Today’s marketing organizations look a lot different than traditional marketing teams from 20 or even five years ago. Marketers need to be “unicorns” — people who understand how to dig into data, come up with creative new ideas and are comfortable shifting as customer priorities change.
I talked to Barre Hardy, associate partner and agile marketing expert at the management consulting firm CMG Partners, and Julie Vessel, director of talent at the Minneapolis creative agency mono. Both are leaders in their organizations and regularly hire marketers, and I asked what they’re looking for when they hire marketers now.
“I believe that newer marketing skills — analytics, programmatic marketing, marketing technology — can be learned,” Hardy says. While her team is always looking for functional competency, she says, CMG focuses on “innate personality traits” that make a person the right fit for the organization’s culture and its clients’ cultures. In a nutshell, she says, they’re looking for people who will “help foster agility in the organization.”
Vessel agrees. “Cultural fit is hugely important,” she says. “I’ve hired people who have been extremely talented and passionate about marketing but who didn’t share our cultural values. And in the end it didn’t work out for them or us. How we work is as important as the work itself. So now we screen more heavily to find people who want to work the way we work.”
Just a few years ago being a marketing “generalist” wasn’t seen as an asset. Everyone wanted to hire specialists — email specialists, advertising specialists, digital strategy specialists. But now, Hardy says, “our marketing hires need to be way more T-shaped than in the past,” meaning they need functional competence in one or two areas, but they also need to understand the marketing function enough to stretch in new ways. Hardy says she sees a movement “from a model where marketing folks were very specialized to a place where marketers need to be very broad, big thinkers.”
Why the change? Organizations need talent that can help them stay flexible. “A lot more is being asked of marketers today,” Hardy says. “Marketers are influencing the customer experience at every stage, collaborating across functions. You have to be able to bridge data and insights to better understand the customer.”
She says the old model was building teams around tactics and specialties. Each team focused on what was most important to them at the time. Now organizations are thinking about what’s most important to the customer. What’s important to the customer might not be the same as what’s most important to the email team or the digital media team, so leaders are asking, “how do we repurpose those resources so we maximize value?” she says. Leaders need people who can jump in and help out on new projects and priorities.
Vessel says she’s looking for “dynamic, idea-forward” people. One way to find those forward thinkers? “Ask them about the future, not just the past,” she says. “Too often interviews are a conversation about what’s been done. Give them a question that allows them to showcase their ability to think and dream.”
Experimenting and testing out new ideas is core to the agile philosophy, so it’s important to look for marketers who are ready to jump in. Both Vessel and Hardy listed this trait at the top of their list — Vessel calls it “collaborative” and Hardy thinks of it as “experimental,” but they agree on why it’s important.
“We seek people who are willing to exhaust all paths before concluding on the right one,” Vessel says. “We look for people who are open to an iterative process, where there is an open exchange of ideas, opinions and feedback. Collaborative people are willing to be wrong and open to putting their ideas out there before they are perfected. Collaborative people invite others in, based on a belief that gathering others’ thoughts, perspective and views will help make your work better.”
Hardy says that CMG Partners is “looking for people who want to drive incremental improvement, are comfortable trying new things and aren’t afraid to fail. We want people to break things and challenge the status quo. In today’s environment, that’s how value is created.”
Working at the center of change, experimentation and shifting priorities isn’t for the faint of heart. “Almost every industry today is being disrupted in some form or fashion,” Hardy says. “Change is messy — it’s not linear or rational.” So modern marketers have to manage their emotions and push through the unexpected without sweating the small stuff. “That requires fortitude — fortitude to continue to push forward on the things you know will make a difference for your customer, and the self-discipline to keep pushing through the hard times,” she says.