Are companies embracing digital PR with new job titles?

Last year when he published “Sticks and Stones” Larry Weber wrote that companies would need to hire new types of people, in new types of jobs, to fully leverage and embrace social media.

Here’s an interesting interview from Larry Chase’s newsletter with Chris Nadherny, Mr. Nadherny is a senior director of the executive search consulting firm Spencer Stuart, where he is a partner and has led the Digital and Direct Marketing practice since 1997. It gives an idea of how this concept is playing out in real life.

You can read the full interview here. I’ve pulled out some highlights.

Recent Placements in Top Marketing Jobs

Larry Chase: You recruit for Fortune 500 companies. What kind of placements have you made recently?

Chris Nadherny: We worked closely with JCPenney to identify, assess and recruit a head of Digital Marketing. It’s a part of the ecommerce program but specifically responsible for all search engine optimization, search engine marketing, mobile, affiliate, banners and the like.

The candidate we placed had been with [multichannel retailer] Coldwater Creek in its ecommerce business. She was responsible for all Digital Marketing, segmentation, positioning and various digital channels.

LC: Do you see a lot of people with a traditional Direct Marketing background making a smooth transition to Digital Marketing?

CN: The catalog companies were some of the first people to grab onto the Internet and Digital Marketing.

As the funding that’s going into Digital Marketing has increased, the Digital Marketing role has become prominent across the organization. We have seen a move to upgrade the talent as a result.

At one time, a company might have started with someone who was an Internet Marketing specialist. As the business has grown and succeeded, they’re finding at the next stage that they need someone who brings more maturity in management leadership and financial acumen.

Are Internet Marketers Too Specialized to be CMO?

LC: We at Web Digest For Marketers also look at specific disciplines such as SEO and Social Media. Do you find a lot of people come up the chain through those disciplines?

CN: Yes, but the danger of someone being in a specialist role and focusing solely on mobile, social or SEO is that he/she has a view of part of the equation but not the entire equation. We recruit at the more senior level, and our clients are looking for people who can lead and manage the entire equation.

We also placed the head of global online services for Hilton Hotels in a role that is responsible for all the Websites, content, marketing on the sites, analytics, creative and so on. The client wanted someone from the travel and hospitality industry, and we came across some good people but not with experience as broad as our client wanted.

We convinced them to look at an individual who had been with Chrysler and was directly responsible for its Digital Marketing strategy, Websites, search, analytics, lead generation for Chrysler and had previously been with (the agency) Organic.

What convinced this client at Hilton to look at someone from automotive was the parallel between providing services to dealers across the country and providing hotel services across the country. In the end, the client did choose the person from Chrysler.

Demand for Talent Outstrips Supply

LC: Do your clients prefer to hire within their categories, or do they want someone from outside their business?

CN: Generally, they prefer to hire from within their category, but it’s really on a case-by-case basis. Although 1998 was really the first “e-Christmas,” we still have not had enough time to fill the talent void.

LC: So, the supply has not really caught up with the demand. Will it?

CN: It will take a while. Things continue to develop at a rapid pace. A lot of our clients feel that as soon as you get your head above water, and you think you understand what’s going on, something else happens that you need to test and develop.

Can You Get to the Top with Only Digital Marketing Experience?

LC: Are there people at the top of Fortune 500 or major marketing companies who have spent their entire careers only on the digital side, or do they have traditional experience?

CN: Digital-only experience is less common because in those roles, you also have multiple marketing-channel environments.

Someone who understands just digital is often viewed as too narrow in perspective. If they have always been in digital and are younger, then they have probably been in more entrepreneurial organizations and didn’t always gain management training and discipline along the way.

For someone who’s coming up directly through Digital Marketing right now, it’s very easy to be passionate about the space, and there are a lot of reasons to want to be there. But, at some point, they’re going to run the risk of being compartmentalized or curtailing their advancement because they haven’t broadened their skill sets

LC: Will those at the CMO level be mostly traditional people with an innate understanding of digital or the other way around?

CN: I can only go by my experience, but here are another couple of casepoints:

We recruited the president of direct at [women’s clothing retailer] Charming Shoppes for all their ecommerce. He had come from Sears, where he was responsible for the Website, ecommerce and the catalog. Before that, he was in management positions with Forrester [Research] so he had gained management leadership all the way.

LC: So, you really need a balance.

CN: Another great example, and a rare profile, is the person who was heading up Digital Marketing and ecommerce for QVC. Before that, he had spent a number of years with JCPenney in the stores environment, where he had hands-on retail experience, worked on the catalog and then migrated to Internet merchandising and marketing.

Moving to a pure [Web environment] and leading that effort makes him very unique, having tried-and-true tri-channel experience.

LC: Which attribute is hardest to find?

CN: A progressive career track within a limited number of companies. In other words, some career stability and not a series of job hops. We always like to see someone promoted within a current employer and not always having to switch companies for the next title. We also look for business and management maturity.

Skill Sets You Need for the Big Leagues

LC: How does company size affect what you look for in a candidate?

CN: It depends on the size of the company. The types of skill sets and qualities or traits you seek in candidates for a company that does less than $50 million a year in ecommerce are very different from those for a company doing more than $1 billion.

For a smaller company, you’re looking for someone with more hands-on experience and an entrepreneurial outlook, with a distinct building mentality, an ability to influence resources within a matrix environment, and a certain resourcefulness and ability to impart a sense of excitement throughout the organization.

Contrast that with a larger ecommerce effort, where you’re looking more for broad-based business leadership and top-level credibility with the senior executive team. It takes a greater level of complexity in scope and scale. You’re also looking at more international experience and exposure and increased financial acumen.

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