I’m the first to admit that I’m not an expert on hiring procedures and practices. Yet, I often receive inquiries from small-business principals seeking assistance in the hiring of a marketing director. Normally, they want to know when to do it, how to do it and who to hire. But, when it comes to making the correct decision about hiring a marketing director, confusion, uncertainty and risk are the order of the day for most small businesses that have arrived at marketing late in the day. When do I need one? You’ll know it’s time to hire professional marketing help when you notice that your marketing is not happening, strategies are not being developed and the marketing execution is not getting done. Thoughts of acquiring professional marketing help begin to pop up when we have to answer embarrassing questions from clients about lack of marketing support. A decision to spend significant dollars on marketing elements like direct mail, expensive sales collaterals and advertising campaigns can also be the stimulus to seeking professional help. If your marketing requirements are at such a point that they cannot be effectively addressed with current resources, make the decision to acquire support. Remember, for most small businesses, an experienced marketing director will not come cheaply. Be prepared for a six-figure investment by the time you throw in overhead and benefits. Hiring the heavyweight If you’re hiring an experienced marketing director, make sure the candidate can perform two primary roles strategy development and program execution. The marketing head has to be capable of developing long- and short-term marketing strategies, working closely with other functions such as sales, manufacturing and finance, to ensure that the company’s marketing strategy is smoothly interwoven into the overall direction of the company. From an execution viewpoint, the marketing director must be capable of effectively supervising and implementing any number of marketing programs with attention paid to concept, detail and effective monitoring. Ad campaigns, database programs, direct mailings will all fail if they don’t receive proper supervision from the person at the top. The HR experts can provide a detailed list of attributes that make for the best candidate, but there are four traits, in this writer’s experience, that are common to the most successful marketing managers: ? Experience. Look for a minimum of seven to 10 years of experience in the marketing field. Sound marketing skills and prowess transcend most industries and sectors, so it’s not always necessary to hire somebody from your specific industry, even though most of us believe that our businesses are “special.” Look for somebody who’s been there and done it before, many times over. ? Passion. Look for someone who is genuinely excited by marketing and what it can achieve. The marketing director’s role is a tough one, and in many organizations marketing has to be “sold” before it is truly appreciated by senior management and functional heads. A passionate marketing director will get excited by the challenge and will motivate the rest of the organization as a result of that infectious enthusiasm. Passionate marketing directors also tend to have better ideas, more creative concepts and a more compelling way of addressing the problem or the opportunity. ? Street smarts. Marketing is not always the science that we would like to believe it is. In few other fields can insight, intuition and gut response have a greater bearing upon development of strategy and decision making. Look for a candidate who has an intuitive understanding of the marketplace and the consumer and who is able to convert that understanding into direction and action. ? Decision-making ability. Because most marketing environments are known for their lack of perfect information, the field can be a disaster area for indecisive managers. A lot of marketing failure occurs because decisions are second-guessed and delayed until it’s too late. Good marketing directors will sometimes make bad decisions, but that’s part of the process. The more important determinant is hiring somebody who has the experience and confidence to make a decision and take a stand. A less-affordable alternative If you can’t afford that expensive marketing talent, be willing to break the job up into its component parts and hire accordingly. Leave the strategic direction to the principals of the firm, the sales director or, if need be, an outside marketing consultant. Program execution can be undertaken by an experienced marketing coordinator type, someone with three to five years of experience, who is capable of working with outside vendors in developing the P.R. program, getting the brochures designed and printed, making sure that the direct mail lists and the database files are updated, etc. A good marketing coordinator, in many cases someone who has made the transition from the overworked and unrewarding advertising agency side, can be hired at a salary cost of $35,000 to $50,000 a year, a reasonable sum given the marketing investment that is now at stake in most small businesses. Here, the hiring principles center on broad-scale experience, the ability to get things done, a self-starter mentality that works well with lack of supervision and a particular attention paid to discipline and detail. Marketing is now a major investment for the average small business. Quite often it was ignored or placed in the hands of the CEO’s spouse or kin. As the competitive battlefield intensifies, marketing becomes the defining element that separates winner from loser. If you’re at a point where your marketing is suffering, get professional help. It will be the best investment you’ve ever made. Alf Nucifora is an Atlanta-based marketing consultant. He can be reached e-mail at email@example.com or by fax at (770) 952-7834.