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How to hire the right marketing person, the first time.

by John Furgurson on October 29, 2014

I don’t work with Fortune 500 companies. My clients rely on small, efficient teams of people for all their marketing needs. If that’s your situation, or if you have a fledgling start-up, you better think carefully about the type of marketing person you hire to spearhead the effort.

The most common mistake is hiring a specialist… someone who’s deep into SEO, or social media, or web programming, or brand journalism, or graphic design. Whatever. Those “doers” are all important players in your marketing mix, but what you need is a thinker/doer. An idea guy who can wear many different hats.

According to the Harvard Business Review, top marketing talent must be able to combine skills that don’t often go together, and might even seem contradictory…  Analytical + Creative. Innovation + Execution. Storytelling + sales skills. You won’t find that combination of skill sets in a specialist.

In this age of marketing specialization, you need a generalist. Here are three good reasons why:

Unknown1.  Broad experience means better perspective.

The marketing game is changing quickly these days, and there are a lot of moving parts. You need someone with enough perspective and experience to understand the entire playing field and keep all the balls in the air. Preferably synchronized.

If you hire a specialist you’ll get a myopic view of marketing and branding. If she only has experience in television and video, she’ll assess your entire branding effort and come up with many creative ways to use TV and video. It’s like the old saying… if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Recently I sat in on a presentation by a young man pitching his social media expertise. With no research, no understanding of the brand or the business model, and no experience to speak of, he was absolutely convinced that $1500 a month in Facebook posts, ads and boosts could ­­– and should – replace every other tactic the client was using.

That’s not the kind of thinking that will take your business to the next level.

3. Specialists don’t know strategy. 

Specialists often talk “strategy.” One will offer an email marketing strategy, another candidate will bring a social media strategy, a digital strategy, a direct response strategy, a Facebook strategy, an SEO strategy and even a SnapChat strategy. If you’re not careful you’ll be swimming in “strategies.”

Don’t be fooled.  There’s only one strategy. Everything else is just a to-do list.

British adman Simon Pont puts it quite well: “One strategy, one collective intent; many expressions and executions, all with moving parts and all aligned. It’s all about linking into that one given strategy and expressing it through many specialties.”

You can always hire outside help on a project-by-project basis to execute specific tactics and get through that specialist’s to-do list. What you can’t find so easily is someone who can think strategically and come up with ideas that actually do qualify as a true marketing strategy.

In Strategies vs Tactics I said, “A strategy is an idea… a conceptualization of how a goal could be achieved.” Emphasis on IDEA!

flat,800x800,070,fSuccessful marketing strategies are rooted in a big idea. Not punchlists.

For a big idea you need someone with creative skills, common business sense and a good working knowledge of all the different marketing specialties. In a perfect world you’d find an experienced, well-rounded marketing pro who brings advertising planning experience as well as creative skills to the table… a one man marketing machine who could to analyze market research data one day, extrapolate that one little nugget of consumer insight you need, and write a brilliant ad the next.

That’s a rare breed. If you find someone like that, pay him or her handsomely. Give them tons of freedom and let them in on every crucial management decision. I guarantee you, your company will be better off for it.

3. Effective managers know something about what they’re managing.

If you hire a manager who knows nothing about computer programming, he’s going to have a very hard time managing a team of computer programmers. Some fundamental knowledge of the material is necessary.

Same holds true in marketing. Most specialists simply don’t have the fundamental knowledge of the material they need to manage the whole effort efficiently.

For example… If you hire a social media specialist to drive your entire marketing effort, she’s going to struggle when it comes to managing traditional advertising or content marketing, or direct response TV, or any number of other tactics. And don’t expect that person to suddenly be capable of doing anything beyond her specialty. That’s just not realistic. Marketing is important, and you could lose a lot of money waiting for your marketing leader to “grow into the position.”

Hire a generalist who’s already there. Then hire a specialist to do her specialty thing under the leadership of the savvy generalist. Don’t hire a specialist to manage other specialists. It doesn’t work.

Look, hiring right is very hard. I know that. (That’s why I’m a firm believer in hiring HR specialists to handle the initial screening and recruitment and help with the interviewing.)

Hopefully this piece will help you avoid a lot of costly trial and error when hiring a marketing person. And maybe a great, well-rounded marketing generalist will find the perfect position that will lead to fame and fortune.

About the author…

John Furgurson is one of those valuable generalists. He cut his teeth in the direct response business and has worked in corporate film, advertising of all kinds, content marketing, PR, social media and just about every other specialty under the big branding umbrella. He’s available for hire. 

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