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Strengthening the GC-CMO Relationship

Strengthening the GC-CMO Relationship

January 24, 2022

All companies are in the business of marketing to other businesses or directly to consumers. As the general counsel or chief legal officer, building your relationship with the chief marketing officer is imperative to helping the organization grow. Marketing is focused on selling the company’s products, bringing in new customers and clients, and building brand recognition. The GC and CMO need to work together to protect the company, mitigate risks and maintain growth — all within public expectations and regulatory oversight.

The logic of legal issues and the creativity of marketing can often be in opposition. For example, marketing favors persuasive language that entices people into acting, while legal prudence cautions against making promises that cannot be kept. To succeed, both sides must give and take, especially when it comes to privacy, data protection, advertising, jurisdictional oversight, and rapidly changing modes of connection with customers and clients. The key is to keep an open line of communication with the CMO about plans and goals. Understand where you can be of assistance, and where you can highlight potential legal pitfalls before too much marketing team time has been invested. 

In consumer-facing industries, it is crucial for marketing and legal to collaborate so nothing is said that could get the company sued.

Companies’ marketing budgets used to be spent on long-running print ads, or traditional media such as television and radio. Online marketing ads and email campaigns are now commonplace, and evolving fast. Along with these platforms come constantly changing and nuanced rules in areas such as privacy and data protection. The GC and CMO should work together to establish policy for their teams and the company as a whole. Any mishandling of sensitive company data related to the organization and/or its customers is going to involve both executives. Often the importance of data security is built into an organization’s contracts. The CMO needs to be aware of risks involved in a data breach, particularly as it relates to customer data that marketing holds. The GC must have candid conversations with the CMO about how current law and regulation impacts emerging modes of communication to clients. Together, they can look for ways to innovate and protect the company. 

Within highly-regulated businesses in particular, the rules can shift from market to market, both nationally and internationally. Keeping abreast of regulations related to marketing and advertising is necessary. The GC and CMO must determine the delegation of shared responsibility for regular updates and evaluation of risk within different jurisdictions. 

In consumer-facing industries, it is crucial for marketing and legal to collaborate so nothing is said that could get the company sued. Making promises to the public that are not true has both legal and reputational risk. Nuance plays a role here. What makes your organization and its products and services unique can be seen differently by different customers, and marketing should to get this idea across in creative ways. Protecting the company’s brand is key. While you may have an IP-focused attorney on your team handling brand matters, your relationship with the CMO has a cascading impact on the interaction of the teams. 

As with the chief human resource officer and the chief financial officer, the relationship a general counsel builds with the chief marketing officer strengthens the company’s leadership team, and keeps the company moving toward its goals while reducing the risk of legal missteps.

By Andrea Bricca

Andrea Bricca is a Partner with global legal search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. She matches employers and lawyers to advance organizational and career goals.

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