January 10, 2022
Case Study

14 Strategies for Hiring and Retaining Marketing Professionals


Tight labor market.

Those three words are throwing industries into disarray – from chip-making to airlines to education to restaurants and on and on.

But we marketers, we know what this really means. We deal with it all the time. The demand (for jobs) simply isn’t as great as the supply (of job openings).

Time to roll up our sleeves and get marketing. To help your company, your department, or your agency fill those open positions, in this article we bring you examples from marketing agencies, a real estate consultant, business debt collection agency, online game, photo editor, virtual assistant agency, warranty solution, and location spoofer.

by Daniel Burstein, Senior Director, Content & Marketing, MarketingSherpa and MECLABS Institute

14 Strategies for Hiring and Retaining Marketing Professionals

This article was published in the MarketingSherpa email newsletter.

“If you don't like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes,” Mark Twain said.

You could say the same thing about the labor market. Not that long ago, layoffs, furloughs, and budget cuts were ringing through many marketing departments and advertising agencies. But today, tight labor market conditions for marketing professionals are threatening to restrain growth at both brands and agencies.

We at MarketingSherpa are not just writing about this situation, we are hiring as well. For example, our parent organization (MECLABS Institute) currently has job openings for an Optimization Project Lead and a Marketing Analytics Specialist.

We thought it would be the perfect time to explore the topic of talent recruitment and retention. And the good news is – if you’re reading this, you are likely a marketing leader. Or an entrepreneur with a solid bent towards marketing. So, you have the skills necessary to run what is, essentially, just another marketing campaign.

Here is how to wage your search, use your marketing skills and retain key players.

Strategy #1: It all begins with the value proposition

Employee recruitment and retention should begin where all good marketing begins – with the value proposition.

To modify MECLABS well-known value proposition question, you should develop a simple, clear answer to the question, “If I am your ideal employee, why should I work for you rather than any of your competitors?”

As with any value prop, credibility is a key element. “Empty words do not attract; examples do. So, we hope to attract new marketing talent by showcasing our current employees,” said Leszek Dudkiewicz, Head of Marketing, Passport-Photo Online.

Dudkiewicz works to enhance employees' online presence with proactive media outreach (that also promotes the online photo editor, of course).

“Our Head of People was interviewed about beating burnout [by Authority Magazine], community managers talked about remote career development and rising through resilience. Furthermore, the Marketing Manager shared her insights in top media outlets like Databox and Nozzle,” he said. “Bringing expertise to a broad audience allows our managers to become thought leaders who can attract new talent to our company.”

If you’re a marketing leader, you might want to even make it a little more personal. While the answer to the initial question would be the primary value proposition for the company, you might want to create a product-level value proposition to help potential employees understand the value of working for your team – “If I am your ideal employee, why should I work for you rather than any of other [CMO, creative director, etc.]?”

When I consulted with a major software company, one of the marketing VPs I worked with had such a powerhouse brand that people who weren’t on her team were always trying to find a way to get to her offsites. This is a serious leg up when looking for lateral hires or internal promotions within an organization.

Strategy #2: Urgency

The quicker a sales team follows up on leads, the more likely it is to be able to close business with those leads.

The same holds true for hiring, and a major change Dudkiewicz made was increasing the urgency in his company’s hiring process.

“We used to put a one-week round between interviews, and we now try to keep it to a maximum of 48 hours,” he said. “Speeding up the interview shows that we are eager and committed to bringing that person onto the marketing team. But if we move too slowly, I know we will lose our top candidates to competitors vying for their attention.”

Strategy #3: You know… advertising…

It always struck me as kind of funny. Marketers are experts at advertising. It is pretty much what we do every day.

Yet in many organizations, job postings aren’t considering advertising. And they are written by the human resources department with the goal of discussing positions that help maximize profitable contribution using strategic and tactical tools to determine appropriate products that… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Oh sorry, I fell asleep at the keyboard even typing that out.

Marketers are businesspeople, for sure. But many of the successful marketers I know are passionate. And interesting. And creative. And (much like Portland and Austin), sometimes a little weird.

So, shouldn’t their job descriptions reflect that? Yes, the HR department is essential to respect the company’s processes and follow all applicable laws and regulations. But then maybe marketers should step in and do what they do best.

