Staying Ahead of Rivals, One Digital Footprint At a Time

January 13, 2017 – An explosive recruiting mandate has been emerging for executive recruiters keen on offering innovative expertise to their clients and finding new avenues to growth: finding leaders who can inspire and direct companies in the digital age. It is the latest directive to be placed in the lap of executive recruiters by companies eager to stay ahead of their rivals and, more importantly, to stay ahead of the rivals they can’t yet see.

Of course, the convergence of the static world with one that is online – which digital leaders oversee with increasingly sophisticated strategies and state-of-the-art technologies – is nothing new. But in the following interview, Camille Fetter – a digital recruiting specialist – takes aim at the shifting landscape and discusses the impact digital is having on finding leaders.

Ms. Fetter, president and managing partner of Chicago-based Talentfoot, says that while the top job of chief digital officer goes back at least more than a decade, they are more relevant today than ever. What has changed, she says, is the entrepreneurial shift taking place at companies which have lived in that static world for their entire lives – and the new ways in which they capture, manage and use data for non-technology purposes. As they rush to digitize their businesses, they are turning in droves to executive recruiters, like Ms. Fetter, who are more than eager to help them cross the digital divide.

Prior to founding Talentfoot, Ms. Fetter led Midwest digital marketing and media recruiting at the Lucas Group. She served on the executive board of the Chicago Interactive Marketing Association as vice president of corporate relations.


Camille, your firm recruits professionals in digital marketing, media and advertising sales, among others. Describe the types of companies you typically recruit for.

Essentially, we recruit for three areas of the digital marketing ecosystem: The corporate side (also known as the brand side), the agency side, and the vendor side (advertising technology and marketing technology companies). The size of the organizations we represent span from Series B startups to the Fortune 50, nationwide. Many of the companies we partner with from a recruiting standpoint are in the process of going through a digital transformation. This could be moving from a brick and mortar platform to eCommerce; print to digital; or TV and radio to online and mobile. There are a number of factors that are impacting professional hiring today. The first is digital. Unlike many of the traditional channels, digital is highly measurable. Every dollar can be tracked and there is a specific ROI target for each campaign – making digital campaigns highly transparent, and therefore, desirable. On top of that, the average adult now spends 20 hours online each week – three times as much as 10 years ago. People no longer sit down in the morning to read the newspaper with a cup of coffee but, rather, are reading their news or securing other information through digital devices. For example, an accurate morning for the modern digital professional looks more like sifting through online digests, such as The New York Times’ Morning Briefing, theSkimm, or even Twitter, which has become a huge news source in itself. Second, adults spend a lot of time shopping online, and most conduct an extensive amount of research before purchasing. That said, brands need to be visible and relevant to succeed – in other words, brands need to market themselves in a way that makes people know, like, trust, and buy from them. Therefore, brands that fail to focus on digital channels – online, tablet, and mobile – will soon be left in the dust by competitors. In addition, agencies are seeking digital professionals who take pride in staying on top of industry trends that are evolving at a rapid rate. Companies need their talent to bring forward new, innovative, creative ideas. They need people who will continue to push the envelope, take risks, and develop campaigns with impact. So these are the types of candidates we are looking for: those who are not only knowledgeable but understand where the future is heading. Digital today is moving at warp speed so finding just the right talent to address this fast-changing world is critically important. I would also like to add that many agencies are being negatively impacted by companies and AdTech/MarTech companies are poachingtheir talent. The reason is that corporations can offer better work/life balance, and the tech side can typically offer more aggressive compensation packages. Advertising and marketing technology companies are seeking individuals who can sell their product to companies and agencies with a highly consultative approach. These are sales professionals who can help marketers solve complex challenges with technology. Many of these companies are also seeking top developers, who are in high demand and extremely competitive to recruit. So these are the hiring challenges we face today in the fast-changing world of digital.

It has been reported that each year 10 percent of the population is migrating towards a mobile device. How has this affected the way you recruit for your clients?

Yes, I agree with that statistic and let me give a brief overview as to how this affects how we work as search consultants. Each year more of our communication migrates to mobile. We identify talent on LinkedIn and, in some cases, coordinate schedules via email, and send interview confirmations via text message. We always ask our candidates what the most efficient form of communication is for them, and 90 percent of the time the answer is in the form of email or text message. While this is extremely convenient and quick, it poses a problem at times since executive search is such a hands-on business and requires us to speak with candidates. The fact that the digital world now includes so many younger professionals has created somewhat of a conundrum for us. For example, the instinct among most millennials we’ve seen is to avoid the phone. They prefer to send an email or text, and this significantly impacts our ability to gauge critical pieces of information. However, when you are talking to someone directly, it’s far easier to sense their interest level which is often only measured by the tone of their voice. I also think that vocal communication is the best way to gauge how an opportunity compares to other positions they may be applying for. Lastly, conversing by phone or in person is often the best way to handle time sensitive opportunities. So the shift to mobile has greatly impacted in-demand skillsets. The digital marketing industry has, for years, talked about “the year of mobile” approaching. Well, it has now happened! Savvy consumer brands are hiring mobile experts in-house, while agencies are building out mobile practices. I would also note that mobile marketing technology companies are popping up left and right and many of these companies are specializing in text message marketing, which some say is slowly replacing email marketing. It’s an interesting time. Today, if a digital marketer lacks mobile experience their skill-set is immediately questioned. We ask ourselves three questions: 1) Are they employed by an outdated organization that is far removed from mobile consumption trends? 2) Do they not realize the desktop has become the secondary screen? 3) Or has the individual become set in their ways and fearful of adopting mobile learning? We have partnered with some of the world’s largest financial institutions who believe the plastic credit card will no longer exist in five years. Goodbye plastic, hello mobile wallet. If a consumer driven business is not ready to invest in mobile marketing, it will prove to be a very costly mistake. This starts and ends with the right people to drive these changes.

