Fractional CMO or Full-Time Marketing Director: Which One Do You Need?

Fractional CMO or Full-Time Marketing Director: Which One Do You Need?

Here’s a hypothetical for you. Let’s say you started your company a while back as a one-man operation — or maybe with just a small, bare bones staff. In the earlier stages, things went surprisingly well. It wasn’t a painless journey — few entrepreneurial journeys are — but your forward progress was beyond question.

More recently, it feels like you’ve hit a bump in the road and that progress has slowed just a bit. The array of marketing initiatives you’ve been executing — all of which you conceptualized and initiated yourself — are still working to an extent, but you’re no longer satisfied with your results. And because you’re one of those enlightened individuals who sees marketing not as an expense, but as an investment, you’re also beginning to suspect that your marketing pursuits not only need to be refined, but maybe even broadened — and it’s now time to hire someone to helm those marketing pursuits.

This realization leads you to a very key consideration you must now make: Which will serve your needs better, a fractional Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or a full-time Marketing Director?  Let’s take a closer look at both options, but before we do that, let’s define both of these positions and what distinguishes one from the other.

What is a Fractional CMO?

According To Forbes, A Fractional CMO Is A Marketer Who Works With Businesses For A Fixed Amount Of Time In A Given Month. Just How Much Time Is A “Fixed Amount”, You Might Ask? A Fractional Marketer Usually Provides Marketing Knowledge And Expertise For Several Clients At The Same Time, And The Time Commitment For Each Of Them Can Vary Considerably, As Can The Responsibilities That The CMO Performs For Each Client.

In most cases, a fractional CMO will work only a portion of the hours that a full-time marketing director will put in, and as such, will be compensated accordingly. This very important distinction can serve to put substantial marketing expertise within the reach of companies that might otherwise be unable to afford it.

What is a Full-Time Marketing Director?

Okay, this one is pretty self-explanatory. By the very definition of the role, this marketing professional will work exclusively for your company as an employee, not as an outside contractor. As such, they won’t be taking on additional clients and you’ll have their undivided attention and experiential bandwidth to draw upon.

They’ll develop a marketing plan — with your buy-in, of course — and will oversee and execute the various marketing initiatives that make up that plan. Since digital marketing, which is inherently measurable, will almost certainly make up the lion’s share of the plan, this individual will also closely monitor the ongoing analytics of those campaigns, making necessary adjustments to key parameters along the way.

A Fractional CMO Will Likely Serve Your Needs Best When . . .

You’re concerned that hiring a Full-Time Marketing Director might be overkill.

As a successful business owner, you’ve almost certainly had to draw on your professional instincts to make some key decisions and those instincts have generally served you well up to this point. So, if you think that your needs might not require the services of a full-time marketing director, you’re probably right.

Further, if you were to hire one, you might not recognize this potential inefficiency for a while. It’s not like a newly hired marketing director would be sitting idly at their desk for hours on end. Cyril Northcote Parkinson was onto something when he first set forth his self-titled law, Parkinson’s Law, in a 1955 essay for The Economist — work really does expand to fill the time allotted for its completion. This applies to marketing work just as readily as any other workplace obligations.

Up to this point, you’ve probably been overseeing the responsibilities of this role yourself and, while you’re committed to upping your company’s marketing game, maybe you can’t help but wonder if your potential new hire might end up having too much idle time, or might bring a skillset to your company that won’t ever be fully needed.

There are no such concerns to be had with fractional CMOs. You can scale their responsibilities up front to fit your needs and even expand those responsibilities as your marketing initiatives begin to bear fruit. 

You’re Having Trouble Rationalizing the Financial Commitment That a Full-Time Marketing Director Requires

Maybe having the undivided attention of an accomplished marketing professional sounds pretty appealing, but there are undeniable downsides that come with this arrangement. First and foremost has to be the sheer financial commitment that this position requires. Quality marketing directors don’t come cheap. According to, the position often fetches a salary of over $150,000 a year and sometimes far more.

Add in expected perks like health care and retirement savings programs and you end up with what can be a pretty foreboding cash outlay for many companies. At the higher end of the corporate spectrum, full-time CMOs often receive equity in the companies they go to work for. It may be difficult for you to relinquish this equity and it will also make cutting ties with your full-time CMO a lot harder should things not work out as you had hoped down the line.

Finding and Onboarding a Quality Marketing Director Takes Time . . . and You Don’t Have It

A diligent, thoughtful hiring process takes time. There are recruitment ads to create and place, and interviews to conduct — almost certainly multiple rounds of interviews. You not only have to make sure the candidate is the right fit for the position as far as skills and experience are concerned, but there’s also the consideration of just how well this candidate will mesh with the other members of your company. This doesn’t happen overnight.

According to employment website Zippia, on average it takes about 42 days to hire a new employee, but considering the stakes of hiring such a pivotal member of your team, the process for a marketing director can take even longer than that. If you’re looking for quick results, this might prove to be pretty frustrating.

