What is a Fractional CMO?

We are all quite familiar with the terms interim and consultancy in the marketing sphere, but we are increasingly also hearing about Fractional Chief Marketing Officers. Growth Partners recently sat down with Martin McGovern, an experienced CMO now working as a consultant, to discuss the different facets of these roles and how they can positively impact businesses.

For background, could you explain what the difference is between a Fractional CMO, a Marketing Consultant and an Interim Marketing Leader?

I’ve spent over 30 years in financial services marketing, primarily in corporate management and leadership roles but also at times and currently in roles where I’ve been tagged as a Consultant; an Interim or retained on a Fractional basis. These sorts of roles fulfil senior functional leadership requirements, usually as part of major business change. It’s not simply contractors bolstering project delivery teams or parental cover which whilst not exclusively, are more typically BAU orientated.

A Marketing Consultant is a Subject Matter Expert (SME). A provider of expert advice, sitting outside the organisation. They are not part of a management/leadership structure and they are remunerated on a fee basis tied to time commitment or a scope of work. They are probably operating at a strategic level with activity implementation either through in-house teams or external vendor networks.

A Fractional CMO/Director is attractive to businesses that may not have a need for a full time Executive marketing leader but do want a senior voice at the table to set and steer the agenda. A FCMO may also be deployed as businesses evolve and grow and eventually scale up to a level where they require full time leadership. Typically, a FCMO assumes leadership of an existing team, committing a certain number of hours/days per week or month. As with a Consultant, the FCMO is technically an external role but is much more integrated into business as usual as they direct teams and agencies.

Interim assignments are usually full time and operate inside the business, joining a leadership team and integrating into the wider organisation. They usually run to a timeline of 3-, 6- or 12-months duration. Due to tax regulations most interim roles are deemed as being “inside IR35” meaning remuneration is on a PAYE basis or via an umbrella company who technically employ the interim on behalf of the client and manage the remuneration process.

Emma Morrison talks to Annabel Venner about the difference between a fractional CMO and a marketing consultant.

“A fractional CMO doesn’t just sit in the marketing team, it works across the whole business”

Why do businesses look to take on Marketing Leaders of this sort?

For consultancy roles, businesses usually need additional marketing manpower to see through a specific project or period of change.

The appeal of fractional CMOs is often to high growth business that might not (yet) be the right size to sustain a permanent CMO, but still need that senior marketing voice at the table to determine strategy. This is when a fractional CMO can have real impact for a growing business.

There are two different scenarios that lead to opportunities for interim leaders: businesses that know what they want and businesses don’t know what they want.

When a business knows what they want they have a very clear vision of the type of marketing leader they’re looking for in terms of experience and expertise, whether it’s a new or replacement role. Finding that permanent placement shouldn’t be rushed and can take 6 to 12 months to deliver, so they opt to bring in an interim leader to bridge the gap.

When a business doesn’t know what they want, for example they may be going through a change cycle and don’t have a functional leader in place to set the right vison and direction, they choose to bring in an interim leader to help scope what is required – so a mixture of consultancy and interim leadership.

Who is best suited to become a Fractional CMO?

It is best suited to someone looking to develop a portfolio of responsibilities such as small number of Fractional roles alongside NED opportunities and therefore, someone coming out of full-time corporate life looking for greater flexibility.

How do marketing leaders find these opportunities?

The market for marketing consultancy, interim and fractional opportunities is multi-layered and inherently fractured and includes self-generated opportunities, corporate opportunities and agency introduced opportunities. In the case of agencies there are both specialist and generalist firms who may be working with clients who have interim leadership requirements. It’s very easy to register with large number of agencies but my advice would be to build rapport with a small number of good marketing consultancies rather than spray & pray!!

What are your top tips for marketing leaders looking to move into the fractional, consultancy or interim space?

  1. Make sure you have infrastructure basics in place; home office, technology, an accountant, insurance, company registration if consulting and up-to-date CV and LinkedIn profile.
  2. When you first engage with an organisation about an opportunity, be clear on whether they need consultancy, fractional support or an interim leader.
  3. Embrace adaptability and change – all businesses are dynamic and “the brief” may change and you may have to adapt or alternatively close out.
  4. Stay current – at the end of any assignment take time to reflect and self-assess; find time to read; stay connected to industry forums and events etc.
  5. Recognise your value – these types of engagements are best taken on in the latter part of your career – the value you bring is experience and a track record of success.
  6. Use your network – don’t be afraid to ask for views on a topic/issue – most people are generous and willing to help and make sure you are ready to reciprocate.
  7. Look after your own wellbeing – schedule time off and holidays – I operate on the principle of book early and book often.
  8. Leave well – make sure you wrap up at the conclusion of an assignment; offer to stay in touch if you are handing over to a permanent hire or BAU team. 


Our thanks to Martin McGovern for sharing his thoughts on this topic. If you have any questions or are interested in becoming a Growth Partners consultant, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Emma Morrison.