Marketing & Advertising

How Much Does a Chief Marketing Officer Make?

How Much Does a Chief Marketing Officer Make?
Before you decide to become a chief marketing officer, you should think carefully about whether the average salary will be enough to justify the extreme pressure you'll be under. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry March 23, 2020

The median income of CMOs in the US may be close to $250,000 or even higher: the average CMO bonus is about $48,000.

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CMO salaries are going up, which is good news for marketing specialists with c-suite ambitions. However, there’s also bad news. Because marketing is increasingly becoming a data-driven enterprise, chief marketing officers no longer spend all day (and the company’s money) developing creative marketing strategies and overseeing the creation of imaginative commercial marketing campaigns. One of the reasons CMOs are earning more is that they have become revenue generators.

Data science and marketing analytics have made everything from social media marketing to public relations highly trackable. While the data collected during and after strategic marketing campaigns is never perfect, it does provide a picture of how content marketing is translating into sales or how TV advertising is affecting lead generation. A CMOs whose marketing efforts aren’t delivering up dollars might earn good money in the short term, but their tenure will be short.

It’s a common scenario, according to an analysis by Korn Ferry. The average tenure of a CMO is just three-and-a-half years. Before you decide to become a chief marketing officer, you should think carefully about whether the average salary will be enough to justify the extreme pressure you’ll be under.

There’s a lot to consider. In this article, we look at how much does a chief marketing officer make and cover the following:

  • What does a chief marketing officer do?
  • How long does it take to become a chief marketing officer?
  • How much does a chief marketing officer earn?
  • How does the CMO’s salary compare to entry-level salaries in marketing?
  • Does the CMO earn more than the VP of marketing?
  • Where do chief marketing officers earn the most?
  • Do chief marketing officers earn enough money?

What does a chief marketing officer do?

Marketing executives—from the junior marketing manager to the vice president of marketing to the CMO—used to have the freedom to throw spaghetti at the wall (figuratively speaking, of course). They’d dream up colorful magazine ads, clever radio campaigns, and innovative TV spots. If the CEO loved it and the campaign didn’t go over budget, that constituted success. It was difficult to measure accurately how branding efforts were affecting customer behavior, so most companies didn’t even bother to try.

Now it is possible, and chief marketing officers are responsible for proving that the campaigns they create and oversee generate not only awareness but also profits. Everything they do has to result in a solid return on investment.

The CMO’s responsibilities include:

  • Clarifying the year’s marketing goals and generating results projections
  • Creating protocols for marketing communications
  • Working with the VP of marketing to develop customer acquisition and/or brand awareness strategy
  • Building the marketing budget from the bottom up
  • Running product market fit testing
  • Overseeing the marketing specialists creating consumer-facing campaigns
  • Monitoring marketing analytics across channels
  • Measuring campaign effectiveness in real time
  • Tracking campaign spends to ensure cost-effectiveness
  • Developing search engine optimization (SEO) strategies
  • Overseeing employees in relationship management and the influencers/partners they manage
  • Collaborating with product development, public relations, sales, customer relations, and data science teams
  • Acting as the liaison between marketing and sales
  • Giving regular updates to the CEO

Don’t think, however, that this is all you’ll do when you become CMO. The reason that the average base salary of chief marketing officers is so high is that they are expected to take on a lot of responsibility. Your day-to-day duties can change dramatically, depending on where you work. CMOs at tech companies might spend more time on user and usage analysis, while the chief marketing officer at a communications firm may be almost entirely focused on lead generation.

Regardless of where you work, your annual salary will likely be only one part of your total compensation. When your campaigns meet revenue targets, you’ll get bonuses. When they don’t, you might get a second chance… or not.

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How long does it take to become a chief marketing officer?

It typically takes more than a decade to become a chief marketing officer and earn a CMO’s average annual salary. You’ll spend at least four years earning a bachelor’s degree—usually a degree in marketing, business administration, or business marketing. Some of the top undergraduate marketing programs can be found at:

If you can handle getting a dual degree in marketing and business administration, you may end up becoming a CMO faster. However, you can still land this position if you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree in another discipline. In the final analysis, experience strongly trumps academic degrees in determining who occupies this c-suite office. By the time you’re eligible for this job, you will have accrued a lot of experience.

