• CMO Holly Rollo has resigned from Fortinet after just six months at the company.
• Fortinet, which has struggled with marketing, must make changes to stop driving away talented executives.
Count this analyst among those who were surprised and disappointed when news broke this week that Fortinet CMO Holly Rollo had resigned. Rollo, hired away from FireEye in September, had been handpicked by Oracle CMO and Fortinet Director Judith Sim to lead a marketing overhaul for the billion-dollar network security vendor.
Fortinet has long struggled to boost its marketing efforts. Executives long admitted that marketing, while important, has been an afterthought in a technology-driven organization. Despite impressive market share gains thanks to its strong product performance and aggressive pricing, its low brand awareness has inhibited growth. Many decision-makers have told Fortinet that to justify choosing Fortinet internally, they need more “air cover” because too few purchasing influencers outside of security specialties had any awareness or affinity for the brand.
Fortinet, to its credit, has been working to change this. Even before bringing in Rollo, it had tripled its spending on sales and marketing activities in the past four years. Upon Rollo’s arrival, the company empowered her to implement a dramatic shift toward solution-based marketing, and even gave her a prime speaking spot on day one of its 2016 Accelerate partner conference to demonstrate to its community that it really was, finally, taking marketing seriously.
Current Analysis met with Rollo in January and was impressed with her plan to move away from activity-based marketing and toward “solution selling.” Rollo, a transformational marketing specialist who worked for SAP and Cisco prior to FireEye, sought to emphasize Fortinet’s broad, integrated product sets with campaign playbooks that synchronized Web and portal content, call scripts, Web SEO/SEM, PR campaigns, social media, thought leadership, and content syndication. Rollo had just overseen the rollout of a brand-new integrated marketing campaign around Fortinet’s ATP Framework, the first of six new solution-oriented rollouts slated for this year.
In a statement, Fortinet said Rollo left to pursue an opportunity more closely aligned with her professional interests and goals, as well as a desire to be located closer to her family, citing a long commute. The company thanked Rollo for building a strong marketing model to drive increased global demand and brand awareness.
It is difficult to overlook that Rollo’s departure marks the second time in less than a year that Fortinet has lost a female VP of marketing; Luanne Tierney left last spring to join ProofPoint, though the company has had numerous long-tenured female executives. What should keep CEO Ken Xie and other Fortinet executives awake at night however is that something about the corporate culture — likely the unwillingness of key product marketing executives to cede power and influence in how Fortinet products are brought to market — is driving away talented executives like Tierney and Rollo who could give Fortinet the competitive edge it needs to overtake longtime network security giants Cisco Systems and Check Point.
Rollo’s hiring was supposed to be a turning point for Fortinet. Instead, it’s just another U-turn.