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Why It’s So Difficult to Hire a Digital Marketing Manager

Unicorns Digital Marketing Managers

When it comes to tech companies, the jobs that come up as being tough to fill are often developer roles. That job is uniquely challenging and demands someone both highly technical and creative at solving problems. But there is another role that is becoming increasingly hard to fill: the digital marketing manager. In fact, former Rackspace president, current partner at Scaleworks and technology veteran Lew Moorman put it best in a recent Business Journal article:

…hiring great marketers is the hardest thing to do. All we talk about is the lack of engineers, but I think that great marketers for the new wave of the internet are almost impossible to find. They are unicorns…

In fact, Moorman has had such a difficult time in locating the right mix of talent that he has turned to create a “farm system,” called the Marketing Academy, to help develop those skills in-house. But why is it so hard to hire a digital marketing manager, especially when there appears to be a glut of business majors in colleges? And what can you do about it? Read on to find out more.

To Gain Experience, You Need a Budget

One of the biggest barriers to entry to becoming a digital marketing manager is the need for experience. This is a barrier for two reasons:

  • The stereotypical “experience conundrum,” where you need real-world work to get even entry-level work
  • Amateur experience is virtually useless

I think that most are familiar with the first difficulty—everyone wants to hire an experienced professional (I can’t tell you how many entry-level jobs have the requisite “two years of experience”), but it is supremely difficult to gain that experience. The more interesting problem is the second point.

Hire a Digital Marketing Manager

With the proliferation of e-learning and online communities, many people looking to embark on a career have been able to augment their classroom education and lack of “professional” experience with “amateur” real-world experience. Think about the following examples:

  • The developer who learns coding via open source and is a member of a community
  • The writer who has their own blog
  • The electrical engineer who builds circuit boards
  • The photographer who starts by shooting friends’ weddings

Whether a college student or someone looking to switch fields, any one of these folks can gain real-world, practical experience as an amateur with a limited budget, if not altogether free. As a general rule, this is not the case for digital marketing managers.

Digital marketing is more than tweeting or posting an Instagram story (more on this later). It is a refined discipline and craft that blends the creativity needed to make copy strike a nerve and the scientific approach necessary to run effective A/B tests for different paid social strategies.

There are many paid digital marketing channels, products constantly rolling out and changes due to regulations (see: the Facebook data scandal). The only way to really know what you’re doing is to have done it before. And because most of digital marketing is pay-to-play rather than organic (see my 4 Social Media Myths Busted article), the only way to gain relevant experience is to have a decent-sized budget.

Budget Digital Marketing Manager

Ironically, this is how it used to be—especially in tech—prior to the proliferation of SaaS technology. Very few amateurs could have afforded the Oracle database or the Microsoft SQL licensing. Instead, they had to get a job in the professional world and acquire skills in those areas. This model was turned on its head with Unix, Linux and open source. You could get the necessary experience while moonlighting without having to have a massive budget.

This has totally spoiled us.

But the flat-out truth is that when it comes to hiring a digital marketing manager, experience is the best predictor of success. And there are not enough blogs, podcasts or online courses that can prepare a person to be successful in this arena. They need to be in the grind and managing a significant budget to really become a valuable asset.

Confusion on What a Digital Marketing Manager Does

The other source of difficulty in hiring a digital marketing manager is the confusion on what digital marketing is. To some people, it is being in charge of a company’s digital footprint, including the website and blog. To others, it is simply posting organically to social media. For others, it is understanding SEO and maybe doing a little paid search on Google.

Confusion on What a Digital Marketing Manager Does

To me, the definition of a digital marketer is someone who understands how content (blogs/white papers/case studies), email, social (paid and organic), SEO and paid search/display work together in concert to help a prospect move to purchase. It’s incredibly difficult to find a person who possesses all these skills, which is one of the reasons why you often see separate roles (especially at larger companies) for content marketing manager, social media manager, paid search/display manager and email automation manager roles.

For large companies, a digital marketing manager is the conductor, helping orchestrate all the different channels to play in harmony. For smaller companies and startups, the digital marketing manager is more like a “player coach,” in addition to overseeing the overarching strategy they often have a hand in each of these particular disciplines. And that person needs a wide variety of skills and talents—similar to how developers at small companies often are asked to do the whole shootin’ match, front-end and back-end development, operations and usability testing.

Many recent grads—and millennials who fancy themselves “influencers” on Instagram or Facebook—most likely do not have the necessary skills to truly manage a digital marketing program. While building that audience is impressive, there is so much more to the discipline than getting likes and shares. Your company is in the business of making revenue, not being an online star.

