Facebook searching for its next CMO: Must be cool under fire

August 2, 2018 8:45 pm

Facebook's next CMO will need to be ready for some serious scrutiny Facebook’s next CMO will need to be ready for some serious scrutiny Credit: Illustration by Tam Nguyen/Ad Age

Facebook is looking to fill what could be the toughest job in America at the moment: A CMO.

This week, the social network posted a job notice on LinkedIn looking for what surely will have to be a miracle marketing leader, as Facebook fends off Congress, regulators, Russians, toxic speech, uncomfortable advertisers and an endless onslaught of negative media attention.

At minimum the right person will know how to “guide a brand’s reputation and experience in crisis management,” says the job description.

That might undersell the talents this person will need.

Facebook has been without a CMO all year, since Gary Briggs exited, leaving the company without a top marketing strategist just as it was being hit with some of its most difficult challenges.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg was pressured to testify before Congress to answer for mishandled consumer data, which came to light in the Cambridge Analytica affair.

In July, Facebook was threatened with the largest fine possible from U.K. regulators over its flimsy data policies that exposed consumers to malicious developers for years.

Data is not Facebook’s only problem. It has been blamed for everything from helping to destroy democracy in America to enabling genocide in Myanmar. Both of those charges stem from bad actors who have been able to warp Facebook for their nefarious purposes—in Myanmar, hate-filled posts have stirred real world violence against a minority group.

“This is a challenging job,” says Brian Wieser, senior analyst at Pivotal. “Facebook is not quite the prestige brand it once was, and there is so much worse to come.”

This year, Zuckerberg has focused the company on a multi-year project to clean up the platform, rid it of the most offensive content, and improve people’s experience. Those efforts could ultimately reduce the amount of time people spend on Facebook, as the company has promised to prioritize people’s well-being over profits.

“The goals are particularly tricky here,” Wieser says. “What is success? Reduced usage?”

Facebook did not return a request for comment on this story.

Facebook’s financial outlook is also the worst it’s been in five years. Last month, Facebook’s stock fell more than 20 percent after second-quarter earnings came in lighter than expected. Also, user growth appeared to hit a wall in advanced markets like the North America and Europe.

“Given their earnings, and the issues they’ve been stumbling across in the marketplace,” says Jay Pattisall, Forrester researcher, “the slow growth—or backward growth—on the user base. It creates a lot of problems for them.”

Facebook recently rolled out an ad campaign meant to remind people of all the good times they’ve had on the social network with promises to do better to fight fake news and spam.

Those attempts to rejuvenate the brand have not gone well. This week, satirist John Oliver mocked Facebook’s marketing campaign on his HBO show, calling the company “history’s most profitable data-harvesting machine.”

In 2017, Facebook spent $325 million on marketing, and it is looking for a person with experience managing marketing budgets of at least $500 million. That would mean a likely candidate has to come from the top 100 largest advertisers in the U.S.

In the past, the CMO would only need to handle ad campaigns and traditional communications, but the role is evolving, Pattisall says. Today’s CMO needs to be able to show real business results and infuse the whole operation with a consistent brand identity and focus on the message.

On Facebook, that message needs to be about feeling safe and connected.

“What they need is a PR master, someone that can build back the public trust,” Pattisall says. “Not just a marketer, but someone connected to leadership answering directly to Sheryl and working pretty closely with Mark to carry their vision forward.”

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