The Socially Responsible CMO

Peren Ozturan and Amir Grinstein, 2017, 17-110-05

An important business trend is for firms to engage in socially responsible practices. It seems natural for marketing to take part in and, if possible, lead this trend for several reasons. First, social responsibility reflects the needs and behaviors of many stakeholders who are highly relevant for marketing. Furthermore, marketing is traditionally responsible for communicating with consumers and identifying leading trends in the environment.

At the same time, the role of marketing departments and chief marketing officers (CMO), and their contribution to firms, are attracting attention in the marketing discipline. Interestingly, however, the trend of social responsibility has not been integrated into this research stream. Does marketing have a leadership role in the social responsibility trend?

In this report, Peren Ozturan and Amir Grinstein shed light into this issue by investigating the ubiquity and effectiveness of socially responsible CMOs. Based on multiple methods (e.g., interviews, secondary data, surveys, and an experiment), they develop a conceptual model that examines the influence of socially responsible CMOs on marketing departments’ influence within the firm and their performance. They test this model using a large-scale survey among a cross-industry sample of U.S. firms.

Their findings suggest that the practice of CMOs leading social responsibility efforts is in the embryonic stage:

  • Less than half of the CMOs managing the top 50 brands in Interbrand’s 2016 ranking had a socially responsible online communication/presence, via public statements, tweets, or their LinkedIn profiles.
  • Most CMOs place lower priority on socially responsible marketing practices compared to traditional marketing activities.

For those CMOs who are socially responsible, however, outcomes are positive. Managers in general (both marketing and non-marketing) value the socially responsible CMOs due to their positive impact on the marketing department’s influence, which in turn improves the marketing department’s performance.

This impact is enhanced when stakeholder power encouraging social responsibility is high and the firm has a socially responsible business orientation, providing essential insights for organizing and implementing socially responsible activities.

Overall, this report advocates the role of marketing leadership in the context of a transformational trend like social responsibility and shows how critical this could be for marketers in producing marketing excellence.

Peren Ozturan is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Faculty of Business and Economics, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Amir Grinstein is Associate Professor of Marketing, D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University and Faculty of Business and Economics, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

We are thankful for valuable support and comments by Ruud Frambach, participants in the Marketing in Israel 2016 conference, and for valuable research assistance by Martha Topete, Walker Tuton, and Jacob Spiegel. This research received financial support from MSI and the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University.

Related links

Doing Well by Doing Good: The Benevolent Halo of Social Goodwill
Sean Blair and Alexander Chernev (2012) [Report]


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