Matching corporate marketers to startup businesses

Startups are keen to hire marketers with a corporate background in order to get big business experience, but brands need to ensure they find the right fit for their company.

Union Hand-Roasted Coffee hired former Coca-Cola senior brand manager Kerttu Inkeroinen as marketing director
Union Hand-Roasted Coffee hired former Coca-Cola senior brand manager Kerttu Inkeroinen as marketing director.

Recruitment is one of the biggest headaches facing small businesses. Emerging brands depend on finding the right marketing talent to propel them forward, but often this is a tricky task for firms with limited resources. Bringing in marketers that have experience working for large corporations can be a vital way of hiring ready-made skills, but how can small businesses find these people, and what are the opportunities and challenges for both parties?

Last year, artisan coffee producer Union Hand-Roasted Coffee hired former Coca-Cola senior brand manager Kerttu Inkeroinen as marketing director, who has also held several roles at FMCG giant Kimberly-Clark.

Union co-founder Jeremy Torz explains that he was drawn to hiring someone from a large corporation who could offer strategic oversight, as well as a perspective from outside the artisan coffee world. “In this business there’s a lot of making contact with like-minded people,” he says.

“We have to talk to people from outside our bubble so we needed someone who had a helicopter view because we’re still very much down in the trenches. Having someone with the experience and insight to say what’s valid and what we shouldn’t waste our time on was really important to us. You can waste a lot of time and energy going down wrong paths.”

Very often you find that people with corporate training have had the humanity knocked out of them.

Jeremy Torz, Union Hand-Roasted Coffee

To find Inkeroinen, Torz followed the traditional path of posting the job advert and holding interviews, but he insists he was not just looking for big business experience alone. Instead he suggests that “human chemistry” was the deciding factor in bringing Inkeroinen on-board – in particular the fact that she bought into the company’s ethical values, such as its sourcing and sustainability commitments.

Torz suggests that it is difficult to find these characteristics from candidates with a big business background though. “Very often you find that people with corporate training have kind of had the humanity knocked out of them,” he says.

“They are so risk-averse and straight-jacketed in their approach that they lose the ability to hold those values true, so finding the right people is what takes the time for us.”

Inkeroinen states that having the freedom to take risks, away from a more stifling corporate culture, was one of the main attractions of moving to Union. This includes having the opportunity to “shape a brand” and oversee fast growth, as well as tell a lesser-known brand story to a larger audience.

“Working in a smaller business, you have much more ownership of the direction of the company,” notes Inkeroinen. “You’re not so much in a marketing silo and can actually see the business from end-to-end – everything from HR to supply chain.”

She believes that working at a large corporate like Coca-Cola has provided her with important skills and experience that are highly transferable to an SME. This includes working with large budgets to deliver hard performance indicators, as well as collaborating with many other professionals across all areas of marketing.

“That kind of structured thinking is very useful when you’re trying to do things in a speedier way,” she says. “Also, really understanding the consumer and how they relate to your product is part of the thinking that comes from that background.”

Inkeroinen says she is also enjoying the ability to get things done in a quicker fashion in her new role at Union. “You don’t need to spend so much time on internal presentations and discussions,” she notes. “Decisions are made around one table so you don’t need to go into four different meetings at different times. We all sit around the same table, we action something and it gets done.”

Making a difference

clearscore

Justin Basini, co-founder and CEO of ClearScore, a startup that aims to make credit scores more accessible to consumers, is another case of a marketer who moved from large corporates to the world of SMEs. Having started his career at Procter & Gamble, he went on to become global head of marketing at Deutsche Bank and after that, vice-president of marketing and brand at Capital One.

He left this role in 2010 to embark upon a career in small businesses, including as chief product and marketing officer at mobile payments brand Zapp, before setting up ClearScore in 2014.

In a small company you realise pretty quickly that if you aren’t there, things don’t happen.

Justin Basini, ClearScore

Basini states that one of the biggest differences of working for SMEs is the greater level of accountability he has taken on. “If I didn’t turn up to work at Capital One, credit cards would still get sold and customers would still receive service,” he says.

“Hopefully if I went to work it would be 5% better, or I would be working on new stuff to keep the engine going. In a small company you realise pretty quickly that if you aren’t there, things don’t happen. You’re inventing the system as you go, so it’s much less about optimisation, which most big companies are about, and much more about charting your way.”

He points to a number of benefits from his background in large corporates, including a strong grounding in practical skills, people management, “organisational design” and how a business works at scale. “You get to see what’s good and what works, but you can also come away thinking ‘well I won’t do that when I run my own company,” he says.

Basini explains that at ClearScore it is difficult to hire people from large corporate backgrounds because the company is working with tight resources, and those people tend to demand high salaries. Instead, many of his employees are younger people who are attracted to working for a technology-driven startup.

With the average age of his staff just 28, Basini believes it is important to find people who buy into the company culture, regardless of their career background. “We look for people who are clever, but also who are doers and can get stuff done.”

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