Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

What the Frac? Why you need C-level fractional talent

By Diane Perlman, Fractional CMO, Founder & CEO, Branding Matters Ltd.

The world has changed. Founders and executives of all kinds at companies around the world are cautiously adapting to the swirling vortex that we live in today – war, inflation, AI, layoffs… the list goes on. All while under increasing pressure to ensure every penny is spent on driving growth. What this means is that founders, CEOs and other leaders are becoming more risk-averse amidst the backdrop of these economic realities. ‘There’s been a big loss of momentum, and investors want their companies to be revenue positive,’ said Richard Fearn, investor and NED. 

Hiring and onboarding expensive, skilled, senior full-time corporate leaders is tougher now than ever. This ratchets up the pressure on the success of those hires, so companies often have trouble pulling the trigger for fear it’s the wrong move or they can’t quite afford the talent they want.

And thus a new term was born: Fractional CXO – whether that’s CMO, CRO, CPO. In the past, we might have just called this consulting, freelancing or interim. While consultants and freelancers are talent at all levels, ‘Fractional’ today really refers to senior talent. But this new term makes sense – if a company needs senior-level marketing (or other CXO-level) support today, but isn’t ready to pull the trigger on a full-time investment, buying a fraction of an experienced professional’s time is a useful road to go down. Some people I’ve talked with take a slight umbrage to this term ‘fractional’. They feel it’s somehow derogatory. A diminution of an individual – making them ‘less than’ or a ‘fraction of’. But I like it. And I’m not the only one: Chief Executive magazine recently wrote about this trend and Deloitte’s reported last year that 70% of CXOs it surveyed are planning to leave their roles for opportunities that better support their wellbeing. I don’t feel the term ‘fractional’ diminishes one’s skills or potential impact. Instead, it simply allows us to offer expertise to more companies in a more flexible way – the way agencies have always done, except you always get committed, senior talent – but just the fraction of their time that you can afford.

So what is it really? And who needs it?

A fractional CMO is a seasoned marketing leader, someone who has ‘been there and done that’, and can provide strategic, tactical and, crucially, executional marketing leadership, as well as driving growth and accountability, for the fraction of the cost of a full-time senior hire. The focus is typically on brand strategy, customer acquisition, retention, team leadership and agency management. And this individual can be extremely time-efficient since they have limited days to achieve their goals. They also approach your challenges with fresh eyes and new thinking, as an outside consultant, but with a longer-term commitment, which is great for breaking out of ingrained thinking or unproductive bureaucracies. 

The fractional relationship is flexible and adaptable, as each client will have different needs, ranging from a couple days a week to a few days a month. Additionally, an experienced strategic marketer will draft in the right additional skills at the right time to augment internal capabilities to get the job done.

Think of it as an on-demand marketing resource. If a company isn’t ready for a full-time CMO or already has one, but needs help with specific challenges, that’s where fractional marketing leadership comes in. The company may have no current marketing team in place or a mid-junior level team that needs strategic direction and mentoring. Another scenario is a time-bound, interim need, where the CMO or another senior marketing leader is out on maternity or paternity leave or a sabbatical. Or perhaps there is a new initiative or project that needs leadership and shepherding by a steady handed marketing expert who can operate independently, be strategic and get things done.

Ok – but does it work?

Hiring senior marketing consultants is a tried and tested method of solving any number of marketing and leadership challenges. It’s just the name that’s new. And Fractional CMOs are usually embedded in the organisation, so there is a closer relationship than traditional consulting. Often, companies struggle to recruit because they believe they will find that ‘magical’ person who has every skill and ability under the sun, who can solve all their challenges. But this puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the company to get the hiring right. This is exactly the time to think laterally about how to solve these pressing marketing challenges.

The trend is to simply buy a fraction of time from an experienced CMO who brings a range of skills and experiences, can quickly acclimatise to the company and its challenges and start delivering. No time like the present – time to get fractional and grow without overburdening the bottom line.