” Mr. Mildenhall said.

Marketers promoting themselves is hardly a novel concept, but the trend is intensifying. Around 240 senior marketing executives are clients of executive reputation-management firm Qnary, up 75% year-over-year so far in 2022 after a 50% increase in 2021, according to founder and chairman

Bant Breen.

Mr. Breen, a former ad agency executive, said he decided to start Qnary after finding that executives’ social-media posts typically got eight to 20 times the engagement of their employers’ accounts. People who follow both a company and one or more of its executives are twice as likely to purchase from that company, according to Qnary’s research, Mr. Breen said.

Cristina Dolan,

global head of alliances at security software company Netwitness, said she hired Qnary several years ago while running marketing for a stock-trading software firm because she was new to social-media marketing and was too busy to post frequently and engage with users. Now, Qnary’s team creates the majority of content published under her name on LinkedIn and Twitter, said Ms. Dolan.

“They write it and I have editorial control,” she said.

Some companies are encouraging their executives to build their brands.

Banking firm

First Horizon Corp.

is allocating more resources toward positioning its marketing leaders as so-called brand ambassadors, said

Erin Pryor,

chief marketing officer and executive vice president of client experience.

“The best way to do that is for them to have their own strong personal brands,” said Ms. Pryor.

Some First Horizon executives choose to hand over their login information to the company’s internal social-media team or its external marketing firm, which write, edit and schedule LinkedIn posts on their behalf, she said, noting that executives retain final approval over the content posted under their names.

Ms. Pryor said she usually writes and posts her own material, but in some cases, these teams present her with several prewritten options to choose from.

Recruitment is another goal of personal branding, with several executives saying they felt a need to post more often about their own companies, especially on LinkedIn, to attract up-and-coming talent.

Social Networking With Purpose

CMOs also build personal brands to further their own careers.

“Senior marketing leaders have come to the conclusion that their success lies in being a widely known hired gun, and that their career is going to be a series of two- to three-year stints,” said

Mark Stouse,

founder of marketing software firm Proof Analytics and former CMO at aviation manufacturer Honeywell Aerospace, a unit of

Honeywell International Inc.

Melissa Hobley,

chief marketing officer for dating app Tinder, developed a reputation at her previous job at OkCupid as the rare CMO who is outspoken on sociopolitical issues such as abortion and nonbinary gender identities.

Match Group Inc.,

parent company of Tinder and OkCupid, discovered several years ago that there was a business case for that sort of political commentary because more OkCupid users were discussing issues like reproductive rights in their profiles, Ms. Hobley said.

Marketing campaigns for Tinder and OkCupid that touch on such topics have been among the brands’ most engaging to date, and Ms. Hobley is passionate about promoting them on her own accounts and in interviews, even when they inspire political backlash, she said.

Ms. Hobley said she writes all her own material with no oversight from Tinder. Regarding her personal brand, she said, “It’s not as calculated as it probably should be.”

Business or Vanity?

Other marketing executives are getting help.

Content studio Fitch Ink, which has worked with companies such as

General Electric Co.


Meta Platforms Inc.,

began adding marketing executives to its client roster approximately three years ago. It produces between eight and 20 pieces of content a month for clients, including blog entries, LinkedIn posts, client emails and long-form op-eds or advertorials in publications like Ad Age and Wired, said

Stephane Fitch,

founder and editor in chief. Monthly fees can range from $20,000 to $50,000, he said.

Qnary creates up to 28 LinkedIn posts or comments, 24 original tweets or replies, two 500-word blog posts and one audio or video interview as part of a $950 monthly base package for CMOs, said Mr. Breen. Clients retain final approval over all content, he said.

LinkedIn and Twitter remain the dominant platforms for CMOs, but the past year saw a generational shift as millennials began assuming top marketing jobs and asking Qnary to help produce professional content for their Instagram and TikTok pages, said Mr. Breen.


Should your company’s executives be able to expense ghostwriters for their personal social-media posts? Join the conversation below.

That could further blur the line between professional and lifestyle-based content, because these platforms are often seen as “vanity-based,” said TwentyFirstCenturyBrand’s Mr. Mildenhall. If CMOs expense the production of such content to their companies, employers might want to make sure the posts are supporting corporate goals, he said.

“It would become a political hot button inside the C-suite: Is the CMO building for vanity or are they building because of corporate reputation?” he said.

As executives build their public profiles, they should also ask themselves whether they are paying as much attention to their colleagues and team members as they are to their personal brands, said Mr. Stouse, the Proof Analytics founder.

“If you are super active on LinkedIn and barely talking to your teams at all…then you’re on the wrong foot,” he said.

Write to Patrick Coffee at [email protected]

Corrections & Amplifications
First Horizon was incorrectly referred to as Horizon First in one instance in an earlier version of this article. (Corrected on Nov. 18)

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