Bringing advertising skills to bear on job postings can be helpful for non-marketing job openings as well. “Many people don’t think to go the extra mile and have their job postings written or at least optimized by their sales copy professionals. And this is a major misfire. Headlines are important,” said Josh James, Founder and CEO, Rocket Acquisitions Inc.

James used the headline “I’m looking for a Top VA” in a job posting for a virtual assistant recently.

“I then follow this up with powerful bullets and end with a clear call to action,” James said.

Creative Sample #1: Virtual assistant job posting

Creative Sample #1: Virtual assistant job posting

He received 231 applicants for the job posting within four days along with 20 direct emails. “People with master’s degrees and working at big law firms were applying for my VA job,” he said.

Strategy #4: Niche down

Where you place that advertising – job listing – can also be key. Yes, the Super Bowl probably has the largest possible market you can reach. But are you advertising on there? For the vast majority of brands, the answer is no. Your media plan is focused on reaching your ideal customers, not a mass market.

That same approach is important when recruiting employees.

“Since we're part of the gaming industry, we didn't just limit our marketing efforts to websites like Indeed and LinkedIn but also got the word out on gaming forums. The added benefit was that we got to interact with a number of developers that were already enthusiastic about our game, giving us a good idea of who would be the best fit for the role and our needs at the time,” said Demi Yilmaz, Co-Founder, Colonist.io.

This is a tactic we are trying ourselves, by including our job openings at the beginning of this article. Which brings up another way to niche down (and another benefit of content marketing) – reach out to your own audience.

Strategy #5: Networking IRL

Networking is the biggest cliché in finding talented employees or growing your career. It’s kind of like eating broccoli and working out. Everyone knows they should do it, but we’ve all got other stuff going on and just never have the time, right?

Well, there are limits to the advertising we previously discussed. After all, you are advertising in a crowded market for talent.

“At first, we started by taking out a paid job ad on LinkedIn. LinkedIn allows us to write a job description and select the skills we need,” said Dean Kaplan, CEO, Kaplan Collection Agency.

The team received more than 100 applicants for the SEO specialist position and narrowed it down to six candidates for interviews. “Only one candidate stood out and had precisely the background and experience we were looking for. Unfortunately, they had a competing offer from another company and ultimately, they went with the other company,” he said.

Faced with the prospect of having to restart the whole recruiting process, the team decided to try another avenue. They attended real-life events, particularly SEO conferences, to network. During the first conference they attended, they had a chance meeting with an SEO specialist who had seven years of experience in the B2B debt collection industry

“We offered her the job on the spot, and she accepted. We learned that a big advantage of taking an in-person approach to recruiting top talent is that it eliminates the competition,” Kaplan said.

Strategy #6: Show appreciation

I’ll admit it – I love those little challenges on the Starbucks app to earn extra stars as part of the coffee behemoth’s loyalty program. It occasionally adds a little fun to my morning routine. How can you do a little bit extra for show the same kind of appreciation to your team?

LuckLuckGo holds themed employee lunches, an employee-of-the-month forum with awards, and employee talent shows. “Employees talented in a particular field, including sports, gymnastics, or public speaking, among others, teach valuable skills to each other in an engaging way,” said Ryan Yount, Chief Operating Officer, LuckLuckGo.

The company also engages in community volunteering. The team visits children’s homes, hospitals, and homes of the elderly with gifts – to spend time with them and help with general tasks.

“According to our marketing staff, these policies and initiatives gave us an edge over the competition, inspiring nine top hires to work with us in the marketing department. And our turnover rate has dropped by 20 percent after three months implementing such measures,” Yount said.

Strategy #7: Personalization

Personalization is a hallmark marketing technique. And while many brands use a technology-based solution for their marketing, don’t overlook the personal connection with your employees. Technology can’t make this connection for you.

Here’s a great example of a tactic you can use to personalize your employee’s job experience at your company.

In The Wall Street Journal article Why ’22 Can Be the Year You Get Your Dream Job by Kathryn Dill, Lindsey Pollack discusses a “stay conversation.” It is the inverse of an exit interview – the chance for employees to discuss their prospects at the company and highlight their contributions.

That opportunity for personalization brings up a bigger topic. There is a reason this article isn’t only about attracting new talent, but is also focused on retaining the employees you already have – if you are overly focused on recruiting new employees, you risk overlooking your current team. The more they see peers leave for better offers, the more they will question their own willingness to say.

