Boosting your marketing talent

13 Nov 11:00 by Michael Niskin


In today’s complex business world, marketing teams need to incorporate a wide variety of skills. But people managers are increasingly looking outside the organisation for talent that can give their existing line-up a boost. What are the benefits of doing this, and what are the implications for the current marketing team?

There’s no doubt that external marketing hires are becoming more attractive to people managers. During the first half of this year, 72% of CMO appointments (publically reported) were external candidates, up from 64% in the same period in 2016, according to research by Russell Reynolds Associates. The study also revealed that marketers must wait an average of 7.3 years to be promoted internally to CMO from the next most senior role.

According to Heather Stern, chief marketing and talent officer at creative consultancy Lippincott, employers are increasingly hunting for candidates with specialised technical skills. “There’s real focus on hiring talent that can bring experience in technologies, with skills in areas such as big data and automation increasingly prized,” she says.

This is hardly surprising, given that much of the work marketers do today involves digital campaigns underpinned by data. Indeed, it is revealing that the most sought-after skills reflect the wider challenges facing organisations: “There’s no doubt these skills will prove important as businesses become ever more digital and the pace of change increases,” says Stern.

Value the softer skills

This highlights an important point: in the world of digital media, marketers are constantly bombarded by new technologies they’re expected to understand, with myriad sub-disciplines to master. But these developments aren’t as important in the eyes of customers, whose priorities are getting great service or a great product. 

As such, by keeping the customer firmly in mind, marketers can avoid being ‘dazzled by digital.’ Stern explains: “Just as critical, or perhaps even more so, are skills like storytelling, creativity and the ability to collaborate effectively, often with unexpected partners, to design compelling experiences for customers.”

We might describe storytelling, creativity and collaboration as ‘soft’ skills, since it’s less common for individuals to have studied these specifically. But they contribute to a marketing function enormously, both in terms of the competitive edge they can bring to your communications, but also in co-ordinating with other parties, such as creative agencies.

It’s also worth remembering that these soft skills also help the marketing team communicate internally, and can make the difference in achieving management buy-in, for example through a creative presentation or narrating a business need.

Analyse your existing team

But before people managers consider hiring marketing talent, it’s important to compare the existing team’s competencies with the skills profile required to meet the marketing objectives. To do this, the team’s experience must be analysed: what is their professional background? How long have they worked with the organisation? Do they have any specialisms? Answering these questions will help identify any talent gaps and inform decisions regarding on-boarding.

Also, it’s important to consider how existing team members will be affected by new hires. Stern also believes new people can provide a psychological and creative boost for marketers already in place. What is crucial, she says, is that these insights are disseminated around the marketing function, in order to get the most out of the new employee.

“New talent inevitably brings fresh perspectives to the table. I’ve seen how powerful that can be in pushing current talent to think and work in different ways. It’s important that you create systems and incentives for knowledge sharing and training within and beyond the team.

“That way, new skills aren’t just the domain of a few individuals but can be more fully embedded throughout the organisation,” adds Stern.

Study trends to stay ahead

It’s natural that some existing team members might view new staff with a degree of caution, perhaps even seeing them as competition for potential promotion opportunities. But, as Stern explains, by keeping an eye on industry developments, marketers will always be able to add value. In other words, being aware of the wider dynamics facing the sector will keep the career ladder clear for advancement.

“You need to not only be looking around at the current trends and opportunities for marketing to play a bigger role in driving the business forward, but looking ahead as well. Things are changing so fast… whatever you can do to come up with fresh ideas and identify an opportunity for the business to innovate, to diversify and to challenge the status quo, the more you will be seen as a critical part of the team.”

Moreover, although new talent can invigorate a marketing function, existing talent will always have the advantage of knowing the organisation more intimately. By combining this close knowledge of the business with a keen eye for opportunity, marketers can ensure they remain valuable assets to the firm – and enjoy a resilient career.  

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