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Why Good Marketing Talent Is So Hard to Find (and How to Find It)

Thomas Wachtel // February 14, 2017

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The importance of recruiting, training, and retaining marketing talent cannot be overstated. Your team is everything – the smartest strategies and coolest ideas are nothing without brilliant creatives and digital specialists to execute and implement them.

But based on a few studies conducted within the past few years, it seems we’re failing miserably. A 2015 study by BCG and Google found that on a 100-point index of digital capabilities, the average marketer falls between a 55 and 60 – a failing score. This mirrors a similar study conducted by Salesforce and Harvard Business Review in 2016, which found that only 15% of organizations rated themselves as having advanced marketing capabilities. This forces us as marketers to ask a very tough question.

Why are we coming up short?

It’s a complex problem, no doubt. One reason for the failure might be because marketing leadership is often less involved in day-to-day marketing operations, so they’re not fully in-touch with the latest tactics and channels. This is a frequent issue when marketing talent reports to another department, like Sales or Operations. In other words, the people who are in charge of making decisions about marketing aren’t the ones who are marketing experts – they’re VPs of Sales, or Operations Managers.

This, as you might guess, causes frustration for engaged teams forced to defer to primary decision-makers. Without the power or autonomy to make key decisions without approval, other initiatives receive support and funding while marketing is left on the outside looking in. Lack of agency derails their efforts.

Imagine working for weeks on a multi-channel campaign, building designs and a voice and planning a digital strategy to get the message to the right people – and then being told “eh, that doesn’t look right. I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but can you fix it?” That frustration, over time, leads talented marketers to pursue new opportunities with more freedom. And can you blame them?

There are issues with the overall talent pool, as well. Organizations housed outside a major city often don’t have access to digital and creative talent, because as you might guess, larger populations tend to have more likelihood of housing more talent. Cities also tend to attract creatives specifically – as a creative myself, trust me, there’s more inspiration in a city than in, say, the suburbs. This relative lack of talent means firms outside of major metropolitan areas often have to settle for prospective employees within their immediate reach – who may not be nearly as talented as the employees available to an agency in New York or Los Angeles.

Universities also get some of the blame. They’re criticized – mostly deservedly – for focusing on theory, rather than the technical aspects of marketing. There’s not as much practical training as there probably should be, so many recent graduates lack the skill set needed to fill this gap. Some can still meet the challenge, but often new hires straight out of school need more ramp-up time than they really should.

So how do we overcome this?

As marketing teams and departments, we need to get the best of the best involved in our work, and we need to keep them invested – despite the roadblocks we might encounter. But how exactly can we do that? How can one organization stand against the problems of an entire industry to recruit a championship marketing team.

It may sound like an impossible task, but honestly, it’s not.

If you’re managing a team, don’t create a culture where individuals feel an incentive to put their individual achievements before the big-picture success of the team. If your social media manager is fighting for funding because they feel pressure to pull off a big win, but that’s not related to the current organizational focus, your team is limited in what it can achieve. Don’t set your team members against each other – drive them to work together to achieve group goals.

Additionally, be picky about who you bring into your team. When hiring someone new, identify an individual who fits within the scope of your long-term organizational objectives. Don’t just think about how they fit into your picture today, consider what they might bring to your organization one, five, or ten years down the road. Ideally, this person also has a skill set wide enough to allow them to continue to grow as part of your team. If someone can do a lot of things well, that versatility means they’re likely to be a valued member of your team for a long time – they can adapt and adjust as your business follows the shifting needs of the marketplace.

In short, when you’re making decisions about who to add to your marketing team, consider the following:

No matter what, leadership will dictate the success (or failure!) of your operation.

A talented, enthusiastic marketer is spoiled by the marketing manager who lacks vision. Make sure you’re putting your team in a position to succeed.

Marketing agencies exist for a reason.

You don’t have to do it all yourself. Match up with a team that supplements your skill set and fills in the areas where you’re weakest. Work with them, too – don’t dictate what has to be done and have them fill orders. Listen to advice and trust the experts.

Create an environment where your team can collaborate with other parts of the organization.

Respect goes a long way, and ensuring a spirit of collaboration – not competition – thrives is crucial.

Good people are hard to find

It’s a cliche, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less true. When you find someone who can do great work for you, hire them and do whatever you can to make them a part of your team for a long time. Let your marketing experts make decisions, and follow through on them – don’t disenfranchise them by putting someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing at the head of your marketing efforts, or burying your team in another department. Make sure the people making decisions know the value of marketing and can see a good idea when it’s presented to them.

Your team is everything. You need to do whatever you can to build a great one, and put them in a position to do great work.

Thomas Wachtel Team Photo at Element Three

When things get written here, whether it’s a blog post, a print ad or a comprehensive brand plan, Thomas is the one who makes sure all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed. Because nothing ruins written work like a typo.