The same can be said for marketing, of course. I knew of a major Fortune 500 company that had separate teams for customer recruitment and retention. The customer recruitment team was compensated on getting new customers in the door. They didn’t care much how they did it, since customers that leaked out the bottom were not their problem. The customer retention team held those performance metrics.

Don’t make the same mistake with your employees. Every employee you lose is one more you must recruit. Not to mention, all of the institutional knowledge and culture you lose in the process.

Strategy #8: Flexibility and trust

Some brands don’t trust their customers. As the old joke goes, I trust the bank with all my money, but the bank won’t even trust me with its pen.

Do you trust your employees?

Personally, I had my first work-from-home job way back in 2004. With the advent of broadband internet service, a fixed office became far less important for many marketing roles.

Now, I find myself living #WFHlife yet again thanks to the pandemic.

The most effective working environment is up for debate, and likely varies by organization and individual. There are upsides (and downsides) to both remote and office working environments.

But this much has become settled in a tight labor market – talented marketers expect flexibility.

“The future of management in the new world is trusting your employees. We have always provided work-from-home flexibility,” said Alison Bernstein, Founder, Suburban Jungle

“We encourage our employees who are not feeling their best, to take some time to recharge.  Whether that means a nap midday or simply attending a Zoom meeting with the camera off – whatever serves them most optimally and allows them to best manage their workload is key! On one day you may need to take it easy and on the next you can be working in turbo mode. We leave it to the employee to manage responsibly,” she said.

The real estate advisory and tech platform credits the trust and empowerment of its employees for its 90 percent workforce retention rate since its inception almost 20 years ago.

Strategy #9: Creative freedom

This next strategy is the sticky wicket that comes with corporate creativity.

Agency and brand leaders hire marketers for their creativity. And then throw them into organizations with systems and processes that muddle the creative output – whether it’s a larger organization with multiple layers of approval or a small agency with a micromanaging founder.

Employees need oversight, yes. But as with the previous strategy – trust attracts and retains high performers.

“We recently hired a remote marketing content writer who not only checked all the boxes, but has exceeded our expectations,” said Jelena Mijajlović, Founder and CEO, MYVA360.

The part of the job post that spoke to this new hire was… “Your work will have you writing blogs, lead magnets, newsletters, email marketing, website pages, and so on. Your projects will be your own to run, with complete creative freedom, but your content will need to align with our brand guidelines.”

Creative freedom is something we value at MECLABS Institute as well, the parent organization of MarketingSherpa.

"While we have a framework for diagnosing thought sequences and creating hypotheses for optimization, we really value teammates who can think creatively about how best to solve our client’s optimization challenges. That’s why we give our teammates a lot of freedom to run projects in a way that will drive the most value for the client. That includes identifying the creative optimization opportunities, creating test treatments they think will perform best, and managing client relationships in the most effective way," said Matthew Klein, Services Director, MECLABS Institute (the hiring manager for the job openings mentioned at the beginning of this article).

Strategy #10: Good work

Along with creative freedom, quality marketing professionals appreciate working on quality products with other high-performing, respected people.

On the brand side, this means making sure you have a product with a true value proposition. For marketing agencies and other service providers, this can affect how you select brands (and the people that work at those brands) to work with.

And sometimes, as painful as it is, you must take the nuclear option to protect your talent – firing the client.

“Review your client list to see which clients are bringing joy to the team and which ones may be bringing your team down. Toxic clients lead to unhappy agency employees,” said Elyse Flynn Meyer, Owner and Founder, Prism Global Marketing Solutions.

The agency recently reviewed how its client base positively or negatively impacted the team. They used a three-part approach:

  • Do we enjoy the work we’re doing with them?
  • Is the work meaningful?
  • Are we leveraging the full expertise of our team?

A few clients did not meet these criteria, and it meant having a conversation with them to see if the collaboration was still a good fit. In one instance, they realized it was not.

The firm decided not to renew a contract in the new year with its largest client because the work was no longer meaningful, was not leveraging the expertise of the team, and the team simply didn’t enjoy the work they were doing anymore. They were leveraged for more tactical work and less strategic work.

