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April, 2024

Tumbleturn sets up fractional CMO practice to tackle marketing burnout, skillset gaps; cites supply and demand need for new model as remits explode, resources shrink

What you need to know:

  • Marketing advisory practice, Tumbleturn, has taken the wrappers of a new fractional CMO service design to match specialist, experienced marketers on a project basis to Australian CMOs and businesses in need of their strategic or operational knowhow.
  • Tumbleturn’s Jen Davidson says the approach aims to tackle two big needs in the market right now: Providing a resource for CMOs to supplement what they are doing and thinking; and providing CEOs and senior leadership teams needing specialist marketing expertise to raise things to the next level, or upskill existing marketing functions.  
  • According to Davidson and her first fractional CMO, Anita Ayres, the rapid rise in popularity of fractional CMOs we’re seeing is being driven by the growing complexity and remit of the marketing chief as well as greater need to accountability at a boardroom and executive level.
  • B2B businesses are the first port of call for Tumbleturn – Davidson thinks they have the greatest need for experienced strategic and operational marketing capability.
  • Ayres also suggests the fractional CMO is an alternative and more direct source of experienced skills and capability to the traditional enterprise consulting firm: “With a fractional CMO, you get who you see – you are getting me. You get the person that has the level of experience to be working with you.”
  • Ayres agrees the rise of fractional CMOs isn’t just demand-side; there’s growing availability of talent in the market as many executives look for alternatives to ever-demanding, full-time work.

‘Fractional CMO’ is one of the hottest taglines being added to executive marketing profiles on LinkedIn. According to the chief of marketing advisory firm, Tumbleturn, Jen Davidson, there’s a good reason for it.

“Five years ago, we were saying marketers as executives have to get into the boardroom and be more accountable for business outcomes. That day is well and truly here. That’s the good news story: The remit of marketers is about customer, sales, and being accountable for business outcomes,” she tells Mi3.

Then there’s the bad news story.

“What we see is as the remit has gotten broader, the resources haven’t. Marketers and their functions are required to be experts strategically, as well as operationally, and for everything that encompasses. Yet it’s very unusual to find marketers brilliant in all areas.”

This makes for a compelling argument around why we’re seeing the rise of fractional CMOs, says Davidson.

For those not yet familiar with the term, ‘fractional executives’ are a rising breed of seasoned and experienced executives with functional expertise, available either for a pre-agreed period or time, or as an outcome-based resource. The differentiation against contractors is that fractional executives usually take on both strategic and operational responsibilities and have direct accountability for key results.

Fractional CMOs are one of the fastest rising cohorts within this group globally. According to Zach King, who runs the Fractional Exec community, senior marketing executives represent the majority of his member base.

As well as the reshaping of CMO remits and the potential skills and capability gap cited by Davidson, another reason for why we’re seeing more fractional CMOs is, frankly, burnout. As former Hipages chief customer officer, Stuart Tucker, suggested to Mi3 recently, there are plenty of CMOs out there who’ve spent years “in the grind” and are feeling it.

Davidson agrees burnout is a huge issue at the CMO level. “There are a lot of seasoned CMOs who don’t want to work 60 or 70 hours per week anymore. That’s one end of the spectrum,” she says.  

Matchmaking marketers to outcomes

With all this in mind, Tumbleturn this week took the wrappers off its new fractional CMO service. The focus is on two key areas: Providing a resource for CMOs to supplement what they are doing and thinking (think of it as the 2IC helping you deliver a paper to the board or execute change management across team structure); and providing CEOs and senior leadership teams needing specialist marketing expertise to raise things to the next level, or upskill existing marketing functions.  

“We have been tapped by a few boards to come in and help them ask the right questions about marketing. It has gone to the boardroom – that’s the great thing. But it’s identified a gap in how we get marketers ready to have those conversations at the board level,” Davidson comments.  

This is not a temp agency, Davidson stresses, nor is it a stop gap for CMOs seeking out that next big full-time gig.

“These are people who want to do this project-based work for a living. There’s a need in the market and need for candidates, and we’re trying to match the two together,” says Davidson.

It’s worth noting the model of hiring fractional CMOs is still very much an evolving one, and there are nuances and differences in both charging models as well as the types of work such executives will do. In Tumbleturn’s case, it’s skewing specifically towards providing either strategic or operational expertise, rather than both. That’s because the modern CMO who can do both is a rare bird, Davidson says.

Instead, she describes her fractional CMOs as “not the person in the limelight, but the one step behind the CMOs, supporting them”.

“We’re not going to have generalists,” Davidson says. “I expect some will, but that’s not our approach. And there may be different charging models out there.”

In addition, Tumbleturn has adopted a project-based approach to providing its fractional CMO service, orienting around specific outcomes and deliverables rather than a value-based model or hiring out people one or two days per week. This is also a reflection of how the advisory works more generally.

“Contractor is a bit of a catch-all term, whereas we’re being very clear on the outcome you need,” Davidson says. “Project-based makes it clear on the outcomes required and we can scope out the right person for the right role and at the right cost.”

Tumbleturn has four CMOs on its books so far, all packing 20-plus years’ experience in different industries including retail, FMCG, financial services, insurance and government, and with specific areas of expertise across either strategy or operations. The first of these is former Kantar, KPMG, Aware Super and Australian Super executive and marketer, Anita Ayres, with more to be announced to market shortly.

For Davidson, there’s an acute strategic gap in the market. “Aligning marketing with business strategy is a real skill,” she comments.  

