CMOs Stress Levels Surge

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CMO Stress Levels Surge

Business is good. The best it’s been in recent memory. So, what’s the worry?

2019 marks the first time a large number of CMOs tell us the external factors are just as stressful as the internal issues. These law firm marketing leaders see outside threats and opportunities as being equal to the challenges within their firms.

My 30 years’ experience shows strategic changes are afoot when external and internal issues equalize. Let’s start with the newest and fastest growing stressors:

The Stress of the Future Soars

Perceived threats from The Big 4 moving into law (EY, PwC), legal technology, AI, and retaining clients caused an 8-fold increase in worries about the future. In fact, the future has become the top stressor. 24% of CMOs, up from only 3% last year, say the stress comes from their law firms’ apparent lack of concern about these issues. These CMOs don’t see a plan or anyone working on a plan with any sense of urgency. They see clear and exposed threats, and feel as if they, alone, are concerned about these issues.

CMO Workload

Just over 23% of law firm CMOs say workload is growing faster than their staff can scale. This is up from 20% last year. It seems business growth is driving new demands and needs—causing clients to hire new law firms. This brings more RFPs—especially in the Am Law 100. And, almost all law firms are changing their approach to marketing. The added coaching, staff training, and planning for new strategies are additive to the everyday job responsibilities for a CMO—pushing stress levels higher.

And Those Empty CMO Slots Are Causing Undue Stress

A number of high-profile law firms are operating without CMOs, Kirkland and Debevoise to name a couple. While it doesn’t impact current CMOs directly, it raises the open question of the need for CMOs in law firms. This is causing stress as it strikes at the existential need for such a role.

Some law firms like to give the impression they don’t have a CMO, but somebody is running the Marketing and BD show. These firms attract some good press and in an odd twist, attract a large number of good CMO candidates who want roles at firms with empty slots. Expect these roles to be filled—and a few more to open up.

Show Them the Money

15% of CMOs feel serious pressure to show their value. These CMOs are often forced to rely on murky metrics and face partners who take credit for any marketing wins. An over-focus on results leads to demoralization, stress, and burnout. It also prevents strategic thinking. Not good for these CMOs or their firms.

Not Worrying Causes CMOs to Worry

Complacency is the leading cause of sleepless nights for 20% of CMOs. They see lack of urgency spreading as their firms enjoy increases in business. Profits are strong, so there is little motivation to make things better. These CMOs tell us their firms believe strong profits cure all ills and prevent future problems—or at least underpin a lack of concern for future problems. 

CMOs give advice on how to deal with stress and pursue opportunity here. It’s worth another read and helps put things into context. And as any stress management teacher will tell you, stress is a sign you recognize something has to change—and can be helpful to our firms and ourselves when managed well. It’s not always easy to frame it this way—but it helps to remember.

MBR

Based on our survey of more than 160 marketing leaders, conducted between November 2018 and June 2019.