To what extent has the chief digital officer become a more critical player?

The answer is, a great deal! Chief digital officers have access to an extraordinary amount of consumer data, and data is what leads organizations to make informed decisions. Many companies now have a CMO and a CDO, or they are requiring their CMO to have or develop a strong digital skillset – a very different setup than even just five years ago. Here again, from a recruiting standpoint, we have to look at CDOs that possess a broader range of skills. The CDO also has to quarterback a whole host of issues today. Social media, for instance, is one of these critical areas of responsibility. Today, social media is a two-way conversation between brands and their customers – the first of its kind. There’s never been a marketing channel that’s fueled a two-way conversation. Brands today have a far better understanding of what their customers and potential customers think of their brand, products, and customer service – because it’s all there on the internet, whether through online reviews or social media. “The customer is always right” is a phrase that will never be outdated, and it’s the digital marketers who have direct access to customers. The data and qualitative information collected is fueling companies to make big changes to better understand their customer and perform at a higher level. These changes include new product rollouts, rebrands, and greater investments in customer service, to name a few. All these initiatives have the goal of offering even more value to customers, fostering a deep level of brand trust, and driving revenue. Again, the professional at the helm of all these changes is the CDO –the key player for innovative, progressive companies. So when we look at recruiting a chief digital officer we have to look at a much broader spectrum of responsibilities and experience as that is what the CEOs and boards of directors require today in their CDO.

With technology expanding so rapidly, tell us about the talent shortage you’re likely seeing.

There is certainly a shortage of proven digital marketers today and the reason is there is not an abundance of marketers who can showcase how they have directly impacted the bottom line at the companies they have worked for. These are proven marketers who can say, “I took site traffic from 10,000/month to 4MM/month in 18 months,” or, “I drove online conversion rates from one percent to two percent which drove $14MM in additional eCommerce sales.” These types of professionals are few and far between.

“The fact that A-players are scarce means that, now more than ever, we need to reach out to a greater number of candidates, screen more intensively, and compare exhaustively to identify the top slate of candidates.”

This is why recruiting matters, and why we will always be busy in our area of recruiting. The fact that A-players are scarce means that, now more than ever, we need to reach out to a greater number of candidates, screen more intensively, and compare exhaustively to identify the top slate of candidates. Just to arrive at the end result we have to, on average, evaluate 250 executives per search. In some cases we have seen this number range from 80-600 candidate evaluations, depending on the nature of the project. But even against those numbers there is such high demand which has created a vacuum of talent. With the new trends in AdTech, we have also seen some consolidation happening. Technology is slowly replacing various roles in digital marketing. However, more and more corporations (brands) are building in-house teams for these functions and therefore creating new roles.

Projecting ahead a decade, what do you see as the biggest challenges facing companies as they grapple with talent acquisition in the digital and media spaces?

I think one of the biggest challenges companies will face is identifying and attracting high-performing digital marketers. Digital marketing is not rocket science, but as I mentioned previously, seasoned players are rare breeds today and most HR departments are not structured to identify and dive deep for candidates with these skill sets. In other words, they wouldn’t know a digital marketing whiz if he or she was sitting right in front of them! At Talentfoot, we are often provided with job descriptions that are inaccurate. After meeting with the organization and understanding their goals and objectives, it becomes clear they need an entirely different skillset than what they initially anticipated. Hiring a digital marketer with the wrong skillset can significantly and negatively impact a company from reaching its goals. In addition, many companies may not be aware they have an underperformer and, therefore, they are unaware of how much revenue and growth they are missing out on by not having the right professional on board. Both of these scenarios will continue to be a challenge for companies in the next decade, which is why executive recruiting is more important than ever because we are charged with finding that “needle in a haystack” type candidate. On top of that, the best digital marketers can work from anywhere, so companies need to be able to sell why a happy employee should leave their position to come work for them. With the best talent, companies are vying for them more than they’re vying for the companies. It’s not easy competing with Google, Facebook, and Twitter, who all offer incredible benefits and opportunities for growth. In order to stay competitive, departmental leaders at smaller or less known brands need to become better at recruiting – and we all know that’s an art form that takes time to learn. I would also like to point out that companies today that are looking to attract the best digital marketing and media talent need to be open to greater flexibility and creative benefits in the future. Most employees today, especially within digital, would prefer flexibility over higher compensation. In addition, we are seeing organizations providing daily lunch, paid volunteer days, extensive paid maternity/paternity leave (up to six months!), travel stipends, sabbaticals, ski passes, and more. Many organizations are not ready to face the changing benefits landscape, but I think it’s imperative if they want to attract and retain the best talent. As the best companies raise the bar for work environment and work/life balance, it will only become more crucial for all companies to evolve their offerings.

Contributed by Christopher W. Hunt, Publisher and John Harris, Managing Editor — Hunt Scanlon Media

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