Today’s AmLaw Daily carried a great post today, THE CHURN: CMO Edition.

The article points out the fanfare that welcomed two recent AmLaw 100 CMOs, both of whom came from outside the legal industry, and their departures four and eight months later, noting that “a law firm’s culture and structure can require more adjustment than someone arriving from corporate America may expect.”

And while I am saddened to see that the churn of law firm CMOs continues, I’m not surprised. The answer isn’t money. The answer isn’t more “strategic” v. “tactical” work. It’s more complicated than that, but it always begins with the interview and hire, and red flags missed or ignored.

It is easy to conclude from the article that both these firms made a bad hire, for their firms. This has nothing to do with the character or quality of work performed by the CMOs. From what I have heard of their reputations, they are both incredibly talented individuals.

Unfortunately, they were not the right fit for these firms. So the next question is, “Could these hiring mistakes have been avoided?” Absolutely.

I’ve often counseled marketing professionals on how they cannot afford to ignore the red flags during the interview process. Far too often I have found that either the candidate or the firm becomes willing to do or say anything to seal the deal. I recently put together a post on the questions I like to ask during the interview process.

Looking at the AmLaw Daily article again, I see a huge red flag for each firm. The first firm was filling a position that had been open for 20 months. Why had they not been able to fill it? And, upon realizing that they could not find a candidate from outside the firm, why not promote from within? Who had been doing the job in the interim? Were they doing a good job? Did the person cultivate the trust of the partners? Were they leading the team well? Is that person still on staff? If so, how would bring in a new CMO affect the current operations of the marketing department?
For the second firm, the candidate hired was given the title of “chief marketing strategy officer.” He was hired above the current CMO, chief client relations officer and chief communications officer. Really, how many chiefs does a firm need? I cannot believe that this was a structure that could lead to anything other than resentment by the current chiefs, and eventual failure for the chief of chiefs.

And now I’d like to share with you the biggest and dirtiest little secret. A secret so scandalous that no one likes to talk about publicly, but we all do privately.

Some law firms have really bad reputations within the industry and no seasoned legal marketing professional, in his or her right mind and worth their weight in gold (or Euros, or U.S. currency), would ever interview with them.

There. I said it.

The churn of law firm CMOs will continue at some firms until they take a good look internally at WHY these highly skilled and highly paid professionals go screaming out the door, on their own accord or not, within months of arrival.