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The 7 hardest marketing jobs to fill

Paul Gorrell
The 7 hardest marketing jobs to fill Paul Gorrell

Despite current unemployment figures remaining high, the advertising industry is competitively focused on attracting and acquiring the right talent to meet clients' needs. Talent is a crucial driver for our work as a service business -- and it's often the key differentiator for any agency.

The 7 hardest marketing jobs to fill

Recruiters are responsible for continually remaining in pursuit of fresh and new talent. As the work of integrated agencies continually adjusts in light of new media and the digital transformation of agency services, new and essential specialist roles can prove challenging to fill. Recruiters are often fiercely fighting for the same types of individuals who make up a small pool. Here are the seven types of roles that can be the toughest to fill.

Mobile experts

Mobile is a growing field that requires a variety of unique skill sets. Candidates need to be steeped in technology while having serious chops in strategy, creative, and the basics of marketing. And, while all these skills are important, technology especially tends to be the common thread through key roles within a mobile business unit. Talent in this specialty needs to be on the cutting edge of technology, not only knowing what is current and real but knowing what is coming next.

In addition, star talent stands out by having the ability to effectively articulate the brand journey for the client. Yes, so much in mobile is new and technology-driven, but mobile employees benefit from a skill that is timeless: the ability to communicate in a way that inspires and persuades the client. Creatives in this space need to think post-PC digital; mobile strategists need to understand a consumer's path to purchase and be able to speak within this new and continually changing cultural landscape.

My advice for candidates: In addition to staying on top of the best trends in mobile technology, work on core communication and persuasion skills in order to have the best opportunities for impact within an agency.

UX designers

There is no doubt that user experience (UX) has become extremely important for any agency that does digital work. Like other specialist roles within advertising, there is a scarcity of talent available in this emerging discipline, which has very few standards and many overlapping skill sets. For recruiters, it's particularly challenging to determine the quality of candidates who list agency experience since each agency defines UX in its own way. And, it's hard to assess potential success based on a portfolio alone.

On top of that, senior talent in this space often struggles with the leadership aspects of their role because their careers have mostly involved working independently with little management responsibility. Put simply, finding a UX specialist who can manage is like finding gold. Meanwhile, the new folks who are entering the job market have often been ill-prepared by their schools for agency life and business-centered roles. This can make it challenging to onboard recent graduates.

My advice for candidates: If you are a recent graduate, work at translating your experience and knowledge to an agency context. It might be wise to have an internship at an agency to learn what it's like culturally. If you are senior talent, in addition to staying on top of your UX portfolio, invest the time to develop your leadership and communication skills.

Account planning

When it comes to small talent pools, account planning provides many a headache for recruiters. There are simply not enough planners to go around within the U.S. in general -- and it can be even trickier for digital agencies to find them. The problem is this: Planners want to build brands. They want to be involved in brand positioning and consumer research, and they want to work with creative on big umbrella ideas. But there is a general assumption that digital agencies are only about technical and creative solutions.

Unfortunately, while that's true for some agencies, I can tell you that it's definitely not true for us and many others. At Digitas, we're pulling connections planning, user experience strategy, and account planning together into a brand strategy group. We're looking for a new kind of planner -- someone with both traditional skills and a deep understanding of consumer interface, social, and media planning. It can be challenging because this requires hybrid talent who are too few and far between. Thus many agencies, like our own, are growing these hybrid planners organically and cultivating a new type of planner for a new time.

My advice to candidates: Keep an open mind. Digital agencies aren't just doing technical work -- they're changing the brand conversation. There are a lot of great opportunities out there for planners who want to be attached to the agency of the future. Don't limit yourself.

Technology experts

In this day and age, it's essential to find technology experts who can map their first-rate ability in their craft to a larger, more holistic project. Too many technologists are unable to see the big picture, and that limits their effectiveness within an agency context.

Good technologists must also have the ability to successfully navigate the structure of an agency by shepherding projects through their complete lifecycles. They must be able to provide specialized guidance through project design, implementation, launch, and maintenance -- all while ensuring that end-to-end solutions are met on a constant basis. And they're responsible for defining and promulgating technical best practices, standards, and technical strategies across multiple channels.

It's often challenging for recruiters to find individuals who can flex between these technical and functional capabilities. Recruiters want individuals who can show that they're up-to-date on emerging technologies and the digital landscape; have managed technical design and the implementation of project solutions; and have overseen effective programming, installation, configuration, documentation, operation, monitoring, and maintenance of web hardware and software environments supporting web solutions delivered to multiple clients. All of these requirements combined set up recruiters with a limited talent pool.

My advice to candidates: Work at your big-picture skills in order to present yourself as a technologist who is able to map your unique skills to a bigger and bolder project. It might be a good time to advance your own knowledge of business strategy as it relates to your field.

