A Compass Conversation With Jessica Deckinger, the interim Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) You Wish You Had
January 30, 2024
We sat down with Jessica Deckinger, a seasoned marketing executive with over 12 years as a Chief Marketing Officer across a variety of industries and sectors. Jessica is skilled at parachuting into a range of different businesses and leading their marketing teams. Jessica is frequently asked to lead these teams due to her ability to hit the ground running while providing a balance of financially-based business thinking with her ability to communicate and execute a creative vision. Jessica shares with us vital insights on what it takes to become an Interim Chief Marketing Officer(CMO) and why she enjoys it so much.
What is an Interim CMO and how do they differ from the traditional CMO role?
Interim/Fractional CMOs take on work either in shorter time frames, or in a part-time role, where they are dedicating less than their full work week to a specific role. These types of roles are generally different than “marketing consulting” because an Interim or Fractional leader is helicoptering in to do the hands-on leadership and execution work.
In my view, interim/fractional CMO’s who want to contribute real value need 3 core strengths:
great active listening and collaborative diagnostic abilities
excellent delegation and alignment-building skills
a powerful “get-it-done” and “over-communicate about it” bias
These skills in concert enable an interim CMO to come in and identify and prioritize effectively and then drive results quickly that are visible across the entire organization.
In a longer-term role, you have the gift of time to build rapport, trust, and a track record of impact over a longer window. Interim roles are by nature intended to enable you to ultimately prove yourself quickly, make rapid impact, and ideally render yourself unnecessary.
The golden formula to earn referrals to new interim roles – Prove you can work yourself out of a job rapidly while leaving the organization better off.
When does it make sense for a company to have an Interim CMO? What advantages does an Interim CMO bring to the table?
Interim/fractional leadership of any type, but specifically marketing, can come in whenever there’s a gap in permanent leadership.
There are two scenarios where an interim/fractional leader is the best strategic option.
Times of Change - When a company is in the process of transition, whether that’s a pivot in product or go to market, adjusting post-merger, acquisition or divestiture, or just changes in overall leadership in other roles, it’s vital that the organization have some direction for the ship, but also preserves time to evaluate what type of leadership strengths will best fit the“new” organization.
New Beginnings – Having an interim CMO is also valuable when the marketing organization or product-market fit is in the early stages. It’s tough to build a great team and function without strong leadership to set the strategic plan and hiring sequence, but it’s also hard to hire a senior leader if you have a limited budget and need to get the work done – this is where an interim/fractional leader adds value.
I’ve taken interim roles that are focused on the acceleration of current growth, the turn-around in the face of roadblocks to success, and just generally establishing a “best in class” team, Marketing Tech stack, and programs.
Truly, though, a great interim/fractional leader can provide not just advisory inputs, but step in as a “player” and a “coach” for an organization, not just pontificating, but doing the real work “in the weeds” with the team. Interim/fractional leaders allow companies of all sizes to tap into the skills of a more seasoned expert who can be both deep and broad in many areas, without burdening the organization with a costly full-time hire before they’re ready. They can come from a diverse experience set, and deliver positive disruption to an organization, even if that’s only for a short time.
Interim leadership is also often a great mechanism to “try before you buy” senior talent. An interim/fractional leader can often flip into a full-time hire if and when the fit and timing are right. They can also serve as an incredible source of insight about what kind of talent is needed or an actual connection to a wide variety of talent from their own networks, even if they don’t take a permanent role themselves.
What does it take to be an Interim CMO? What have been some of your favorite/ most impactful experiences?
I’d say it takes a combination of open-mindedness, grit and patience. It takes an open mind to be willing to always try new things and to maintain a learner’s mentality. Grit is invaluable when you’re facing tough challenges in an engagement with culture, operations, red tape, or too many priorities for example. Patience pays off in interim roles as it enables you to navigate complexity, newness, and conflict without getting flustered or frustrated.
My most impactful experiences have been surprisingly at the most complex engagements. Sometimes those come at large public companies and sometimes at very small, very early startups. I’d say when a company needs someone to observe, diagnose, and solve, that’s when I thrive and can make the most impact.
As an interim/fractional leader, my favorite experiences are those where I can genuinely create change, accelerate growth, and support the team’s success. That can come in a variety of forms. In a sense, that makes me a fan of implementing and training the right people, systems, and marketing programs to help a team “hit the gas pedal” in any size company.
Are You in Need of a Fractional CMO?
Experienced CMOs can be hard-to-find, pricey and (often) not available when you need them!
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Annette is skilled at identifying growth opportunities and successfully guiding products from concept to launch. At Compass, she advises leading brands and category disruptors in the health & wellness, personal care and digital health sectors.