Knowing Where To Focus And Compromise When Hiring Senior-Level Programmatic Talent

"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Kristian Schwartz, founder and partner at The Montgomery Group.

It’s no secret that demand for programmatic talent exceeds supply. Adding to the complexity is the varying and opaque level of skills and experience.

It seems everyone has worked on programmatic and knows the latest buzzwords - yet not all talent is created equal. Making senior-level programmatic hires is about risk reduction, not shiny objects. The objective is a hire who will be set up for success and deliver. Period.

Great. Sounds good. Now how do you find that unicorn to lead your team?

Recruiting senior-level programmatic hinges on clearly defined and prioritized requirements that have been socialized across the organization with buy-in from all stakeholders.

It also requires the understanding that the perfect candidate does not exist. It is best to find candidates who possess two-thirds of what companies are looking for and can be trained to master the remaining third.

Prioritized Requirements

When defining what an ideal senior-level programmatic hire should look like, companies should take the time to clearly and honestly define the role requirements and success metrics. What is the vision for this role, and how will it help drive both the organization and the candidate? What are the risks and challenges this person will face?

It’s important to define the opportunity, risks, challenges and requirements. Prioritize the requirements in ranked order to understand what is needed and what is wanted. Then socialize this across all parties responsible for this hire for buy-in. It sounds basic, but omitting this step has led to the demise of many searches.

The ⅔ + ⅓ Hiring Approach

Knowing no perfect candidate exists, it is best to focus on hiring someone who possesses the core attributes being sought and then growing the rest. The thinking behind this is that stretch is good and brings out the best in entrepreneurial candidates. Studies have also repeatedly shown that growing and training employees results in longer tenure and loyalty.

The non-negotiable ⅔ for a senior-level programmatic candidate:

  • Direct programmatic experience: This is equally a no-brainer, yet a hard one. It is critical that requirements be clearly defined so that companies know what to look for and vet against. Will this person’s team be hands-on-keyboard or use managed services?
  • Strong tenure and record of being promoted: It’s easy to move up by moving around, yet being a part of a growing company, owning and growing programs over a long period and being promoted for this is a trait that can predict success.
  • Curiosity: Is the person voraciously curious about programmatic and all things marketing? This one comes down to passion and channeling the inner geek. Companies want someone who reads the trades and follows trends because they love it, not because they have to.
  • Strong storyteller and communicator: Programmatic is complex and requires new ways of working, which business owners may not be accustomed to. The art of being able to tell a story and be a clear communicator is critical to on-board, partner with and respond to the needs of both business owners and executive management.
  • Grit: Programmatic is hard. There will be wins and losses. Someone with grit will persevere and always view challenges as opportunities.
  • Cultural fit: No explanation required. Again, no shiny objects or friends of friends.

The negotiable ⅓:

  • Seniority: Great, a company found an amazing candidate who is director-level, and the role is for someone at the VP level. Should it pass and keep looking? Never. When you find a strong candidate who can stretch within reason, shape the role around this person (up or down).
  • Compensation: Programmatic talent commands a premium. It is not uncommon to see compensation for programmatic talent that is more than 20% higher than media roles with similar levels of experience. The challenge is that corporate procurement departments will use salary bands that reflect tenure and experience – not market scarcity. I recommend alignment with procurement on budget prior to and during the search, should adjustments be needed.

Landing senior-level programmatic talent is a challenge, yet it is well within reach if companies are prepared, know their focus areas and remain flexible.

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