How To Find (And Vet) Digital Marketing/PR Talent

As someone who helped replace my position as digital strategist at Pierson Grant (my previous employer) I have been through the process of successfully finding/recommending digital marketing talent (congrats again Michael, I hear you’re doing a great job).

With that said:  I’m not a recruiter, headhunter or have any formal staffing or hiring skills.  I just know the industry, knew my clients, and the type of projects typical for the firm.  So I want to share a bit of how I went about that process with you in the hopes of helping you find and vet your next digital marketing or PR hire.

Keys to find your next digital marketing or PR hire:

Tap your network

This is obvious anytime you’re hiring someone new, but becomes especially important for finding good digital marketing or PR hires.  Why?  Due to the nature of our industry, we’re all especially well connected.  And I’m not going to deny the fact that digital marketers keep a bit of an inner circle going – there are certain folk who have worked hard to attain a level of trust with our peers.

Being able to tap a network of smart professionals is how you’re going to find that trusted and proven digital strategist, manager, etc.  People like Louis Gray, Brian Solis, Todd Defren, Eric Friedman, Chris Brogan, and other hyper-connected individuals provide a great filter too – if someone at that level vouches for a hire that’s a great sign.

Look at those who blog and don’t just Tweet

Then actually read their blogs.  It’s not enough that someone is just blogging:  have they been able to build an active, interested community?  Are they seriously passionate about what they do?  As an aside, I don’t necessarily care if a candidate is on Twitter and I’ll tell you why:  Twitter is popular because it’s easy.  It’s a great service but it’s just social sticky notes/snack size content and does not represent the self-discipline required to keep your own blog, write for industry publications, etc.  If someone truly understood inbound marketing they would have a place they control and not limit their participation to walled gardens or someone else’s service.

What are their past projects/successes/campaigns?

Do they have popular blogs, networks, or apps they’ve created?  Can they show you multiple successful past campaigns?  Social media is not new, and by now candidates worth their salt have many campaigns/clients/projects under their belt.  Also consider a lot of the same items you would consider when choosing an online marketing or PR agency.

Your firm should be attractive to the candidate in question

This isn’t just about finding the right candidate for your firm – your firm must be a fit for the candidate too.  As noted in the reasons for the divide in digital influence:

Marketing/PR agencies and companies who cling to the past are not going to attract the same talent as those pushing boundaries.  Web-savvy communication professionals want to work with other web-savvy professionals.  It’s really frustrating not to, and with hiring paradoxically harder in a downtown yet no slowdown in demand for talented digital marketers, there is no reason they have to.

The A-list digital marketing and PR professionals may have no interest in joining a company if its executives are not respected leaders, if they have no industry presence and are not actively pushing new ideas.

Don’t ask them about tools

Remember, it’s not about technology, it’s about ideas.  Hearing about the tools used during projects is all well and good, but ultimately I’m more concerned with vetting their communications savvy.  The truth is the tools are easy to use – don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.  It is neither unique nor valuable to know how to use WordPress, RSS, Twitter, web analytics packages, AdWords, or anything in between.  All marketers and communications pros should know them by now.  It’s strategy that is the real skill.

For those of you who scanned this, here’s a shortlist of things to look for:

  • Consistent, intelligent comments and interactions on their blog/in the social web – yes, you must participate to be qualified.
  • Client case studies/success stories showing tangible results from their online campaigns (links/traffic driven/responses/conversations generated/PR, etc.).
  • Placements/quotes/case studies in trade media
  • Their clients/their work is being talked about on popular blogs and in industry trades
  • Lots of information and positive reactions available on them through a Google blog search/FriendFeed search/Twitter search
  • Past client testimonials from relevant online businesses
  • Referrals from other marketing professionals/agencies
  • This one is a bit nebulous but I’ll say it anyway:  web “street savvy” (Have they made something that hit page 1 of Digg?  Shared highly on StumbleUpon?  Have they worked with other bloggers/social media power users?
  • Creativity and knowledge behind building marketing initiatives/web apps that spread organically
  • Understanding how SEO, online marketing, PR, all come together (there is a nexus point, ask them how they would create this)

What is meaningless/worrisome:

  • Number of followers on Twitter, number of friends on Facebook/MySpace, etc. (can be achieved through spam tactics, proves nothing)
  • Big/instant promises, self-imposed titles without any social proofing
  • Excessive use of jargon with no background/clarification supplemented
  • Success with traditional advertising/PR/Marketing isn’t necessarily an indicator of web-based results
  • Not able to show you samples of successful digital campaigns
  • Their blog or website isn’t organized, clean, usable or updated
  • Unwillingness to allow you to speak with previous clients/employers
  • They are unknown by anyone else in the industry
  • They keep a blog but receive no comments/no subscribers/no traffic

This sounds like a lot to ask for, doesn’t it? And that’s exactly the point:  if you consider your company remarkable, logically you should seek remarkable talent.

image credit: Lisa A. Svara via Shutterstock