Death of the CDO, Rise of the CPO
It was 1999 and the Internet was about to flip publishing on its head. The media called for the end of print with the debate being mostly about what month and not what year – a fait accompli. One of the top strategic M&A questions was, “Who’s your head of digital?”
Fast forward 20 years. If you are in media and information, and still around, your company looks a lot different and is likely a lot stronger. You have reduced your print exposure, likely increased your event portfolio, and at minimum have a strategic objective to build your paid content and data revenue streams. Without a doubt, your Internet-centered portfolio of products and services is a lot deeper and more complex. Companies generally account for these revenue line-items under “digital” and the CEO hires a senior person to sit on top of the digital pile. This C-level position is titled Chief Digital Officer, or CDO.
There are good reasons and justifications for having a CDO. Reasons include the need for short and long-term digital strategy, architecting business-enabling tech stacks, cost and resource management, internal training, and external product and service positioning. All of these CDO responsibilities are best measured by one KPI – accretive digital revenue growth. However, the justifications for the CDO role are largely driven by inward thinking. Calling for the death of the CDO is based on pivoting this inward orientation 180 degrees and redirecting it externally toward customers and the market in general. This reorientation aligns strategic decisions and implementation with market forces and customer needs.
If we agree on the ultimate measurement of the CDO being (long-term sustainable) digital revenue growth, then the next logical question is, “What generates revenue?” Simple answer: goods and services, aka “products.” This naturally and logically leads to the notion of the Rise of the Chief Product Officer.
Let’s unpack this a bit, using Apple as an example. One of their core competencies is design. Most would agree that this is evident when holding and navigating one of their products or walking into one of their retail stores. The exclamation point on the importance of this competency is when Apple lost $9B in market value the day Jony Ive’s departure was announced. Jony Ive is Apple’s Chief Design Officer and has frequently been cited as the most important person at Apple after their CEO, Tim Cook.
So, what do we know? Apple is a design company. The user experience reinforces this brand promise. And the most important person after Apple’s CEO is their Chief Design Officer. Best-in-class “design” is one key secret to Apple’s success.
Let’s take a minute to think of the CDO position relative to the success of a B2B media and information company in the same manner as the Chief Design Officer has been to Apple. What does Chief Digital Officer communicate to customers and the broader industry when core competencies are largely content (delivered via digital, in-person, and print) and data? Yes, over the last 20 years we needed to develop the CDO role to transform internal culture and talent around digitize-or-die business and product strategies. At the time, the CDO role communicated to our customers that we were serious about digital. But, what does it communicate now? To this point, even our print businesses are based on digital technologies, but is that today’s important headline?
While the CDO market message is more rear-mirror, it has also confused internally some of the best run companies. In some scenarios, Digital has become the new organizational silo. In others, Data teams have been organized separate from Digital when efficiencies and scale could be gained from being vertically integrated with digitized data activated through various channels. Some companies have employed CDOs who are either technical or have backgrounds in sales and marketing. So, which set of skills are required of a CDO, technical or sales and marketing? Because you really can’t have both. Additionally, many companies have emphasized Project Management over Product Management. This can only lead to better run projects that likely result in poorer financial results.
To better orient ourselves, let’s take a look at a few title definitions (according to Wikipedia):
- Chief Digital Officer: “an individual who helps a company … drive growth by converting traditional ‘analog’ businesses to digital ones using the potential of modern online technologies and data (i.e. digital transformations), and at times oversees operations…”, and “As the role frequently is transformational, CDOs generally are responsible for the adoption of digital technologies across a business.”
- Chief Product Officer: “The CPO is to the business's product what the CTO is to technology,” and “A CPO is responsible for all product-related matters. Usually includes product vision, product innovation, product design, product development, project management and product marketing. … Ultimately the Chief Product Officer's responsibility is to build a great product that avails sustainable value in terms of revenue and profits for the business.”
As one Harvard Business Review article suggests, the best product managers create products that have high user adoption and result in high revenue growth. The article also lists competencies of the product manager to include gathering and interpreting needs of the market and customers and turning those findings into solutions. An important requirement of the role is to ensure that solutions are realistic to implement and have the ability to scale in terms of revenue and profit. This requirement is critical to the health of a company, as all too often a creative conversation with the customer results in high-fives and kudos only to be followed by poor delivery and an inability to scale.
The good news is that your CDO may not need to go away. But your culture may need a 2020 refresh. To get there it is important to note that Product Management is a discipline, not an idea. Pivoting to a product culture involves a fresh look at talent, job descriptions, titles, organization, and education. A Product Management culture places a high degree of importance on the business unit or brand manager, and it requires a close working relationship between the two roles or groups, which is why a high emotional quotient is a core competency of a good Product Manager. Employing an experienced Product Manager is an important step. Having a product culture supported by the CEO and the board – and led by the competencies of a Chief Product Officer – is critical to the success of today’s media companies.
Tom Cintorino is currently the CEO/Founder of The Next Chapter Consulting, providing consulting services in strategy, technology, product management, and M&A for travel, technology, and media companies. Tom has been a digital media strategist and business leader for the past eighteen years. As the EVP at Northstar Travel Group, responsibilities included digital strategy, product development, operations, M&A, and special projects such as spending 2014-2015 in China and Singapore integrating two acquisitions. Previously, he built PennWell Corporation's Digital Media organization and led their transformation efforts creating one of their largest and fastest growing profit centers. Prior to being in the media business, Cintorino held various senior-level positions in early-stage venture-backed high-tech firms. Specifically, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for iCOMS, Senior Vice President of Sales & Sales Operations for Dr Solomon's, and Vice-President of Worldwide Sales for Logicraft, Inc. Cintorino holds a BS in Mathematics and an MBA in Technology Management. Cintorino was awarded “Top Digital Media Executive” in 2011 by Media Business’s Top Innovators in Business Publishing and has chaired Connectiv’s (formerly American Business Media) Digital Media Council in 2004, 2005, 2012, and 2013. Tom is currently on the Board of Advisors for Watt Global Media.