Search marketing experts

Search marketing professionals are a hot commodity if they can lead the strategy, management, and performance optimization for a campaign. This is especially the case when an agency is recruiting for search marketers who have operated on a larger scale with big-budget client campaigns.

This pool of candidates is limited because search marketing and performance specialists often don't have significant experience incorporating search into much larger, multi-channel media campaigns. Most candidates available today have only operated on a smaller scale. It's also important to find search experts who have a clear understanding of both performance and display media and how they work together.

Agencies often expand the pool of candidates by considering individuals from the client side or from search engine companies -- but the challenge still exists. Ultimately, we're all competing for search marketing experts who can operate on a larger scale and consistently demonstrate a strong passion for numbers, analysis, and digital media strategy.

My advice to candidates: Similar to technological experts, search professionals should consider developing strategic capability within their work and presenting this to recruiters. Be able to demonstrate that you can go deep in your function while staying broad in your thinking.

Social marketing specialists

The evolution of social media and real-time marketing has been transformational for advertisers. At Digitas, we operate social with the mindset of a newsroom, constantly looking for opportunities to create brand awareness for our clients that breaks through all the noise. This approach to social requires highly adaptable and curious social experts who are able to quickly respond and adjust to changing conditions and contexts. And while social requires in-the-moment marketing, we also want our social experts to focus on developing and executing social marketing strategies that are more long term in their orientation.

The challenge sometimes with sourcing talent for social is that everyone with a Twitter account thinks they're a social media expert. For us, social goes far deeper than just posting on Facebook. Our social leaders anticipate and monitor the evolution of social media. They set the tone, philosophy, and strategy for today's web. Thus we look for candidates who have experience in all facets of social, including social listening, social platforms, community development, social gaming and entertainment, content, and public relations.

Since social media is still a relatively recent phenomenon, it's challenging to find candidates who check off these boxes, along with also being strong client managers and internal collaborators with the ability to identify and win new business opportunities. Because of that, when we look for candidates, we often think outside the box and pursue talent from non-traditional resources like publishing and politics.

My advice to candidates: With social, there's so much in the way of free resources available online. For entry-level strategists in particular, if you don't have experience in one of the areas we've listed above, there are countless free tools, platforms, and case studies that you can experiment with or learn from to try to fill the knowledge gap.

Data analytics specialists

More than ever, agencies are challenged to produce analytics and measurable results from their campaigns. A lot of that is in response to the pressure being placed on CMOs to deliver success. But in general, proving ROI is also core to any service business. This context demands a beefed-up focus on advanced analytics. With that in mind, we search for talent who understand how to conduct and evaluate sophisticated analyses and can turn those data into high-performing marketing campaigns that enable clients to maximize their marketing investment.

These type of analysts need to understand more than just data. They need to be heavily involved in how data statistics work and interpret those data into effective marketing campaigns across channels. We want specialists in this field who are obsessed with the bottom line for our clients.

Qualified candidates need to have a strong understanding and passion for marketing and an even stronger passion for data. They need to have a background in economics or statistics but also be consultants with a comprehension of general marketing strategies. What's great about this field is that the growing study of marketing analytics in schools is producing young talent who are hungry for agency experience. For more senior talent, we consider individuals from consulting and market research firms.

My advice to candidates: Show recruiters that you understand how to tie data back to relevant marketing and business goals. Instead of just thinking about big data, think smart data.

At Digitas, understanding how important it is to find top talent in these growing areas, we also put an intense focus on building a positive employee experience. While recruiting new superstars is crucial to future success, retention of uniquely talented specialists is a key part of our overall talent management strategy. That means encouraging an open and collaborative culture, providing constant learning and development opportunities for professional growth, and rewarding and appreciating our people for all that they do.

Paul Gorrell, Ph.D., is chief talent officer at Digitas.

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"Needle and hay" image via Shutterstock.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Tim Cross

2013, March 21

I have had a lot of success when hiring individuals who although perhaps lacking in specific experience, have an attitude and outlook that fits well within what is a fast moving and dynamic industry. I look for people who are adaptable, with problem solving skills, generally tech savvy and willing to learn. If you have one "expert" its easier to create more just by immersing someone with these qualities in the right environment. And it's even more satisfying to see them succeed!

Commenter: Katelyn Watson

2013, March 21

The job market right now for digital talent is so hot right now, and those people are so hard to find, so I think companies and candidates should focus on the bigger picture, like: Is this person strategic, do they know marketing, can they execute, have they shown a track record of success, do they grasp concepts quickly and take ownership, have they solved big problems etc etc. Because of all of the new channels, nobody is really an expert, because it changes everyday, so we all learn together!

Commenter: Dave Gwozdz

2013, March 20

Paul, Just kicking off a search now for a top marketing VP for Mojiva (Mobile Adtech ) i"ll report back on the quality of candidates i see and if in fact , finding that mobile marketing expert is as difficult as you predict.

Dave Gwozdz