The Realities of Recruiting a Super Hero Digital Marketing Leader

By Ted Pryor | 7.17.18

You’re looking to hire a digital marketing leader and your wish list of attributes probably reads like this:


  • Entrepreneurial and action oriented, and experienced with large-company disciplines

  • Industry expert with 15 to 20 years of relevant experience, and able to disrupt existing corporate structures and build at scale

  • Innovative, creative, and agile, and able to see “white space” and build business approaches that no one else has thought

  • Tech savvy, and is up to speed on relevant software tools, CRM systems, loyalty programs, and vendors

  • Able recruit and motivate a world-class marketing team, and can manage data scientists and engineers


Not long ago, you may have been describing a mythical super hero. Today, however, these talented executives do exist. But they’re in high demand and often already well employed. Think acquiring new customers is hard? Capturing the attention of these super hero digital marketing leaders makes customer acquisition look like child’s play.


Hiring an in-demand digital marketing leader requires thinking differently than you likely have been when hiring for other marketing roles. Here’s the process I recommend for finding and recruiting the person you need who will be successful at your organization:


Stop with the laundry list. Narrow your wish list to about six or eight key attributes. Then get consensus among the other senior executives who will be working with the digital marketing leader. It’s fine to set the bar high; but going too broad with a lengthy list of skills and traits will make it difficult to come to an agreement on the right person. A concise list helps everyone focus on what is actually needed for the role. For example, you may be looking for a) a proven digital marketing leader who is b) expert operating at your scale, c) can get up to speed on your products and industry quickly, d) has both strategic and execution skills, e) can build a team, and f) communicates well at all levels. If you got this candidate, everything else is a detail.


Step out of your comfort zone. There’s a tendency to focus on people within your own industry, when there might be highly relevant candidates in closely related industries who could bring a fresh perspective to your business. So, look for digital marketing leaders who work at companies and in industries you admire, especially those that may be relevant to your business. Instead of focusing on industry experience, look for candidates who serve a similar audience or demographic, or who work at a similar scale or with a similar purchase process. For instance, someone who is expert at marketing luxury vacations might be comfortable marketing luxury automobiles; someone who is used to marketing small-ticket consumer products might excel in the quick-serve restaurant industry.


Go after the change you want to see. Target digital marketing leaders in companies and industries that are well ahead of yours in developing digital marketing techniques and models. The hospitality and travel industries were forced into the digital marketing world long before many other industries, for example. Media, entertainment, and publishing companies have been dealing with digital marketing, especially for subscription models, long before other industries.


Cast a wide net. Think differently about where and how you’re searching. A local search is unlikely to be broad enough to find your super hero digital marketing leader. Limiting yourself to candidates who are already in commuting distance reduces the pool dramatically. Broaden your search nationally. Also, look for candidates where your company represents a bump in scale, growth, excitement, and title. A bigger or higher growth platform will be attractive to top candidates. You might even find a candidate from a company going through a corporate event such as a merger or a headquarters move. Talk to a lot (and I do mean a lot) of people in your network. They may know a super hero type who is looking to make a move or is concerned about a merger and who is outside your core network.


Roll out the red carpet. Top candidates will have options. Even if they weren’t looking when you first approached them, they’ll start to respond to other inquiries while they’re interviewing with you. Impress them with a steady, brisk, and professional hiring and recruiting process. Don’t “ghost” them with the all-too-common, “We’ll follow up next week” followed by radio silence for a month. If there are long unexplained delays in the process, you may very well lose a valuable candidate. Run a disciplined process that enables you to interview several qualified candidates at the same time, so you and any other senior leaders involved in the hire can make an informed hiring decision without allowing the process to drag.


It is possible to hire a super hero digital marketing leader. But only if you treat candidates and the hiring process as well as — and as creatively as — you would treat a prospective high-value customer you’re trying to acquire. That means being clear about and committed to the key attributes you’re seeking, targeting only relevant candidates, showing them the benefits of coming to work with you (e.g. a bump up in scale, growth, and responsibility), and making a fair offer in a realistic period of time. Do that and you’ll feel like a super hero CMO as you welcome your new star digital marketing leader to your team.

About the Author

Ted Pryor, a managing director with Greenwich Harbor Partners, focuses on senior-level executive and independent board director recruiting in media, technology, and business services, including general management, sales, marketing and customer success. Prior to executive recruiting, he served as CFO and CEO of a venture backed start-up company. He has over 10 years’ experience as a senior executive at GE Capital and over 20 years’ experience in corporate finance.

Find Ted on LinkedIn and at @GreenwichHP