How to find your own marketing unicorn

Marketers have always been asked to wear different hats in their roles. Successful marketing programs and campaigns require a variety of talents and areas of expertise, even within more defined specialties, and often within the same person! From strategy, communication, and creativity, to project management, social media, and more, marketers are some of the most versatile employees a company can hire.

Now more than ever, Freeman+Leonard is seeing an increase in demand for marketers who are multi-talented and able to fill hybrid roles.

These might take the form of blending creative and analytical abilities, like a marketing coordinator or brand manager who can also write copy or edit video. Or, they might feature a blend of multiple creative talents, such as an art director who can also write copy. Combining different disciplines or areas of expertise — like a social media strategist who can also manage email marketing and website content — is also becoming more common.

While there’s nothing new about the concept of asking one person to wear multiple hats, Freeman+Leonard client orders for hybrid roles have skyrocketed as we’ve emerged from the pandemic. Demand for digital expertise has in particular.

This is true across agencies and brands, and from large companies to small. The pandemic seems to be the driving factor. Digital transformation is now a priority for every size of company, not just the bigger players, and executing strategic technology initiatives tends to require multiple skill sets working in concert.

Many companies are now looking at their hiring budgets and talent mix with fresh eyes. In this economic climate, employers are seeking digital expertise and a more strategic blend of aptitudes.

Enter: the elusive marketing unicorn.

 Often referred to with at least an undertone of sarcasm, or bestowed cheekily upon a company’s best employees, the concept of a “unicorn” in marketing has taken off, for better or worse.

Of course, we all know that unicorns exist only in fairy tales — so we’ve been advising our clients that while they can certainly ask for everything they want in a single member of their team, they may have a hard time finding it.

The good news? Though a true unicorn of an employee may not exist, it is possible to get many of the abilities you need in a single person — as long as you’re creative and flexible in your approach.

Nearly all of us at Freeman+Leonard spent our careers in marketing and advertising agencies before shifting to the talent matchmaking side of the equation. Given our backgrounds, we understand the pressure employers are under to get the biggest bang for their marketing buck. Fairy tale or not, the demand is real.

Here’s what we tell our clients who need a Swiss Army knife in their next hire:

1. Make a list of all the specific abilities and areas of expertise your team needs to succeed.

Think about your talent bench as an empty toolbox that needs to be filled. Each member of your team should supply at least one of those “tools.” Different companies and departments will need a particular set of tools to accomplish their goals and move the business forward.

Make a list of every tool you need, focusing more on specific capabilities, areas of expertise, and talents than actual job titles.

2. Take stock of the existing strengths and skills on your team.

Next, evaluate your existing team in detail to assess what you already have. Digging deeper than everyday function to consider each employee’s true strengths and passions may reveal hidden tools you didn’t know you had.

You may even discover untapped potential that can be realized through mentorship, training, and growth opportunities, potentially leading to not only cost savings but also greater job satisfaction and retention.

3. Determine which capabilities you’re missing, and stay flexible about which ones your next hire brings to the table.

Once you know what you have, you can more flexibly and creatively determine what — and then who — you really need.

If you need a project manager, a copywriter, and a designer, but have already decided your next hire will be a project manager who writes well (outsourcing the design to a freelancer), be open instead to your next hire bringing their passion for design to the table. Your next copywriter may be on your team already. Or, the social media community manager you hire next may turn out to have strong copywriting skills.

Challenge your own assumptions about what your ideal team looks like. Mix-and-match different “tools” in different team members.

This modular, flexible approach to designing your ideal team and nurturing their natural abilities is not only good for the bottom line, it’s good leadership.

4. Define your top priority or non-negotiable skill set, and align everyone internally.

Even when done thoughtfully and intentionally, the all-in-one approach to hiring your next employee can still carry risks. After all, a jack- or jill-of-all-trades is often a master of none.

You may think you’ve hired a double specialist, but actually wind up with a generalist. Or it could be that your star new hire, with two distinct skill sets, isn’t actually as strong in both areas as it may have seemed in the interview process. And maybe that would still work in theory, but your new hire’s weaker skill set was the one you actually needed more.

You can avoid this by prioritizing the capability you need most, and then communicating that to everyone who interacts with your candidates.

Clear communication and defined priorities don’t end when the candidate is hired.

Practically speaking, even if you do get lucky and find someone who’s truly great at multiple specialties, too many job functions and responsibilities riding on a single person can cause confusion and inefficiencies. Keep the lines of communication open with your new hire and help them prioritize their projects early and often.

5. Be prepared to act quickly, and to offer a salary higher than you may have expected.

A marketer with multiple strengths and capabilities is worth more to your business than a singular specialist. But that’s not the only factor to consider when budgeting their salary.

We can’t stress it enough: The current hiring marketplace, especially in our headquarters of Dallas-Fort Worth, is the most competitive we’ve seen in decades.

Salaries are astronomical in comparison to just a few months ago, for both agency and brand-side roles. Counteroffers are rampant. We’re seeing even less-experienced candidates get as much as $20K per year more than they would have before the pandemic, some nearing six figures for less than two years of experience.

If you find a great match, do not delay. Make an offer — and a good one — immediately, or risk losing them to your competitor. During the few days you may take to decide or get approvals, your candidate may have already received, countered, and accepted another offer.

Passive candidates in stable jobs they enjoy are willing to make a move right now, but only if the price is right, and only for now. We predict this current environment won’t last, and that means losing out on incredible multi-skilled talent who you otherwise may not have been able to lure away.

Click here for the 2021 Salary Guide for Agency Roles in DFW.

6. Be open to creative ways of finding and hiring talent, including contract and freelance.

It’s important to also challenge your own assumptions about how your ideal team is classified, and how you find them and use them. Sometimes being resourceful with your hiring decisions means thinking differently about what must be done in-house by a single person and what can be outsourced.

After all, if you’re hiring for three distinct skill sets, it’s entirely possible you’ll decide that you really do need three people. Fortunately, with contract solutions and on-demand resources from Freeman+Leonard, you can actually get three people for the price of one.

Hiring multiple contractors means you can have experts in each of the areas you need, even if you can afford only one FTE.

More marketers have embraced the flexibility of full-time freelancing than ever before, and this can become your competitive advantage. Freeman+Leonard can help you build a diverse, effective team that covers all the capabilities you need while streamlining costs.

Perhaps the hybrid you need isn’t a person, but a team: contract and flexible, but so immersed in your brand you’d never know they’re not employees from the work they deliver.

Beyond the standard direct hire placement, many customizable and unique approaches are available to employers today. Your marketing team can be composed of (or even a blend of) freelance, contract, or permanent FTEs. Compensation, taxes, and benefits can be managed through our payroll or yours. Team members can be trained in your business and your brand, then tapped only when you need them. Through Freeman+Leonard, you can even access fractional marketing leaders, executive-level consultants, and creative agency veterans.

Never before have there been so many creative solutions for getting the work done and moving your business forward. As your strategic partner, let us do the heavy lifting to find, vet, and assemble your star marketing or creative team.

Just because unicorns don’t exist doesn’t mean you can’t have your dream team.

Ready to build your own marketing A-team? Use the contact form below to reach out and start a conversation. It costs nothing to explore your options.

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