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The Rise of the Fractional CMO

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The landscape of CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) recruitment has changed dramatically over the last 18 months or so. Hiring a CMO is a significant investment for a business of any size, and economic uncertainty, coupled with tighter budgets, has led many to turn to ‘Fractional CMO’s’ or fCMO’s. 

As its name suggests, “fractional” typically refers to hiring an employee to work for just a fraction of the time and is available on certain days of the week. Often the employee will work for multiple businesses at the same time. Over the course of the last 12 months, entrepreneurial CMO’s have seized this opportunity to reinvent themselves, and the start up/scale up scene is seeing the benefits of this new fCMO resource.

I recently reached out to my network, and over the last couple of weeks, have curated insights from the conversations I have had with the fCMO community. 

Why become a fractional CMO?

Some of the marketers I spoke to become fCMO’s by circumstance, while others by choice, but everyone I spoke to said it has been a decision that has afforded them greater flexibility, more variety of work, and has subsequently produced greater outputs. 

As an fCMO, you provide expertise and resources, often in an organisation that understands the value of marketing but does not always have the budget to boot. Often, you will work independently with lots of autonomy, and with the opportunity to make real, meaningful impact.

Those I spoke to stated that this way of working enabled the opportunity for varied and interesting work – switching between industries and enjoying the challenges that each one faces. New people, new target audiences, new business objectives – all combine to make an incredibly interesting and fulfilling working life – something that is always top of our candidates list in our Salary Census'.

A successful fractional CMO is more than just a marketing expert though. They possess the capabilities to think strategically, resolve issues, construct teams, and enable business transformation. It is imperative to have a skill set that goes beyond mastering the traditional role; it is about embracing change and leveraging technology for success. Some of the key skills mentioned include (not exhaustive) being tech savvy, versatile, strategic, and having leadership, and management skills.

Although, becoming a fCMO is not without its challenges – many mentioned the continual need to market and network yourself: attend coffee mornings, networking events, webinars – “your network is your net worth” has never rung truer than for senior marketing consultants.

Overall, my network felt that becoming Fractional Chief Marketing Officers has enriched their careers – the variety, work life balance and independence has created a compelling proposition for those thinking of following suit.

Why should businesses consider hiring a fractional CMO?

If you are a business owner, thoughts of hiring a full-time CMO will have crossed your mind – but with the current financial climate, hiring a full-time employee may be considered too much of a risk. The cost difference between hiring a full time and fractional CMO though, can be significant. In fact, with no long-term commitment required, businesses can tap into experienced marketing professionals and their skills, knowledge, and little black book – without burning through their budget.

The fCMO route provides the perfect opportunity for companies to tap into a resource that a few years ago would have been unattainable and over budget. The expectation is that the more the market picks up, the higher quality, high value senior candidates will consider working in this way.

Fractional CMO’s will often bring years of experience across multiple industries, meaning they can hit the ground running and make a tangible impact quickly. They understand current marketing trends, technological advancements, and evolving consumer behaviours, primarily because of their work with various clients across multiple sectors.

In essence, hiring a fCMO is like having access to several experienced marketers at once but with higher efficiencies. This, however, can only be achieved by setting expectations from the start – while a permanent CMO is often available out of hours, ‘fractionals’ are not. The advice from my network was to set very clear expectations and availability from the start, with defined timelines and realistic deliverables – many had experienced greater expectations than initially agreed, leaving the fractional CMO in a tricky situation. If set up correctly, it should be a win-win for both sides.

Additionally, a fCMO can advise on the long-term set up of the marketing department, without having concerns about their own future. They can advise on the hiring strategy based on the opportunities they see and can also provide actionable direction for the team without putting any noses out of joint.

Choosing a fractional CMO over a full-time employee can be affordable and a highly beneficial approach – providing flexible marketing expertise at a fraction of the cost. The key is to set boundaries that provide structure, but also empower the fCMO to do their job to the best of their ability.

To conclude...

The CMO landscape has dramatically changed over the last 2 years as the world of work continues to evolve. The overwhelming response to my outreach suggests that the rise of fractional CMO is only the start, with benefits for all parties outweighing some of the challenges. It will be great to see how the start-up, scale up space will benefit from this style of recruitment – and hopefully the value of the CMO will only rise as demand increases.

If you area business leader considering a consultant marketing hire, or a marketing professional considering this move as an option, I would love to have a conversation - you can reach me on 02078457235 or