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January 15, 2013
Four Ways to Find Top Digital Talent
 
The growth of digital, social, and mobile communications has sparked a frenzied search for players with digital chops even though there are no consensus job definitions and no simple or common ways to assess digital talent.
 
No two organizations are alike. Two digital producers or two digital strategists have disparate job descriptions and different skill sets, plus radically or randomly different experience and technical knowledge. You’d think that finding great digitally savvy players is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.
 
There are so many good people actively looking, especially in New York, LA, San Francisco, Boston, Philly, Austin, the DC suburbs, and Chicago that you can ping your LinkedIn or Facebook network and turn up six candidates in 24 hours; one better than the next. Yet, like any marketing task, clear strategy and careful planning must precede campaign execution.
 
Here are four ways to insure you get the talent you need.
 
Triangulate from the Ideal. The ideal digital player is grounded in classical marketing disciplines, has knowledge of several vertical industries, experience in offline media, common sense, and a keen interest in all things digital. You are looking for a person who knows what’s possible; a person who can visualize how a branded message is formed and communicated as the strands of a campaign come together. The ideal player can explain the branding rationale, the desired customer experience, and the operational steps to connect the dots to an interested but ignorant client.
 
Comfortable with the technical requirements of HTML5, Ajax, Axure or Adobe Air and conversant with ad serving, mobile standards, behavioral targeting, CAN SPAM rules, and complex metrics, the ideal digital player can visualize and sell a path from what was to what will be in ways that makes sense to front line managers and measurably improve a client’s business.
 
You need a hard-headed business person with enough vision and nerve to separate value from hype and to cherry pick the tactics that will make a difference in a distinct competitive market. The number of Facebook friends or their facility with Flickr or Twitter is much less important than their ability to visualize and apply evolving technology to solve business problems and deliver business results. 
 
Look in the Mirror. No two organizations seek the same person, even when the job title or description is identical. People either fit or they don’t. To find the right player, the hiring manager has to be clear about the skills they need and who might fit the role. After demonstrable skills are established, chemistry is the key hiring criteria.
 
Don’t delude yourself about nature of the organization and the established centers of power and influence. Ask yourself how the skills and personality requirements play out in your particular environment. If you factor this in at the outset, you dramatically improve the chances of finding the right person. If you pretend you’re living in the model organization, you will fake yourself out and spin your wheels.
 
Calibrate Context. A new hire is joining an organization in-motion. To find the best person for the job, you need a clear read on where the organization is and where it’s going. Look carefully at the job itself. Finding somebody to be the first person to lead a digital team requires much different skills and personality traits than simply refilling an established leadership slot. Successful hiring is matchmaking.
 
Factor in personality and power relationships. Can the current team leader work well with an equal or stronger talent or personality? Will they be challenged or threatened by different personalities with different work experiences. Look at dependencies and contingencies in the organizational design. For example, some creative directors own and lead UI and technical design functions. They are looking for a cog in a well-oiled machine. Others don’t. They are looking to find a person who can serve two masters at once and not get crosswise with either.
 
Every new opening is an opportunity to make course corrections. But in fixing the wrongs of the past, many of us create new problems. To overcompensate for a polarizing personality, we often hire a wimp. To get added technical skills, we sometimes trade off common sense. Balancing what was with what should be is the challenge.   
 
Assess Skill at Each Level. Candidates do not gild the lily anymore than they always have, so ask pointed questions, set up theoretical scenarios, and expose candidates to multiple interviews to establish exactly what they really know and really can do. The extent of this vetting process depends on the importance, the level and the expectations for the position.
 
For junior players it’s relatively easy to understand if they’ve really done it before and if they can truly do it for you. Reviewing a book, discussing a campaign, looking at websites, emails, or simply discussing the nuts and bolts of who did what and when will reveal genuine knowledge, skills, and potential quickly.
 
Middle managers – Management Supervisors, Account Directors, Senior Managers and Directors – are especially tricky to find. They are in short supply because they determine how the rubber really meets the road. The best ones are coddled and hidden, sometimes even from their own top management. Multi-tasking is imperative since they have to be part plumber, part shrink, part accountant, and part gunnery sergeant.
 
Hypothetical scenarios often reveal how these guys think and are somewhat predictive of behavior. Challenging them with broad controversial statements is a good way to watch their mental gears grind and measure their verbal diplomatic skills. Ask former subordinates about their management style and ask them to solve hypothetical personnel or personality conflict problems to expose their sensibilities and egos.  
 
At the leadership level, the game changes. The big guys decide who they want to play with usually on their own unarticulated terms. It’s the ultimate test of chemistry, often decided by the unique complexion of each leadership team.
 
Digital channels are ascendant for branding, lead generation, and customer service and retention. The race is on to find the players that can apply the new technologies seamlessly and effectively for market leaders, insurgent brands, and start-ups. By being honest and practical and looking for people within striking distance of the ideal, agencies and marketers can find the right people to drive forward.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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