In the first half of the 20th century, a place like Duluth, Minn., probably looked very attractive to a marketing executive. It had a bustling port, and some of the most innovative industries at the time—steelmaking and shipbuilding—had major presences there.
But these days, attracting top talent—particularly marketing talent—can be considerably tougher for legacy industrial organizations that built their headquarters decades ago in Duluth or hundreds of other places like it across America’s heartland. Indeed, many firms are seeing their first choices to be chief marketing officer turn them down because they’re located in towns that are hours away from major cosmopolitan centers, the industries themselves aren’t particularly sexy, or the pay may be lower than what a top marketing exec might expect, says James Patteson, head of strategy and analytics for Korn Ferry’s Marketing Officers practice.
The rejections come at a time when many of these older industrial firms need fresh marketing perspectives, because their business models are changing. “These firms, perhaps for the first time in their histories, need a chief marketing officer who can, among other things, develop a strategy that doesn’t always revolve around price,” says Patteson. “The CEO and the board believe they need a superhero CMO.” But the feeling isn’t mutual.