“While the revenue was significant, the work was causing morale issues with our team. Removing this client from our portfolio was a difficult decision from a revenue perspective, but we knew the change needed to happen. This has allowed us to attract new clients who are looking for our expertise and where we can add true impact, which raises the morale of our team,” Meyer said.

“Often people need to be reminded that it’s not just about the revenue. While it’s an essential factor, you can always replace the revenue, but you cannot replace top talent,” she advised.

Strategy #11: Motivating with (or at least, not demotivating with) metrics

What you measure not only affects your marketing performance; it also impacts employee morale.

Olive used to focus on how many new followers, subscribers, and views each employee had achieved with their work throughout the year. But the team realized that these metrics incentivized the wrong actions in employees. These metrics forced employees to focus on clickbaity content rather than content that created value for the customers.

“My employees didn’t like that. They wanted to produce genuinely creative and inspiring content that might not lead to thousands of new subscribers but instead really created an impact,” said Paul Sherman, Chief Marketing Officer, Olive.

They got rid of those performance metrics and, instead, focused on engagement as a key performance indicator – how much did their content emotionally resonate with their customers?

“My employees love this. Employee engagement and satisfaction have increased and, most importantly, retention has increased notably as well,” he said.

Strategy #12: Sabbaticals

It took a global pandemic to get a group of workers who operate based on billable hours to start re-evaluating the true value of their hours.

Maybe a deadly virus was a stark reminder of our mortality. Perhaps being forced to slow down and take a good, hard look at our life due to closures and social distancing requirements made us see our lives anew. Or maybe it was just burnout. Whatever the cause, marketing professional are rethinking how they spend their time.

Hence, the Great Resignation.

Before your employees get to that point – and to attract skilled marketers with that mindset – there are many strategies you can embrace.

For example, the sabbatical. Long a fixture of academia – another industry powered by curious knowledge workers – the sabbatical has begun to make its way into corporate America.

In The Wall Street Journal’s Sabbaticals Are A Power Move In Burnout Era by Katherine Bindley, Catherine Merritt, CEO, Spool Marketing, explained how her advertising agency began providing sabbaticals this past fall. After three years, employees take three paid weeks off in addition to their vacation time.

Offering longer breaks helped the agency attract and hang on to top talent, she said.

Strategy #13: Shorter work weeks

“We recently tried and failed to hire for three different marketing positions,” said Jonathan Fashbaugh, President, Pro Impressions Marketing.

Fashbaugh upped the annual compensation by a couple of thousand dollars for the new positions. But he also instituted a change in the work schedule that was suggested by his team.

The team had a nine-day, 80-hour pay period. Under that system, they worked five nine-hour days, then three nine-hour days plus one eight-hour day with the Friday off. “It’s kind of a pain in the butt from a payroll standpoint and the irregularity of when you have a Friday off versus not was not great,” he said.

“We loved our Fridays off though, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when the team suggested that we just make every Friday an off Friday,” he said. Someone shared an article about the four-day work week.

“I was skeptical at first but told our department heads, ‘I’m not set on having the team work a specific number of hours. All I care about is that the work gets done. I can't pay the same and have our productivity go down,’” Fashbaugh recounted. His leaders said they understood and that, if anything, productivity might go up because everyone would want to make the four-day work week stick.

So now they have an eight-day, 72-hour pay period. They work four nine-hour days with a one-hour lunch break. “That's a four-day work week with a reasonable work day and we didn’t change anyone’s compensation. They work less for the same money, Fashbaugh said.

The team had to institute a rotating on-call schedule to answer an emergency line in case a client has an urgent need and that has been successful so far.

“It’s an experiment that so far has yielded fantastic results. We’re all very focused and love our three-day weekends. I think that went a long way toward swaying talent to say ‘yes’ to our offer letters,” he said.

And Fasghbaugh isn’t the only one taking this approach…

Strategy #14: More days off

When Wagada Digital polled its staff, the digital marketing agency discovered that time off and work/life balance are big motivators.

So, the team also employed a version of the four-day work week. “We offered staff a four-day week on the last day of the month whereby staff worked compressed days across the shorter week – this turned out to be a cost-neutral way of giving them an additional 12 days off over the year,” said Cheryl Luzet, CEO, Wagada Digital.

But the agency also increased its holiday allowance to 30 days for staff who have been at the company for more three years. “In the long run, this was cheaper and less risky than increasing salaries and more valued by staff,” she said.

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