As an executive recruiter, there was a time not too many years ago when a CEO of a direct marketing firm would call my office, and the conversation would go something like this:
CEO: “Hello, I’d like to talk with you about a search.”
Recruiter: “You bet. How can I help you?”
CEO: “I am looking for a vice president of direct marketing.”
Recruiter: “OK. What key skills are you looking for?”
CEO: “I want someone who really knows direct mail.”
Recruiter: “Are you interested in candidates who have some exposure to this new channel they call e-commerce?”
CEO: “Not really. Our customers have always ordered our products through the mail. I need someone with direct mail experience.”
Recruiter: “I know you have some retail stores, too. Would retail experience be important?”
CEO: “Not really. We keep those marketing operations totally separate. I need a direct mail person.”
Recruiter: “Will this person be working with your call center?”
CEO: “I doubt it. Our customers either order by phone or by mail. I need a direct mail person.”
It’s hard to believe conversations like this actually took place only eight or nine years ago. Since then, there’ve been enormous shifts in the direct marketing landscape as new channels of commerce emerged. Direct marketers have responded to these challenges by gaining experience in multiple channels.
The Talent Pool
As an employer, what can you expect to find as you look to fill key positions in catalog marketing, operations and merchandising?
Marketing: Marketers are gaining influence in the C-suite as the demand for marketing accountability increases. Today’s chief marketing officers have broader backgrounds than they did a few years ago, offering experience in advertising, public relations, direct marketing and even brand management. This skill set is highly desirable, as catalog marketers with branding expertise can do more than just create a catalog. They can turn that catalog into a brand with certain expectations of benefits between the catalog and consumers, then integrate that with the Web.
Facing a highly fragmented marketplace, these senior-level direct marketers are driven by improved efficiencies and ROI. They achieve dramatic improvements in marketing objectives because they come armed with knowledge of new technologies and new media. Unfortunately, with these gains come a shorter fuse. According to Spencer Stuart, a worldwide executive search consulting firm, the average stay for CMOs at the top 100 branded companies is a mere 23 months. In general, only one in 10 CMOs stays on the job more than three years, and direct marketing is no exception.
Merchandising: Merchandisers also are gaining an understanding of the value of metrics, both offline and online. Instead of coming to the table with purely creative or product development backgrounds, many merchandisers are adding analytic know-how to their resumes and bringing a more bottom-line orientation to the job. Of course, merchandisers with multichannel experience are in greatest demand, but they also are in shortest supply.
Operations: Thanks to major advances in radio frequency technology and skills-based routing, direct marketing technology has come a long way. “Out the door in 24” is the new battle cry for many chief operating officers in catalog companies. So the candidates at the top of the operations game are technologically savvy and can develop highly effective training programs for entry-level employees.
Executive Level: In years past, many of the industry’s top leaders started their own businesses. Names such as Leon Leonwood Bean and Lillian Vernon come to mind. Despite humble beginnings, these pioneers helped shape the direct marketing industry.
Today’s direct marketing CEOs primarily are culled from corporate backgrounds, so they come to the job with strong market and customer knowledge, and are much more familiar with technology than their predecessors.
Various channels can help employers find new employees.
Your network: As a hiring manager, your network probably is much larger than you think. In addition to contacting former colleagues, employees or supervisors, also reach out to your vendors, your clients and past candidates you didn’t hire for recommendations.
Candidate references are another great, untapped source. Many employment applications ask for references. These names usually are never reviewed after a candidate is interviewed and rejected. Consider calling these individuals to ask if they might know of potential candidates for a position you’re looking to fill.
Internal referrals: Another inexpensive and effective way to recruit new talent is to ask current employees for referrals. If you don’t have one already, consider setting up an employee referral program that pays employees for referring candidates who are hired. It’s a powerful incentive.
Always leverage this option before running an ad or hiring a headhunter. Companies find more quality employees through internal referrals than all other search methods combined. In a 2005 survey, strategic management and technology consulting firm Booze Allen Hamilton found that 19 percent of all new hires came through employee referrals.
Job postings: Many lower- and mid-level openings are filled through postings on online job boards. The upfront investment is low, and your return can be high depending on the position you’re trying to fill. For most “meat and potatoes” direct marketing jobs, such as e-commerce manager, marketing manager or copywriter, a well-written job posting is enough to lure prospects.
To qualify and winnow down the number of candidates, you can employ new technologies to prescreen, test and rank them long before an interview takes place.
Catalogers can use third-party software tools and Web-based services to scan through resumes using certain keywords or phrases. Monster.com’s SmartFind allows employers to use targeted keyword searching, and automates the collection and reporting of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action plan data to ensure a company is in federal compliance.
Unfortunately, online job postings are not effective at recruiting talent for analytics and e-commerce positions, which currently are in high demand.
Print advertising: Despite the growth of online career sites, there’s still a place for print ads. Help-wanted ads in highly targeted publications can, on occasion, produce pay dirt.
Third-party recruiters: Executive recruiters often are used as a last ditch effort when all other channels have failed. This is the most expensive option and can cost employers as much as 30 percent of a candidate’s annual salary. However, at any given time, most employees are happy in their jobs and not looking to leave, that is until they’re contacted by a recruiter offering a better opportunity.
Use at Least Two
The aforementioned methods are not mutually exclusive. To stay competitive, you should use a minimum of two of them. It’s also important that you develop a recruiting strategy to prepare yourself for future needs.
Today’s economic and social environment requires you to work harder and smarter than your competitors in the battle to attract and hire the direct marketing industry’s brightest stars.
Jerry Bernhart is president of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, an Owatonna, Minn.-based search firm that has been tracking direct marketing hiring activity in the United States for the past six years. He can be reached at (507) 451-4270 or via his Web site: www.bernhart.com.