“When I was growing up professionally, we cared about brand health. That’s such a tiny piece now – now, CMOs have to be able to go into boardrooms and talk about marketing’s contribution to the business. It’s what we always wanted and dreamt of – it’s here. So how do we ensure marketers have the right skills to be able to have the right conversations?”  

Some of this strategic gap, it’s argued, is the result of more digitally native marketers who grew up in performance and direct response stepping into senior roles but lacking the holistic, strategic brand and insights of the last generation. Davidson agrees. But it can go the other way too (and it’s a live challenge the Australian Marketing Institute and some major marketing functions are working to address).

“The digital natives are coming up, but they’re lacking a bit of the brand strength; then the brand-led marketers may not have the digital skills. There is a gap. And it goes back to the remit being so much broader,” she says.  

Davidson sees operational challenges around mentoring, training and upskilling as another area her fractional CMOs can fill.

While the matchmaking of fractional CMOs will be available across different industries, Davidson spies a particularly acute opportunity in B2B, which she says “is the area of most need”.

“We think we’ll be inundated with people that want this way of working. And I think there is a real need in the market, as marketers are looking for support,” she adds.  

You have very demanding CMO roles, more so with the level of technology involved; we’re straddling so many things. But while complexity is going up, the budgets are not necessarily following. Often, these CMOs have been asked to do more with less. This [model] is a commercially efficient way of getting the resources you need.

Anita Ayres, fractional CMO

Ayres: Choosing to ‘live by design’

Ayres is one such marketer seeking a new way of working. The former marketing leader moved to Australia in 2012 to do an MBA. She’s since held a number of senior roles including head of marketing for Aware Super, and has chalked up concentrated experience within the financial services sector.

Three years ago, Ayres joined KPMG as a director in the Customer, Brand and Marketing Advisory. During this time, she led a number of projects including a secondment at AMP Capital, where she supported a rebrand and digital transformation piece as it demerged from the AMP Group.  From there, Ayres joined Kantar in March 2022, running growth strategy and working with international clients and several sectors including and beyond financial services.

“I loved consulting and being an advisor, and I loved partnering with clients. But I’m now attempting what I call ‘life by design’,” Ayres says.

Initially, Ayres thought she’d looked for another client-side CMO role when she left Kantar. “But the model many organisations retain is very demanding – there isn’t a good work/life balance, and I’m trying to do it all,” she says, noting she has three children.   

“With this model, it’s about bringing to bear all my experiences and skills to the task at hand. I still want to work with clients I love and do interesting work, but I also want to be there for my family. That’s what drove me personally to build this partnership with Jen and try to launch this fractional CMO proposition to market.”

Ayres says there is no doubt the CMO job is getting so much more complex. “They’re expected to be across all different areas of marketing. This [Tumbleturn model] is about augmenting and being a partner to the CMO that’s stretched across so many different things.

“You are there to solve a particular problem and meet certain objectives an organisation has. That’s why it’s a fractional model.”

Another worthy note is just how diverse marketing leaders – and their remits – can be. “CMOs come in so many different shapes and sizes, different flavours and industry backgrounds,” Ayres says.

“I do feel like you are leveraging what you do best to help clients with different needs. The same as you’d do if you were looking for a full-time [role] – you’d have a fit depending on what the organisation is trying to do with your background and skills. Some CMOs will be more strategic, some will have run really big operations depending on business needs.”

For Ayres, industry knowledge in financial services is one big plus she’s bringing to the table. In addition, she points to several large number of large-scale rebrand implementation jobs while at Aware, State Plus and for AMP Capital.

“I also bring experience driving growth strategy, including work at Kantar on an international scale. So I do play more on the strategy side, while other people may have run large marketing operations or worked on an FMCG operating model that’s very different,” she says.

An alternative to the consulting firm

What’s also interesting is how Ayres positions the rise of fractional CMOs against what the big consulting firms, like Accenture or KPMG, bring to the table. Certainly in many scale-up businesses, the need for a broad range of senior marketing expertise can be needed but many simply couldn’t afford the price tag of an enterprise-grade consulting service.

“I see this as an alternative to your typical consulting model,” says Ayres. “With consulting firms, what normally happens is you have a senior resource – partner or director – but the people actually doing the work are the managers, analysts. The senior resource isn’t 100 per cent on your account or on the job, they oversee multiple projects at the same time. It’s the commercial model on which consulting firms have been built.

“Whereas with a fractional CMO, you get who you see – you are getting me. You get the person that has the level of experience to be working with you.”

As to why this fractional CMO idea is gaining so much popularity, Ayres sees both supply and demand forces in play.

“You have very demanding CMO roles, more so with the level of technology involved; we’re straddling so many things,” she says. “But while complexity is going up, the budgets are not necessarily following. Often, these CMOs have been asked to do more with less. This [model] is a commercially efficient way of getting the resources you need.

“From a supply perspective, a lot of senior talent and people are looking at our lives and trying to find a better way to live, to be more fulfilled. There’s a lot of talent keen to work on a project basis. Yes, there is that changing nature of the workforce post-Covid going on here, with people prioritising how they want to spend their time. That’s driving up the availability of good talent in the market. Otherwise, people would be in a full-time CMO role.”

According to Ayres, it’s a compelling way of working for women, who find it particularly challenging when it comes to finding work/life balance as they raise children.

“You go off to have kids and you just can’t win, there’s always something you drop the ball on,” she says. “If we can make this work, it is quite a good way of continuing your career… it enables you to have more flexibility.

“Prior to Covid, it was quite a linear pathway and if you didn’t want it, there was no alternative. Now, there are a number of different ways to design a career that is equally fulfilling and at a level you are capable of operating at. It’s a different mindset.”