Recruiting truly great marketing leaders is actually a very hard problem. This isn’t for lack of interest, either. Research shows that more than 20 percent of college graduates enter the workforce with a bachelor’s degree in a business concentration, including marketing. However, the very education that prepared these graduates, coupled with any career experience in more traditional marketing environments, has limited the available population of truly transformative marketers.
The rules change even more drastically for companies that are either operating in new markets, or better yet, are creating their own categories of products and services. Unless your stellar VP marketing candidate has actually created a category before, he or she likely has no playbook beyond disruption.
Now although the pool of well-qualified candidates may be more focused, so are the traits that you should be looking for in your thought leadership oriented marketing leader. I’ll hit on the top five here below:
1. They think big. If your aim is to build something transformative in a new market, you need a visionary who thinks bigger than any constraints would dictate. Thought leadership campaigns tend to be expensive and working backwards from a fixed budget will only limit the creativity needed to create a movement. Look for a leader who can propose a radically big idea but also nail its execution. Although you’ll have to bring them back down to earth every so often, better to be in that position than the alternative.
2. They are motivated by making a difference, not money. Great thought leadership marketers are motivated by the promise of doing something meaningful and changing the world more than their paycheck. You’ll recognize them in the interview process when they negotiate an equity package before a higher salary. This is a key point of distinction between traditional and thought leadership marketers. Emotional investment cannot be bought or manufactured.
3. They lead with conviction. Feeling emotional investment is one thing, but inspiring others with that same degree of conviction is very hard to do.
Operating a startup marketing team in a new market has its own set of unique challenges. Teams are often small, so there is fear of burnout. Sales momentum ebbs and flows, causing loss of confidence. When budgets fluctuate there is doubt about execution doubt. It falls on the leader to pull them back when employees begin to lose faith in the vision that drives the company forward.
4. They are not marketers for life. Survey your candidates on what brought them to interview with your company. The standouts see a massive opportunity to do something great leading your marketing efforts.
In fact, the most successful thought leadership oriented marketers aren’t looking to be marketers very long. They have cross-functional startup experience and aspire to become CEOs or founders of their own ventures.
This isn’t the role for a marketing “lifer,” but for someone who sees this particular opportunity with your company as a means of developing the relationships, experience and resume to achieve their dreams.
5. They get their hands dirty. The reality at any startup is time and resources are scarce. Sometimes, there is nobody to delegate to. Your leader should have no problem getting tactical when the business needs them to. Ideally, he or she has developed an eye for aesthetics in how decks are designed, videos are edited, etc., and can add real value by setting the course for others to follow.
This list sounds daunting but describes who you, as a business owner, want when building a brand within a new category. A lot of your investment is in building the category itself. The risk of making the wrong bet on a marketing leader (or perhaps choosing a traditional leader) are too great to not approach delicately and with intention.
Related: Do as Successful Thought Leaders Do
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