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Why is great marketing talent so hard to find?

By Kirsten Newbold-Knipp | July 17, 2015 | 12 Comments

In the last week, three of my friends who are marketing executives have reached out to see if I know of any great talent for Demand Gen, PR and Comms and Content Marketing roles. I am not a recruiter – but that’s not an unusual volume of inquiries because we marketers all talk and truly great talent is hard to find.

It’s true that in almost any role, it’s hard to find that perfect combination of skills, trustworthiness, work ethic and personality or culture fit – which is why recruiting teams put so much store (and money) towards employee referrals and why good people trust other good people.

Shift to Full Stack Marketing

In marketing, it has gotten even harder in the last 5-10 years because of a fundamental shift happening that requires more from modern marketers than ever before. You used to be able to hire people with one really strong skill like copywriting, creative design or analytics. And while there is a place for specialized skills in many large marketing teams, the leaders that rise to lead teams, divisions and companies are increasingly required to bring a lot more to the table, becoming veritable utility players who can cross domains with facility.

I’m not suggesting that every great marketer have every skill, but I do know that my last three great hires were evaluated on a combination of creativity, analytical, communications and leadership skills – and not a single one was weak in any area – they just had varying levels of strength in each.

Most important for many of these great marketers that I now refer along to others is the blend of analytical and creative skills. The ability to bring these two into balance is not taught – it’s innate – and the curiosity of today’s emerging marketing leaders makes them more likely to have this balance than most of their hiring managers who may have matured in a different age of marketing. It doesn’t help that there are a dearth of formal programs diving into the analytics of marketing – yet.

Hard to Find Marketing Talent

It’s Hard to Pattern Match Something New

That also means that most CMOs, VPs and even some Directors of Marketing have not had the luxury of hiring many of these full stack talents, leaving them with a bit of a blind spot when it comes to what they look like and how to validate their skills.

Today’s leaders can expand their horizons by networking with marketers who have built their skills in the last five years – meaning they’ve been exposed only to the most modern of methods and are being steeped in full stack thinking by much of what they see, hear and read about marketing. It’s also worth looking at every role from multiple angles to decide on the mix of skills needed – knowing that teams shift and change, and you’ll need your talent to adapt.

Once it comes to evaluating candidates, I’d argue that no recruiting cycle is complete without an interview project or assignment. Because, let’s face it, marketers should be great at marketing – and that extends to themselves – many people can ace an interview even if they don’t have the underlying skills to get the job done.

I think that the next ten years of marketers graduating from mid-levels to senior leaders will show us all an entirely new way to build talent, organize teams and excel at marketing – and I can’t wait to be caught up in the mix!

What’s been your hardest role to hire?

Leave a Comment


  • Kirsten, it’s true, finding multifaceted digital marketing talent is an ongoing challenge — especially if you’re seeking a real Practitioner who will perform the actual work, rather than a Program Manager that merely outsources everything to contractors and agencies.

    I agree with your assessment, experienced candidates should be able to demonstrate their skills and passion in action. I believe that an Online Portfolio is a meaningful and helpful way to convey spirited performance — here’s mine, as an example

    You asked, what’s been your hardest role to hire? It’s a commercial storyteller that has the deep domain knowledge of an industry that enables them to show and tell the complete narrative across three views of the marketplace — where we’ve been (hindsight), where we are (insight) and where we’re going (foresight).

    That said, I wish there were a valid test for Perpetual Curiosity that was effective during the candidate interview process. People that are inherently curious will act as life-long learners and aspire to become a master of their craft (as it changes, they willingly adapt). In this regard, they seem ageless. Eternally young, always finding the joy in the art and science of marketing.

    In contrast, when an individual’s own journey of self-empowerment ceases to be a labor of love, then their place in today’s digital marketing arena is no longer assured. The current pace of change requires a sustained commitment to personal and professional progress — up and down the Full Stack that you describe.

