Are You Stuck in CMO No Man’s Land?

December 18, 2018 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

As we near the end of 2018, we’re taking a two-part look at a common situation many challenger brands find themselves in when they start to get traction with consumers and revenue starts going up. Often, when challenger brands experience a healthy burst of growth, they find themselves in an exciting, but uneasy “marketing no man’s land” where they need to hire both an outside advertising agency and a CMO but can really only afford one.

Last week, we looked at the role differentiation and loyalty play in the growth of challenger brands. This week, we answer the question every underdog brand faces when they begin to experience real growth – “what to do about advertising and marketing when we can’t afford to do everything we WANT to do?”


See if this sounds familiar…

You’re a somewhat young, exciting brand somewhere in the middle of the pack categorically and you’re starting to make some noise. Maybe there’s something special and truly different about you. Maybe you’re a disruptor taking a completely fresh look at the category. Maybe you have no idea why you’re catching fire, but you are. Revenue is growing as is brand loyalty and for the first time, you realize it’s time to move from a few in-house people doing their best to navigate their way through the advertising and marketing minefield, to hiring a CMO and an advertising agency that can help you do some research, develop new marketing and take the brand to the next level.

The thing is, you can’t afford to hire a CMO and an agency. There’s only enough in the budget to invest in one, or the other. If you roll with the CMO, you’re not going to have the broad agency resources to implement campaigns and marketing, but if you roll with the ad agency, you’ll miss out on the focused, strategic, big-picture leadership you’d get from a CMO. It’s marketing no-man’s land where no answer seems to be a good one – at least using conventional thinking.


Part of being a challenger brand means being resourceful and finding a way where there is no way. It means digging deep to find the heart, guts and desire to take on the big dogs. But it also means doing that within the confines of your budget. While that’s certainly true for your consumer facing marketing, the same goes for your own. At LOOMIS, we’re big fans of smart, strategic, collaborative CMOs. Every brand needs a great leader quarterbacking the brand efforts and the right CMO can be transformative. But when you are forced to choose between a CMO and the right ad agency, we believe you’re better served going with the agency and here are four strong reasons why:


If you choose not to invest in a CMO and instead, partner with an agency who understands challenger branding, understands how to think big on a budget and understands what it takes to build an underdog because they’ve done it, you’ll find you have people on your agency team with many of the skill sets you would have gotten from your CMO. Granted, they may not be self-contained in one person, but the coverage is there. Take LOOMIS for instance. We do not have anyone on our staff with the title of CMO. But we have four or five leaders who could be a CMO tomorrow if that’s the direction they chose. Some are heavy on the business/strategy side, others lean more toward creative. But collectively, those people represent more than 120 years of marketing experience and when you partner with the agency, you partner with all of them.


In addition to those who could drop into being a CMO tomorrow, with an agency, you also get the acumen and perspectives from multiple talented people in media, account service, creative, digital, social, media production, etc. Again, while none of those single people have all the skills you might see in a CMO, their area of expertise runs deeper than any CMO’s and when you put them together collectively, there’s exponentially more thinking going on than you’d ever get from a single person. Additionally, a CMO is a collection of his, or her experiences over the course of a career all viewed through that person’s unique marketing lens. With an agency, you get the perspectives of dozens of people and when you’re a young brand trying to connect with the world, having lots of different perspectives matters.


Going back to our quarterback analogy, which do think has a better chance of winning: a quarterback with no team, or a team with no quarterback? Or more specifically, a team with a running back playing quarterback, or a receiver dropping back to take the snap? Like we said before, we’re huge fans of great CMOs and love the ones we work with. But for many brands, investing in a great CMO limits the funds available to hire other people and you often end up with a General with no Army, or at least an Army ill-equipped experientially to pull off what a CMO might want to attempt. As talented as any single CMO may be, they can’t do everything. When you partner with an agency, you invest in broader resources that can help bring the vision and mission to life. And because you’ve chosen an agency with great leadership and talent, you will still get the quarterbacking you need to point your brand in the right strategic direction.


The last reason we believe you’re better served hiring an agency before your CMO is that the right agency will help you grow faster and provide the revenue you need to add the CMO you want. In an ideal world, you would have both the CMO and agency working hand in hand to create campaigns and drive the brand. But until you can responsibly afford to invest in both, having a broader agency team allows you to compete on more fronts, cover more bases and do the work that will support the brand at every level.


On its face, this may all sound a bit self-serving, but in truth, it comes from a place of experience and success. Over the past 20 years, we’ve had the privilege to serve dozens of clients in this exact capacity and each time, we dug deep to partner with them to leverage the challenger spirit in their brand. We fought to build their brands and when the time was right, we encouraged them to hire CMOs and even led the search. For us, it’s not about competing for attention with a CMO. It’s about delivering for our clients. Whatever that takes.

There’s nothing more exhilarating in advertising and marketing than helping challenger brands succeed. At LOOMIS, we have one simple philosophy: Never underestimate the underdog. Challenger brands may not be the top dogs in their categories, but they’re resourceful. And that’s where we come in. We challenge underdogs to think differently and find new ways of doing things. We help them find their voice, and make sure they’re heard. And we urge them to blaze trails the top dogs won’t, or simply can’t, to make sure they stand out from the pack. Underdogs inspire us. We exist to help them win. And when they’re able to add a CMO to the team, we are all better for the relationship.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a leading advertising agency in Dallas. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other things that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on any of our more than 300 posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE




advertisingadvertising agencychallenger brandchallenger brandingCMOLoomisMike SullivanThe Loomis Agency

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.