Finding the brightest and the very best

Locating staff with the right skills and attitude is crucial. Steve Hemsley speaks to a panel of marketing and HR professionals about sourcing talent, even if it comes from outside the industry.

yo sushi

The Panel

Claire Wood, marketing director, Deloitte
Tea Colaianni, group human resources director, Merlin Entertainments
Sally Cowdry, consumer and marketing director, O2 UK
Hannah Squirrell, director of marketing and ecommerce, Bennets (the motorbike insurer and sister brand to Compare The Market)
My Ly, senior marketing manager, Yo! Sushi
Jon Goldstone, former group marketing director, Premier Foods
Kevin Young, group marketing director, Snow+Rock
Ellie Pike, HR executive, Penguin Group (UK)
Mark Nicholson, trade marketing manager, Digital UK (the organisation behind the digital switchover)

Marketing Week (MW): How hard is it to find good people for your marketing teams? How do you go about this?

Tea Colaianni (TC): It can be difficult to find the high calibre of marketers we want. Many are only just beginning to appreciate the career potential within Merlin. It is a fast-growing company with brands being rolled out worldwide. There are now 13 Madame Tussauds and 35 Sea Life aquariums.

There is a small pool of marketers with the broad experience we need and fewer still with real responsibility for profit and loss. Our group chief executive Nick Varney, who was marketing director for Alton Towers, believes young marketers are being siloed too quickly.

Claire Wood (CW): Our first priority with any vacancy is to look at the internal talent pool. Inside knowledge of Deloitte is as useful as having a marketing background. I can think of four examples where people have joined our marketing function from [outside that department] coming from our consulting service line, the audit department or from executive assistant roles. These candidates knew what makes the firm tick.

Jon Goldstone (JG): Generally, it’s still relatively easy to find good people for marketing roles, although a lot depends on the brands you own. Good marketers are attracted by brands with interesting things to say.

Hannah Squirrell (HS): The biggest challenge is finding people with a complementary mix of strategic thinking and technical knowledge. Bennetts works across 11 marketing channels and our multichannel strategy poses challenges.

Cultural fit, drive and a proactive attitude are as important as specific skills, because we have strong on-the-job training. The most successful recruitment is through our own professional networks and industry contacts.

Mark Nicholson (MN): We recruited a team of ambassadors to broadcast the Digital UK message to retailers and train their staff on the switchover. Finding candidates of the right calibre in London was very time-consuming.

The flexibility required of such a team working in different regions convinced us to outsource the recruitment and management to field marketing and training specialist Gekko.

We would definitely consider people from other sectors if they can bring something to our business

Sally Cowdry (SC): Having a strong brand attracts applicants but it’s important to get people with the right skills for the business, both now and for the future.

We have evolved into a digital services brand, moving into areas such as O2 Wallet. We need people who can develop and progress into new areas. It’s important to go beyond traditional recruitment methods and we have an O2 careers channel on Twitter.

My Ly (ML): Finding the right person can be tricky. Yo! Sushi is a quirky and fun brand. We look for a balance between a candidate’s marketing skills and their enthusiasm for our brand. They also need a personality that fits the company culture.

We are currently searching for a social media community manager and sent emails to the 340,000 names on our database – but we still use traditional recruitment methods.

Kevin Young (KY): We recruit people with a passion for the activities that Snow+Rock is involved in such as camping and skiing but they must be good marketers too. Our most recent marketing recruit responded to our ad on because his background was with a bike component brand.

Ellie Pike (EP): Our own site is a main source of candidates, but Penguin sometimes uses The Guardian to advertise to a broader range of media and marketing professionals or The Bookseller to attract people in the industry.

The reason why we use social media is because Penguin and our staff have a huge number of Twitter followers from inside and outside the industry.

MW: There is a trend for marketers to look outside their industry to find people, including from the data or digital sector. Is this something you are doing?

SC: Breadth and diversity of experience and skills is valuable if we are to innovate and succeed in new areas. We have recruited people from other industries to support O2’s move into finance and health but we have also appointed people with data and digital technology experience.

TC: We have been successful at promoting from within, but our speed of growth means we are looking to recruit people with marketing experience and transferable skills. We want candidates who can grow in marketing and in general management.

yo sushi
Quirky quest: Yo! Sushi looks for a balance between candidates’ marketing skills and personality that fits in with the ‘fun’ brand

EP: As traditional book publishing changes and digital continues to grow, we need to recruit people who understand how these products are made and the consumers who will buy them.

For marketing and creative roles, we have hired from the digital sector and the wider media. We have taken on people from television broadcasters and music labels that offer a different perspective, but still understand the culture of publishing.

HS: Traditionally, we have struggled to find marketers with the right level of motor biking expertise coupled with a strong knowledge of marketing, so we do search outside our industry.

This is positive as we can learn from other industries and a good marketer can put themselves in the mindset of their target audience regardless of what product they are promoting.

KY: We would definitely consider people from other sectors if they can bring something to our business. Marketing is a rapidly changing industry and we know we must broaden our skills to be best in class. When David Kohn became our first head of multichannel last September, he brought a wealth of knowledge from previous roles with Borders and Waterstones.

JG: Digital skills and experience are becoming a prerequisite. Within consumer goods, there is a lag between the need for these skills and their availability. It is therefore natural that consumer goods companies should hire from the digital sector to fill this gap.

