Companies, Top Marketers See Value in Part-Time ‘Fractional’

Companies in need of new marketing leadership are increasingly turning to interim, or fractional, chief marketing officers to drive growth.

Fractional executives work on a contractual basis for a finite period. They often juggle multiple part-time clients simultaneously, and their average tenure at each company is six to nine months, though it can range from a few weeks to several years, said

Pete Hayes,

principal at staffing firm Chief Outsiders. In most cases, these executives work remotely and communicate with a company’s C-suite as well as its internal marketing teams, he said.

The pandemic has accelerated demand for fractional marketing leaders due to a wider acceptance of remote work and senior marketers’ desire for more flexible schedules, experts said.

In one example, MVP Health Care Inc., a provider of health-insurance services to residents of New York and Vermont, pivoted toward telemedicine in late 2021 as remote visits became standard practice, but it struggled to communicate that shift to consumers.

“We put all our assets in place, and now it was more like, how do you bring them to market?” said CEO

Christopher Del Vecchio.

The company didn’t have time to wait for a search firm to find the right CMO candidate, said Mr. Del Vecchio, so it brought on

Arlyn Davich,

founder of consulting firm Little Fish. Ms. Davich helped develop MVP Health Care’s marketing strategy as a freelancer for three months before moving into the fractional CMO role, and she currently dedicates around 25 hours each week to the company. Her firm also recently began helping clients find other executives to fill fractional CMO and general manager roles, she said.

Fractional executives aren’t a new concept, as small and midsize businesses have hired part-time executives for decades, said Mr. Hayes. But companies were slow to apply the model to marketing due to the increasing complexity of the CMO’s job.

CMOs are now tasked with a number of responsibilities that weren’t part of their remits in the past, such as partnerships, content production and internal culture, so choosing a single candidate to serve a company’s long-term needs is difficult, said Ms. Davich.

Shernaz Daver, chief marketing officer at Khosla Ventures



Photo:

ERIN BEACH

Fractional roles differ from full-time CMO jobs in that they focus more heavily on performance-based marketing to drive sales growth. Fractional CMOs are also unlike consultants in that they are expected to develop and implement comprehensive marketing plans while working to earn the trust of internal staffers who may see them as a threat, said

Shernaz Daver,

chief marketing officer at venture-capital firm Khosla Ventures.

Fractional hiring has been especially popular in the last few years among venture-capital-funded startups, which have specific growth goals and diverse marketing needs, said Ms. Daver. She held several such jobs before taking her current post, where she helps Khosla’s portfolio companies hire their own fractional CMOs.

“When I talk to founders who are looking for a CMO, the first thing I ask is, ‘What does a CMO do?’ None of the answers are exactly the same,” said Ms. Daver.

Entrepreneurs see opportunity

The fractional CMO market shows no sign of slowing, and demand will almost certainly increase in case of a recession, said Ms. Daver. “It’s much easier to hire someone on a part-time basis in these uncertain times,” she said.

Chief Outsiders, which calls itself the largest recruiting firm specializing in fractional chief marketing roles, launched in 2009 but saw its greatest success during the pandemic. The firm added 343 new clients and reported 50% organic revenue growth in 2021, and it is on track to bring in $36 million this year, Mr. Hayes said.

Other companies hope to make the most of this moment.

Backstage Capital CEO

Arlan Hamilton

launched fractional staffing company Runner in 2021, and executive recruitment firm True Search opened a fractional unit called TrueBridge in May, hiring former Google executive

David Beuerlein

to run it.

Mr. Beuerlein, who founded Google’s executive recruiting team, said chief marketing officer ranks right behind chief financial officer on a list of open jobs at his startup clients, which range from beauty brands to construction companies but share one key attribute.

“They are, without exception, facing some change going ahead. It is never just business as usual,” Mr. Beuerlein said.

Senior marketers seek flexibility

Leslie Campisi

said she left her job as chief marketing officer at fintech-focused venture-capital firm Anthemis Group in 2020 because she wanted to work more directly with startups.

Ms. Campisi soon accepted a six-month brand marketing assignment for Morty Inc. She later became the mortgage marketplace’s fractional CMO, playing a part in its $25 million Series B fundraising round and eventually serving as full-time CMO for about a year while Morty built its internal marketing operations.

“When you’re on the outside, you have the ear of the founder or CEO in a way that you don’t when you’re in-house,” Ms. Campisi said. “It’s easier, to be honest, and they are more receptive to tough feedback.”

Though fractional roles can become full-time positions, they most often attract executives who have reached a point in their careers at which they want to choose their own clients and design their own schedules. Mr. Hayes said the average Chief Outsiders member is in his or her 50s, holds an M.B.A. and has experience working with Fortune 500 companies.

“If you think this is a steppingstone to the next thing you want to do, you’re probably not ready,” Mr. Hayes said.

Some experts think the rise of fractional jobs will provide veteran marketers with new career opportunities while allowing smaller companies to access top talent. But it could also heighten concerns about increased turnover among CMOs, whose average tenure remains at its lowest point in a decade.

Susan Kelly,

who held top marketing jobs at printer maker

Xerox Holdings Corp.

and online education company Apollidon LLC, said she was skeptical when she received a message from Chief Outsiders on LinkedIn, but warmed to the idea of working closely with CEOs while avoiding the less pleasant aspects of C-suite roles.

“When you’re a fractional CMO, things like company politics are off the table. Job security? I don’t have to worry about that,” she said.

Ms. Kelly said she has earned more money working for two or three clients on an interim basis than she did in previous full-time roles. Ms. Campisi did note, however, that fractional jobs usually favor cash compensation over equity and rarely include benefits.

Ultimately, experienced marketers will benefit from more disparate career opportunities, said

Jay Haines,

chief executive of search firm Grace Blue Partnership. “CMO jobs are few and far between, and this broadens the market in a very positive way,” he said.

Fractional work also offers lifestyle benefits that full-time roles can’t match.

“I have really enjoyed being semiretired,” said

Julie Crabill,

fractional CMO at software startup Synthetaic LLC. “I’m not out there actively pounding the pavement to look for new business. It’s more about finding the right types of companies as they bubble up across my network and helping them out.”

Write to Patrick Coffee at [email protected]

Corrections & Amplifications
Mortgage platform startup Morty is legally known as Morty Inc. A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the company as Morty Technologies Inc. (Corrected on June 27.)

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