Next, you’ll spend about two years earning a master’s degree. If you want to be a CMO because you love marketing, earning a Master of Science in Marketing or another master’s degree in marketing may seem like the logical next step in your journey. You’ll probably have an easier time advancing through the ranks of marketing, however, with a few years of professional experience and a marketing MBA under your belt. That’s because most MS in Marketing programs are designed for marketers who want to continue working in creative roles in marketing.

MBA in marketing programs, on the other hand, are designed for future marketing leaders. Students in these programs study marketing management, business operations management, sales force management, marketing channels strategy, forecasting and modeling, and new product strategy. You’ll find some of the best marketing MBA programs at:

It’s not entirely clear whether CMOs with MBAs earn more than those with other types of master’s degrees, but many job listings for CMOs state outright that when it comes to education, an MBA is preferred.

Many chief marketing officers begin their careers in lower-level marketing positions like marketing coordinator, marketing specialist, social media coordinator, or content marketer before advancing into leadership roles like:

Be aware that roughly two-thirds of CMOs are hired not because of their marketing management experience, but rather for their deep domain expertise in a specific field (e.g., healthcare or finance). Or, they have data science and analytics backgrounds that give them the skills to deliver quantifiable results in today’s data-driven marketing landscape.

How much does a chief marketing officer earn?

Most CMOs earn a lot. Salary estimates differ from source to source, but PayScale and Glassdoor agree that the average CMO salary is about $173,000. Their base salary estimates don’t include bonuses, commissions, and profit sharing, however, and so the median income of CMOs in the US may be closer to $250,000 or even higher: the average CMO bonus is about $48,000.

Some chief marketing officers, on the other hand, earn astronomical sums. The CMO of Coca-Cola earns about $7 million. The CMOs of Dell and Time Warner earn more than $13 million. And the CMO of Charter Communications earns $16 million.

How does the CMO’s salary compare to entry-level salaries in marketing?

Entry-level marketers typically earn about $44,000 annually in the US. The average marketing manager salary is about $20,000 higher. CMOs make a lot more than that, which is good news. Still, anyone who wants to become a chief marketing officer should prepare for some surprisingly lean years at the outset. Entry- and mid-level marketing are not high-return undertakings.

Does the CMO earn more than the VP of marketing?

Chief marketing officer salaries tend to be higher than marketing VP salaries, but at first glance, the difference in earning potential between these two roles doesn’t seem huge. The average vice president of marketing salary is about $146,000, according to PayScale, and top-earning VPs can earn $203,000. But while less-experienced VPs and marketing executives at smaller companies may earn closer to $80,000 (about what the lowest-paid CMOs get), the top-earning chief marketing officers of the world earn a lot more than the average high-earning VP.

That said, the answer to this question isn’t exactly cut-and-dried. Companies across industries have very different management structures, and those companies get to decide what titles marketing executives are given. While one firm might have a chief marketing officer at the top of the marketing hierarchy, another might have a vice president at the top performing the same marketing functions and reporting to the CEO.

Where do chief marketing officers earn the most?

CMOs who work in Portland, OR, earn the highest salaries at $285,500, which is about 15 percent higher than the US average for this position. If your goal is not just to become a chief marketing officer, but to earn big bucks in this role, you’ll also find some of the highest-paying CMO jobs in:

  • San Francisco, CA
  • Washington, DC
  • New York City, NY
  • Boston, MA
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Atlanta, GA

Do chief marketing officers earn enough money?

CMOs exist at the top of the marketing heap and are some of the highest-paid marketing professionals, but money isn’t everything. This is an exceptionally stressful role—partly because turnover among chief marketing officers is the highest in the c-suite and partly because CEOs don’t trust CMOs. The problem may be that no one seems to know what function CMOs should be fulfilling.

The pure CMO is the role of a bygone era,” one Forbes piece asserts. “An anachronism that hearkens to a time of expense accounts, three-martini lunches and patient shareholders.”

Chief marketing officers are still getting those Mad Men paychecks—for now—but this role may be going extinct. It could be that the modern marketing landscape has become too vast for a single executive to oversee. CMOs are responsible for too much—multiple channels, ROI, sales numbers, and automation—and typically have too few resources to meet the goals given to them by CEOs. Ultimately, the chief marketing officer’s position may split into multiple c-suite roles, all of which will probably pay well.

The takeaway for marketers who aspire to become CMOs might just be that branding matters when you’re selling yourself. Don’t treat this role as the pinnacle of success in marketing. Keep your eyes open for equally lucrative executive roles in digital marketing, awareness management, branding, and marketing analytics.

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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