MN: When recruiting for field marketers for Digital UK, there is less of a need for candidates to have a traditional marketing background. Face-to-face roles are best suited to enthusiastic people who can quickly develop strong relationships.

MW: If you do hire people without traditional marketing skills, how do you train them?

TC: Last year we introduced a marketing graduate programme and have deliberately targeted candidates with marketing degrees as well as people from different backgrounds. We want to introduce them to marketing ‘the Merlin way’ and train them so they have greater commercial accountability. The first seven candidates came from different disciplines, including economics, business management and finance. The training was developed by internal and external experts including brand alignment specialist Brand Vista, which has been integral in developing our brands over the past 10 years.

HS: We always recruit people with at least some marketing knowledge but we place great importance on on-the-job training. In terms of igniting bike-related passion, we ask biking experts to visit Bennetts to talk to the team and new recruits on industry developments. We also encourage our staff to undertake basic motorbike training and are rolling this out to call centre staff.

ML: I hired a marketing assistant who didn’t have a traditional marketing background but she was recruited on her ability to learn quickly on the job, her dedication, enthusiasm and because her personality fitted the brand.

On-the-job training and real-world experience can be more valuable for an employee’s development than a traditional marketing degree.

EP: The question around training isn’t necessarily about educating our new hires from non-marketing backgrounds, but about investing in our staff to ensure they can deal with the challenges imposed by digital channels. This training is formal and on-the-job.

It is important to have the right attitude, aptitude, cultural fit and a curiosity to learn

We had an external agency train our Penguin staff in small groups, which revealed insights about today’s digital consumers and got under the skin of new business models and platforms.

CW: We have an in-house development programme for marketing where we bring in outside experts. They cover topics such as digital marketing, creative processes and writing skills.

KY: Our marketers attend international trade shows with our buyers to keep up-to-date with brands and products. Our buyers’ product knowledge is crucial to guiding our campaigns.

SC: While classic marketing training is valuable, it is more important to have the right attitude, aptitude, cultural fit and curiosity to learn. Our team members undergo a thorough orientation, including time in O2 stores. We also provide bespoke training courses through our marketing academy and everyone has access to online resource the Learning Zone.

MW: What is the benefit of hiring someone from a technical background into a marketing role, or vice-versa?

ML: As the digital world evolves, we must evolve with it and employ people with skills that allow us to make the most of digital’s potential. Social media has become a key element to a brand’s development and must be incorporated into any marketing and training strategy.

MN: While hiring someone with a technical understanding of digital TV would mean a quicker induction process, personal skills are more important. Generally, the technical knowledge required to perform the role can be learnt. It is far more difficult for someone to adopt or develop new communications skills.

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Personal experience: Snow+Rock sends staff on product testing events

HS: We encourage people to have technical knowledge and will invest in training if they do not have the desired skills for a brand marketing role. Many skills in marketing are transferable, so a technical background can be a real benefit.

One of our marketing team came to Bennetts from an e-commerce post. She knew how to put together an effective digital campaign to drive traffic to our new biking classifieds site. Equally, if one of our marketers has an understanding of biking, they can empathise with the bikers.

KY: Technology and the skills to use it are vital to our success. However, anyone who joins must understand our brand DNA and how they can use their technical skills to grow our business.

JG: When it works, it is a classic ‘win win’. I’ve moved people from insights and research and development (R&D) into marketing roles and they have benefited from learning consumer marketing skills. The broader marketing group have also become more literate in insights and R&D.

MW: Can you give an example of the best internal training course you have run and explain why it was useful?

KY: To get our team close to the product and to feed their passion for our sports, we send them on product testing events. This could be four days testing skis in the Alps or climbing and hiking the mountains of Scotland.

JG: I recently helped to train six of the marketing group at Premier Foods as ‘innovation practitioners’. There was a competitive process to get on to the training and it resulted in six advocates for the new innovation process who were passionate about making it work.

SC: Our ‘customers at the heart of O2’ programme was developed with our training provider Imparta. All new joiners attend it in their first weeks and teams work on existing business opportunities and fresh challenges.

HS: Many senior-level executives have progressed from marketing roles and we have developed our own graduate marketing programme. We don’t specifically run internal marketing training courses because to us, on-the-job training is more relevant.

MN: The most beneficial course run internally for the Digital UK team by Gekko has been the ‘powerful presence’ training.

The course was designed to provide the team with enhanced communication and relationship development skills.

MW: What trends do you see happening in the recruitment of marketers in the coming years?

JG: There will be more sourcing of candidates from within and more diversity within the marketing profession. I’m seeing more ‘talent acquisition’ professionals inside big organisations and they are exploring a wider universe of potential candidates.

ML: Mobile technology will have a big impact on recruitment. People are increasingly using LinkedIn and Twitter to look for work. Internal development will take a back seat as the outsourcing and buying of talent takes precedent as businesses strive to grow faster and stronger.

EP: We will need to remain flexible and open-minded about the professional or educational background – and the style of working – of our potential new hires.

MN: When outsourcing the recruitment of field marketers, brands will be more involved in staff selection because successful applicants do have a significant impact on a brand’s personality.

KY: As channels of communication evolve, the key to recruiting the right people will be working out which media will reach them, then offering the right information to get them interested in a job. Potential recruits will do more research on companies and this should lead to better applicants and less time spent reviewing unsuitable candidates.

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