The question of the day over at AmLaw Daily is “How essential is a CMO?” For those of us who have worked for, under, or near a CMO the answer is “depends.”

An essential CMO is a forward thinking, strategic person who will be able to balance the needs of the partnership at a 40,000 foot level, while inspiring the tactical members of the team. An essential CMO will build and develop relationships across the firm, with partners, administrative professionals, and the marketing staff.

A non-essential CMO will bury him or herself away in a window office, or “visiting” the outlying offices, and will never be seen as a contributing member of the team. His or her fingerprints will not be found on a proposal, client alert, client initiative or mid-level partner training. This non-essential CMO will be heard, via e-mail and conference calls, barking out orders, throwing team members under the proverbial bus, but will never been seen.

A non-essential CMO will hire sub-standard marketing professionals and drive divides between the current marketing team, in the effort to prove their worth to the partnership. They will become more concerned about their annual PowerPoint presentation at the partner retreat, where they can show a jump in the firm’s rankings for X, Y or Z, rather than the day-to-day operations and health of the firm. They will measure marketing and business development efforts to make themselves look good, but not necessarily to the enrichment of the firm.

On the other hand, an essential CMO will surround themselves with high-level, competent managers and directors. They will allow these team members to shine and build relationships within the firm. They will back their team, and they will provide direction and inspiration.

An essential CMO will not follow the “trends” in the industry, or the “leading” consultancies, as the end-all, be-all of the marketing strategy for the firm (re-branding, CRM, etc), but will take a hard look at the industry, the economy, the competition, and they will adjust the firm’s sails in response.

An essential CMO will challenge assumptions, and be heard, because they have the respect of not only the partnership, but their peers and their team.

A non-essential CMO will be more concerned about their perceived “equality” with the partners, while an essential CMO won’t really care, just as long as the job gets done.

And, whether or not you call this person a Chief, a Director or Manager, the essential CMO is a person who builds his or her credibility by doing a good job, every day, not by taking credit for work, or results, over which they have no control.