By Nat Ives
Two years after eliminating the role of chief marketing officer in favor of a more powerful chief growth officer, Coca-Cola Co. is resurrecting the CMO post.
Francisco Crespo, who has overseen marketing and other duties as Coca-Cola's first chief growth officer since 2017, will retire in 2020, the company said. Manolo Arroyo, the president of the company's Asia Pacific Group, was named to take on the marketing portion of Mr. Crespo's responsibilities under the resurrected title of CMO.
Although most big companies employ CMOs, the title has become less popular in the past few years as marketing increasingly overlaps with other business drivers like innovation, analytics and strategy. CMO titles have been eliminated or gone unfilled this year at brands including Uber Technologies Inc., Johnson & Johnson and Beam Suntory Inc.
About 70% of large companies have CMOs at the corporate level, down from roughly 74% in 2009, according to estimates by leadership advisory firm Spencer Stuart.
When Coca-Cola named Mr. Crespo as chief growth officer and cut the CMO role, Chief Executive Officer James Quincey explained that marketing was becoming less neatly separated from other key activities.
"There's a much greater intersection and integration of how to engage with consumers and shoppers," Mr. Quincey said on an earnings call then. "And therefore, bringing together in one group the classical marketing pieces with a customer piece with a commercial piece and with the strategy, underpinned with the digital engagement, is what's going to allow us to more seamlessly operate in this new environment."
Coca-Cola declined to make executives available on Monday to discuss the reversal, but pointed to a staff memo by Mr. Quincey about the changes.
Though Mr. Crespo built a strong framework for growth around the company, the company needs more emphasis on marketing to accelerate its vision, Mr. Quincey said in the memo.
"That's kind of the trap of some of these proxy roles sometimes," said Keith Johnston, vice president and research director at Forrester Research Inc., which recently predicted that CMO titles would continue to wane. "If you've aligned budgets and decisions, you're in a pretty good place, but you can't have someone who doesn't really understand marketing. You have to emphasize the customer relationship because that's how brands are built now, but you can't dismiss the fact that brand plays a role."
Mr. Arroyo has more marketing experience than Mr. Crespo did when he became chief growth officer. Mr. Arroyo also will continue in his role as president of the Asia Pacific Group.
"If the argument is you want them to focus more on marketing, I'm not sure that giving them a business unit in addition to marketing is going to help them focus," said Kim Whitler, assistant professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business and a former CMO of David's Bridal Inc.
The job titles that companies use don't always completely correspond to responsibilities, and can fluctuate over time without revealing much about larger industry trends, Ms. Whitler added. "There are no rules about what sets of responsibilities go with what title," she said.
Even Coca-Cola's chief growth officer didn't oversee innovation, an important component of growth, Ms. Whitler said.
A Coca-Cola spokesman said the company considers both growth and innovation to be high priorities, noting that both the chief growth officer and chief innovation officer report to Mr. Quincey.
Coca-Cola's sales rose in the third quarter, largely due to variations on its namesake cola such as Coke Zero Sugar. The company is also introducing a coffee-flavored version of Coke, an energy drink called Coca-Cola Energy and a new seltzer brand with caffeinated options.
Write to Nat Ives at email@example.com