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How to Hire a Marketing Innovator

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So you're looking for an impresario of innovation, a doyenne of the different, a marketing maven. But how do you know if the person you're interviewing is really the wizard of wow that your organization can count on to help pep up its profits? And how do you know your corporate culture will accept this champion of change?

A culture of innovation requires inspired leadership. Built upon a strong network of structures, processes, and people, the innovative organization is typically populated with business leaders who are willing to free up resources to execute new ideas and who have the courage to take risks rather than just talk about them

Marketing innovators are attracted to cultures that embrace change, and are willing to explore ideas that are truly different.

Assuming that your organization's culture is conducive to innovation, there are some specific qualities to look for when hiring a marketing innovator.

Strong innovation talent shares the same basics of other high-caliber talent: They are intelligent, analytical, and financially oriented. They also have demonstrated success in leading teams, the ability to analyze metrics and financials, and an organized thought process and high degree of business creativity. Good innovators are naturally curious. They continually ask questions, seek analogies from the world around them, and explore new things. They are smart.


Innovators also have specific personal qualities that contribute to their creative abilities. According to Mitchell Ditkoff (www.ideachampions.com), change management consultant and creator of many products that promote innovation, including Free The Genie (a series of 12 booklets on creative thinking), the following qualities can be used to describe innovators:

Challenges the status quo; curious; self-motivated; visionary; entertains the fantastic; takes risks; given to movement and interaction; playful/humorous; self-accepting; flexible/adaptive; makes new connections; reflective; recognizes patterns; tolerates ambiguity and is committed to learning.

The innovator also balances intuition and analysis, is situationally collaborative, formally articulate, resilient, and persevering.

In addition to having at least a broad cross section of the aforementioned qualities, successful marketing innovators typically exhibit the following qualities:

  • The ability to analyze and interpret data that appears to be random or disjointed, synthesize it, and form a logical conclusion. Allows the data to speak to them, rather than forcing it into a preconceived hypothesis or allowing its interpretation to be dictated by existing business precepts, such as current media mix or preconceived ideas about consumers.

  • The ability to communicate ideas effectively and translate abstract concepts into language others can understand, relate to, and can take action upon.

  • A deep understanding of different market segments and the specific behaviors unique to each. Innovators go beyond the routine segmentations and seek new and inventive ways to understand consumers, such as ethnography, cultural trends, and social behaviors, as well as seeking out online forums to provide insights.

  • Empathy. Top marketing innovators view research findings from the consumer's standpoint and let consumer wants, needs, and behaviors drive product innovation rather than trying to force-fit a product into the data.

Steve Martin, director of product innovation for Oreck Corporation, says leadership, self-motivation, risk-taking, and playing well with others (team orientation) are the "givens" he looks for when hiring a marketing innovator. He notes, "I tend to focus on intelligence and curiosity; I've found these to be the best gauges of marketing innovators. They're also skills that you just can't teach."

However, with the war for talent in full swing, attracting one of these creative superstars may be a challenge. Ultimately, you want to try to recruit someone who is already ensconced and successful in another company. This is where the right retained search firm can be of assistance.

Good search firms make it a point to know where all the top talent is and what it will take to get them over to your side of the fence. They can also help you thoroughly vet candidates and make sure that they're a fit for your culture, and that they possess all the qualities that you want (and they say they have).

Bringing aboard a savvy marketing innovator can breathe new life into your line of business, and their enthusiasm can spread to everyone with whom they come into contact, resulting in a more fully engaged and invested workforce all around. And that's a very innovative thing to do.


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Ginny McGarrity is a vice-president for Kensington International, Inc. and leads its marketing practice. She conducts strategic leadership searches for midsize companies. She can be reached at gmcgarrity@kionline.com.

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