    • Kirsten Newbold-Knipp says:

      You make several good points David,
      As to curiosity, that is very hard to test. However, I’ve found that one way to learn a bit about it is to have an interviewer approach a question from multiple angles. Give them a ‘what if’ scenario and find out how they would ‘get smart’ on a topic. While some ACE interviewers can snow you, most will show their passion (or lack thereof) in the way they respond.
      Thanks so much for sharing,

  • I didn’t know I was so hard to find:) But, seriously, you’ve hit the nail on the head: There’s an ever-increasing array of marketing channels, tools and techniques and it’s indeed becoming very hard to find a single “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” kind of marketer. What exacerbates the situation is an overzealous belief in a certain old market perspective (e.g. customers don’t read content) that blinds many marketers from trying out newer techniques (e.g. LinkedIn Posts) and benefiting from collateral benefits (e.g. Leads from “Contact of Contact”).

  • Ginevra says:

    There is plenty of talent out there but there are many challenges addressed also in this article. Based on my experience the real problem is in recruitment skills/lack of. There is also a preconception of what a marketing person should be which limits real talent from even getting through. Last, compensation. You just can’t expect to get quality marketers if you are not willing to pay.

  • Jen says:

    The digital marketing position is currently the hardest to fill. Most companies are looking for junior level digital marketers, meaning they have at least 3-4 years of more technical marketing experience (marketing automation, SEO, CMS, etc) but also “get” marketing, good old Peter Drucker style. And, as you point out, this requires both a creative and technical combination that is rare to find. Most of my CMO friends are struggling to hire right now and Marketing is the field to be in! Lots of opportunity for the milennials.

  • Kieron Mayers says:

    Good article. Interesting that the author is addressing ‘marketing talent’ and the comments so far, in the main, have read that as ‘digital marketing talent’ which I think is systemic of the industry.

    Ironically for me, its a lack of vision from senior marketers to realise that we’re past the ‘digital marketing specialist’ phase – full stack marketers are just that. Marketing in a digital world requires marketers that get marketing and how to use digital technology to market.

    • Kirsten Newbold-Knipp says:

      You make a great observation Kieron,
      I do think that too many folks continue to divide digital and the rest of marketing – while in reality, they are and must be fused over time to be very successful. Consumers don’t consider brands differently based on channel and wish for a unified experience – which is best delivered by full stack teams.
      Happy Friday!

  • Great article. I could not agree with you more, Kirsten.
    One of the goals of is to help connect remove some of this inefficiency and connect marketers to career opportunities.

    • Kirsten Newbold-Knipp says:

      Thanks Dharmesh! Thrilled that resources like it are increasing in availability and that they preach the full stack mentality:) I can’t wait to see what marketers graduating now will look and lead like in 10-15 years …

  • Full stack marketers are expensive. That’s why they’re so hard to find.

    • Kirsten Newbold-Knipp says:

      Hey Hashim,
      I don’t think that they have to be expensive – some of the best full stack marketers I’ve hired were not that experienced, but had made it a point to learn a bit of everything. They might have needed more guidance on strategy but when it came to execution they could do nearly anything and were highly analytical. I’d encourage all of us – regardless the stage of our career – to keep learning across disciplines so we can be that full stack at all levels.

  • I couldn’t agree more! I run all Talent/Recruiting at Dashlane, a high-growth, VC-backed tech startup based in NYC and Paris. We’ve dramatically scaled our marketing team in the last year hiring more than 15 strategic roles. We do most of the heavy lifting internally, and don’t rely heavily on outsourcing. Everything we do is focused on maximizing our spend/growth, and we’re constantly testing new campaigns/channels.

    The hardest position to find is a marketer who not only understands how to run a multi-channel paid acquisition program, but also has an analytical foundation. This is a relatively new skill set, since larger companies rely on separate teams to do the heavily analytics and build the dashboards; but startups don’t have that luxury, and really need someone that can generate and analyze large amounts of data, as well as make sure the company’s predictions and models are working :-). In addition, at Dashlane, for almost every role we hire, we think about the “big picture”. Our new hires are the future leaders for our company and need to be dynamic and solve a multitude of challenges as priorities shift.