You Already Have Staff Members with Some of the Right Skillsets

Supposing you bring on a full-time marketing director and there turns out to be some noticeable duplication of duties. You’ll not only be wasting money, but you might also start seeing some discord among your employees that wasn’t there before. 

Maybe the employee or employees who had been entrusted with your marketing initiatives have been doing a good job, but they don’t have the experience or perspective to chart the course for the future. Bringing on a full-time marketing director might make these employees feel displaced and they could start to feel a diminished sense of fulfillment.

As this Inc. article suggests, it might just be that we’ve been thinking about the omnipresent happiness/fulfilment equation all wrong. When employees feel fulfilled, they tend to feel happier. But, when they feel like they’re being pushed down the proverbial totem pole or relegated to doing rote work, this happiness erodes.

Maybe the employees who have been handling the marketing chores up to this point do certain things well, but lack in other areas, and they need some continuing guidance as those vacuums are filled — supervision you don’t have the time, or perhaps right skillset, to provide.

The responsibilities of a fractional CMO can be scaled according to your needs. Do you already have someone who is great at creating content but doesn’t have much experience with digital marketing initiatives, for example? Not a problem. You can hire a fractional CMO while delineating their responsibilities accordingly.

You Want to Fill Your Company’s Marketing Needs . . . and Nothing More

Being part of a workplace team on a daily basis is, for the most part, a great thing. The camaraderie that comes with it can elevate morale and increase productivity, but there are often distractions that insinuate themselves into this scenario.  

Human beings are political by nature and office politics can lead to gossip and other workplace drama. Also, having to field input that’s not necessarily related to either marketing or your company’s priorities can easily drain substantial bandwidth from a full-time marketing director.

There’s far less a chance of that being a concern with a fractional CMO. Sure, you’ll want a strong relationship between your staff and a fractional CMO if you decide to go this route, but because a fractional CMO won’t usually be just down the hall from the rest of your staff, they’ll be less likely to be approached with issues that can best be handled by someone else. 

Here’s When You Might Want to Consider Hiring a Full-Time Marketing Director

As we’ve pointed out, hiring a fractional CMO carries some decided benefits, but there are situations where a full-time marketing director might make sense.

Has your company grown to a size where its unattended marketing responsibilities are undeniably on a full-time scale? Or maybe these full-time responsibilities are being attended to, but not as efficiently as you’d like by either your existing staff or that part-timer you’ve hired.

Then it might be time to consider hiring a full-timer. You might decide to use a financial barometer to arrive at this conclusion — maybe your company has hit $10 million in revenue, for example — but then again, the decision might just be based on the realization that conceptualizing and overseeing the marketing initiatives that will drive your company forward in the future will easily consume 40 or more hours of work for even the most qualified individual.

You’ve Decided You Need a Full-Time Marketing Director, and a Full-Time Marketing Staff as Well

Maybe your company is doing great, but your vision for the future includes a dramatic expansion — an expansion so ambitious that it will not only require the services of a full-time marketing director, but also a staff to go along with it.

You also know full well that you either don’t have the time or the ability to hire such a staff. By contrast, a seasoned marketing director almost certainly will. During the course of their career, this candidate has likely hired and overseen more than a few marketing managers and/or marketing coordinators and can put this experience to work in creating an altogether new department.

You Don’t Want to Share Bandwidth

Maybe the prospect of having a marketing professional’s undivided attention is a prime driver for you. As we’ve noted that undivided attention will come at a price, but it might be a price you’re willing to pay.

While an effective fractional CMO should know what kind of time commitment it would take to accomplish the objectives you’ve set forth and shouldn’t be biting off more commitment than they can chew, a full-time marketing director might be the more viable option in this scenario.

Because their revenue is coming in from multiple pieces, a fractional CMO will almost always have multiple clients — both in the present and in the future. It’s usually a non-starter to expect a qualified marketing professional to cut ties with those clients and forego the revenue that comes with them.

Of course, you won’t encounter this issue with a full-time marketing director. Full focus will go to your company’s marketing needs, with no other clients to deter from that focus. You’ll also have a realistic expectation that your new hire will be with you for the long haul, as full-time CMOs do tend to stick with one employer for a while  — about 3.5 years on average, as we noted in a previous article. 

Their full-time status also means they’ll have more opportunity to be an ardent brand evangelist for your company while they attend industry functions and other networking opportunities.

In Conclusion

Just as no two companies are completely alike, neither are their marketing needs and objectives. There are certain situations where a full-time Marketing Director may provide a perfect fit, given that the company’s revenue and future plans warrant such a hire. On the other hand, because of the role’s far greater flexibility and scalability, a fractional CMO may efficiently suit the needs of a wide spectrum of companies.

What’s your take on this? Are you planning on adding a marketing professional to your staff in the near future, and if so, which direction are you more likely to pursue — hiring a fractional CMO or going all in on a full-time marketing director? Let us know — we’d love to hear from you!

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