Meet Debbie Richardson, founder of marketingforCEOs.

She’s a passionate advocate for the value of strategic marketing in contributing to business objectives and profitable growth.

Debbie has extensive experience leading marketing teams in corporate organisations such as News Corp and global recruitment business Robert Half International – before establishing her own strategic marketing business in 2010. 

I was delighted to sit down with Debbie recently to hear her thoughts on recruiting top marketing talent as part of this interview series.

Tell us about your business and the team you lead.

marketingforCEOs (mfCEOs) helps business build strategic marketing capability. We do this using a framework that helps small to medium businesses (SMBs) think differently about how they engage with marketing.

The team I lead are all strategic marketing thinkers. They’ve held senior roles in corporate business, so they understand business as well as marketing. Our clients are CEOs and senior leaders in SMBs – they are a tough audience!

I also work with our clients to help them recruit marketing professionals, typically after we’ve worked with them for a period of time to build strategic marketing capability.

What are the top three soft skills you look for when you recruit?

For my team, I look for the ability and confidence to persuade and present ideas.

Empathy is crucial – the ability to think and understand from a CEOs perspective. CEOs have so many things going across their desk, we are not always top of the list.

I also look for people who can educate others – we are working to show our clients how to do strategic marketing for themselves – so patience and the ability to transfer knowledge is important.

When I’m helping our clients recruit, ability to present and persuade is also top of the list – and not get put off if the CEO pushes back. It goes without saying that cultural fit is critical – alignment with our values/our clients values.

What do you think are the most important factors in retaining top talent?

I think it’s important to have clearly defined responsibilities and expectations – so the candidate and the business are on the same page from day one.

Retaining top talent starts from getting the recruitment right. To do this, you need to really understand what you need as a business.

I have seen so many examples of CEOs getting marketing recruitment wrong, and it’s not the candidates’ fault – it’s typically the business not knowing what they are looking for.

I recently completed an audit of a fairly sizeable marketing function and their marketing lead was just the wrong person for the organisation. This is not her fault – the CEO had no real understanding of what marketing should be doing.

Let’s talk about some of the challenges you’ve experienced with recruiting.

Lack of corporate experience is the biggest challenge here in Australia.

There aren’t as many corporate HQs here compared to other locations – and we typically attract and recruit people from corporate when they’ve had enough of big company politics and want something a little different.

The other challenge I see is that businesses often think that marketing is about changing the website and organising events ie the tactical things. We work with our clients to show them there are three levels of marketing functionality a business needs:

Strategy – the planning that connects the marketing strategy to the business strategy.

Managing – managing the budgets, the people, the implementation and how marketing works with the rest of the business.

Implementation – actually getting on with it, doing the do.

Most businesses get the levels of this wrong – they don’t know who is doing what – which can have a significant impact on recruitment.

What advice would you give to other marketing leaders about recruiting top talent?

Get the brief clear: Know what you want to achieve and what skills and experience you need the person to have. There are so many specialisms in marketing today – a clear brief is your best starting point.

Look forward: Recruit for where your business is going, not where you have come from.

Be thorough: Make sure the candidate has the skills and experience they say they have

Clear communication: Ensure the marketing strategy and the business strategy are well communicated – so everyone knows why they are there

Focus on results: Marketing is measurable – make sure your marketing people have KPIs.