What do Great CMOs Have in Common?

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Great CMOs are amazing partnership builders. They create strong, long-lasting agency relationships that deliver unmatched work and results.

By Bruno Gralpois

Author/Speaker, Thought-provocateur, amplifying partnerships to create transformative value


The advertising industry is known for its vast number of glowing award ceremonies that celebrate agency and advertiser talent alike, from the Cannes Lions to the Clio Awards. The 4As launched the Partner Award a while back to celebrate the best partnerships among agencies, as well as between agencies and marketers. It’s no surprise: in the increasingly more complex and demanding world of marketing, brand advertisers need to build partnerships to create winning work and stand out from the competition.

True collaboration is as precious and rare as diamonds. When a brand and its agency(ies) achieve it, it unleashes incredible passion and energy that turns into brilliant work and lifetime friendships between those involved in bringing it to life. In my article, “Here’s to the crazy ones,” I highlighted what makes a great client partner:


However, building long-lasting, productive partnerships proves to be difficult in a cost-cutting environment that has increasingly eroded the financial relationship and trust between agencies and clients, weakened their commitment to one another and ultimately led to relationship fallouts and many well-publicized agency reviews. It actually goes further than that. Having a great agency sure helps develop and execute great work, but it takes more than talent to bring people together, get them to collaborate effectively, share a vision and make a difference.

Partnerships require a commitment to accountability, not only to the relationship, but to work performance. If accountability is low between the client and the agency, new relationships are immediately questioned and unlikely to grow and last. Similarly, if the accountability is low, long-term client/agency relationships fall in a state of complacence: the relationship is suddenly at risk, until a review determines the faith of the incumbent agency. If accountability is high, a real opportunity to build a long-term partnership emerges. When the stars align, both the client and agencies are accountable to each other. They share accountability for how they work together, the values they embrace and the expectations they set for their respective organizations. They also share accountability for business and marketing performance; then and only then can loyalty truly flourish and realize optimal value, as shown below.



Showing resilience and building a long-term partnership require the leadership and commitment at the C-suite level, both with the client and agency. This also requires brands to foster a robust set of internal competencies – scope development, staffing and financial management, onboarding and training for both client and agency teams, 360-degree performance evaluations, and quality input briefing – that provide the foundation required for the client to manage its relationship with its agency(ies) effectively.

This is why I decided to recognize a small group of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) who have been known to treat their agencies as valuable strategic assets, and who have committed their organizations to pursue excellence in partnership management. Here is the short list of exemplary relationship-building and high-performance CMOs: Antonio Lucio, Diego Scotti, Olivier Francois, Anne Finucane and Dana Anderson.



Like many of their peers, they have demonstrated a passion for building long-term agency relationships that deliver outstanding performance. Their relationships survived many challenges along the way, and without a doubt, contributed to making these companies the most iconic brands of our modern times. There is no doubt that CMOs for the largest brands in the world must exhibit a wide range of professional competencies to lead their organization to success. They cannot do it alone. They must surround themselves with talent – internally and externally – and be amazing partnership builders.


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