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The Effect of COVID-19 on Marketing Departments and the role of Fractional CMO

The novel coronavirus has had an impact on every industry and of course, marketing is no different. Marketing is truly about one thing: growth. Therefore marketing employees are as concerned as any other professionals as the global economy has taken a big hit in the wake of the virus. Many businesses’ immediate reaction to the virus was to wait and see in regard to how this virus would affect their industry. This led to taking money out of online campaigns and delaying future launches. Other industries did the same, holding off on new investments, hiring new employees, etc. This all points to a contraction. The opposite of growth. And, therefore, the enemy of marketers. However, where there is a crisis there is opportunity. Advertising can be a zero-sum game and decreased investment in advertising inventory and increased internet usage due to people being stuck at home has meant a golden age for some industries, such as e-commerce. All of this has made for a very interesting time in the marketing world. A time with huge uncertainty and yet some people have incredibly high levels of optimism.

The holding off of launching new campaigns, repositioning, and altered tactics are posing an interesting challenge for marketing strategists. A challenge that they have not encountered before and will require immense brainpower to navigate through. Marketing leaders and strategists are needed now more than ever. They are needed to steady the ship and set a new course, however, businesses are strapped for cash so are looking for an alternative. The role of the fractional CMO is presenting itself as an alluring option for many businesses needing strategic leadership, but less of a commitment due to economic uncertainty.

Effects on Marketing Departments

Perhaps the most severe economic impact of COVID-19 is job losses and pay cuts. In a recent survey, 32% of ad agency workers have taken a pay cut and 26% said people had been furloughed, whilst over a third reported job losses. This is, of course, horrible news and hopefully, we will see a bounce back in these figures. That being said, the best time to advertise is when your competitors are not advertising. Ad inventory space is scarce, therefore, it is a zero-sum game between you and your competitors. Here lies the opportunity I mentioned earlier. Many businesses are afraid right now and fortune favors the brave. It is these companies that are willing to take a risk during these times of uncertainty that will come out of this slump thriving. Cheaper CPMs plus less competition plus a message or offer tailored toward a new post-COVID world and the right positioning means potentially huge returns.

A New Work Environment post-COVID

In order to achieve the possibility of huge returns, a business must have a strategy compatible with the new climate. A strategy is always vital to the success of a marketing campaign, and perhaps now more than ever as the messaging has to be so on point. A slightly off message, coupled with ad fatigue, can quickly be met with a negative opinion, such as tech firms’ overused message of ‘connecting us’ as this time of estrangement and isolation. The question begs: how can a business achieve nailing their marketing strategy whilst keeping an eye on costs and not overcommitting to hiring strategy experts? A fractional CMO is the perfect business solution to this marketing problem. By bringing in a fractional CMO, the business in question can be provided with expert strategic thinking and direction without the cost of a full-time chief marketing officer hire. Businesses are keeping an eye on waste now more than ever, therefore if they have a marketing leader, it is crucial that that CMO or marketing director is only being paid for the tasks that require the highest levels of expertise, not lower-level marketing tasks like writing a newsletter or measuring CPAs. The fractional CMO works remotely, managing the marketing crew, laying out the strategy, and precisely measuring results to indicate milestones being achieved, i.e. makes sure the plan is working. The fact that the fractional CMO, generally, works remotely is another plus in the eyes of business owners and leaders as this is quickly becoming a new norm. Or, at least, a major part office culture in the near future.

It does seem that working from home is to be a mainstay feature for many businesses in the near future. The long-term effects of this are unknown but many believe that this will usher in a new approach to work and a move away from the traditional 9-5 office environment. This brings with it its own obstacles and challenges. Many will be chomping at the bit to get back into a physical work environment, especially young and eager marketers, as this environment is believed to foster a culture of collaborative work, innovation, and most importantly, industry connections, as noted by Marketing Dive. If a quick return to the traditional office environment is not immediate and leadership is to be done remotely, then fractional CMOs will be the viable choice for many businesses.


COVID-19 has changed the world. There is no question about that. It has changed the economy and therefore has changed marketing. The long-term effects of these changes are hard to anticipate, but there are some decisions being made by business leaders that are showing a clear shift towards remote work and cautiousness in marketing spend. The fractional CMO, prior to the novel coronavirus, was a role growing in popularity. It seems also seems that the effects of COVID-19 may, to some extent, be accelerating this growth. However, now as we enter Q4, things may become clearer on what the future of marketing is.


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