Marketing Has Gone Digital

Whether a business is brick-and-mortar or a SaaS company, it is most likely marketing online. The need for someone to squeeze the most juice out of marketing dollars has created an exorbitant demand for savvy digital marketers, because having the right talent can reap huge rewards, regardless of whether you are a Fortune 500 or a regional business.

Bits and Bytes Computer Digital Marketing Blog

This demand, coupled with the fact that very few people actually have the necessary expertise, has put a strain on recruiters to find those skilled digital marketing managers. There just simply isn’t enough talent to go around, and unless you are either a major brand or throwing down some major cash, it can be tough to make the right hire.

Solving the Digital Marketing Manager Dilemma

Brand reputation and money are the easiest ways to solve the problem of hiring a digital marketing manager. Just as with the developer talent pool, companies that are especially appealing to digital marketers seem to have the pick of the litter. But what if that is not you? How do you shore up your talent? There are three ways:

  1. Develop digital marketing talent internally.
  2. Hire a digital marketing agency.
  3. Hire a digital marketing consultant.

Develop Talent Internally

This is the route that some companies, such as Scaleworks with their Marketing Academy, are going. Similar to the minor leagues for baseball or the G-League for the NBA, the idea is to get promising talent, often immediately out of school, and have savvy in-house digital marketers teach them the ropes.

The advantage of this process is that, because you are developing the talent, you don’t have to pay as much out the gate and go through the headache of finding the perfect digital marketing manager. Instead, you find someone with ambition and teach them. The main issue with this option is that it is definitely the long game and won’t pay off immediately. Furthermore, after the person is brought up to speed, you have to make sure that you pay them industry rates or risk them leaving to another company.

Hire a Digital Marketing Agency

This is often the panacea, especially for large corporations. The idea is that if you don’t have the talent internally, you go out and pay for it. In theory, this is a solid idea (though maybe an expensive one). However, I can tell you from experience that it can also be one of your worst nightmares if you do not do your due diligence and hold your agency accountable.

In my experience, agencies are like home contractors: they try to get away with doing the least amount possible to maximize revenue while maintaining client happiness. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can go awry if you don’t have the right internal talent managing that agency. And if you’re reading this article on how to hire a digital marketing manager, you probably don’t have that person on your team.

When this happens, the agency often runs amok and begins putting its most junior talent on your account. Why? Because it is so difficult to hire digital marketing managers that even agencies have trouble attracting and retaining them. Instead, they often hire recent grads and try to bring them up to speed.

And guess what? When you aren’t holding their feet to the fire—making sure they dig in and go beyond vanity metrics—the lion’s share of your work will be done by the most junior people. The talented team will be reserved for those companies demanding it.

I’ve seen the gamut, from good agencies to bad ones. The secret is that the “bad agencies” are often those that the client isn’t managing properly. It sounds so counterintuitive: after all, you’re paying good money and expect results. But as with that person installing the fence at your house, if you’re not out there pointing out some of the issues (or have a general contractor managing it on your behalf), the work will be subpar. You may still get a fence, but it will have gaps and be uneven.

Hire a Digital Marketing Consultant

The third option is to hire a digital marketing consultant. Unlike with an agency where you don’t know who will be on your account, by hiring a consultant you’re making the decision on the exact person you’ll be working with. It’s important to find someone who knows digital marketing inside and out, who can rapidly understand your business, who won’t sell you snake oil and who can get results.

This is the major advantage of working with a digital marketing consultant—you know who you’re dealing with. By reading that person’s blog you know what they stand for, and by reaching out to past clients you can learn exactly what it’s like working with them. In short, this can help you gain immediate results without having to wait for a team to be brought up to speed or having to deal with all the fluff of an agency.

Naturally, I would like to be that person for your business. I have a track record of success, stand by my work and tell it to you like it is. By stepping through my blog, you’ll know my marketing philosophy and see that I’m a results-oriented marketer. And I’m happy to provide references on what it’s like to work with me. In short, whether you need immediate assistance with your digital marketing efforts or if you are looking to have a workshop to level up your team on some of the latest trends, I’d love to work with you.

Have you had any difficulties to hire a digital marketing manager? Why do you think it was so challenging? Let me know your thoughts on this and more in the comments section below!

2 thoughts on “Why It’s So Difficult to Hire a Digital Marketing Manager

  1. As a marketing manager I agree with all of this. I am the player coach, following up with the agency, trying to hire, remain current and creative in today’s landscape. Plus, still maintain my regular duties. It’s a lot to manage as a team of one.

    1. Totally understand Michelle—developing that trust with an agency is absolutely key if you go that route (or whomever you might collaborate with!). Best of luck and thanks for reading.

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