Investing in a director of marketing could go down as one of your best business decisions. But for many IT service providers, hiring -- and ultimately retaining -- the right talent isn’t easy in tech and sales, much less a field like marketing where you may be flying blind.

When it comes to hiring a director of marketing and PR, I have two pieces of advice: 

  • Trust your and your team's gut.
  • Make ‘em earn the position.  

Likability and Experience

If you don’t "like" the person sitting in front of you, don’t hire them. It’s that simple. Marketing and PR is a social job that requires a lot of interaction and accountability. If the person sitting across from you doesn’t impress, don’t second guess yourself. Move on.

On the flip side, if you get a good vibe and you like what you hear --- don’t stop there! Dig deeper.

Marketing -- especially for those people coming to you from agencies or big corporations -- is usually a team sport, which means a lot of folks have participated in the review and execution of the campaigns, deliverables and successes being discussed.  That’s why you have to dig and find a one-person show with proven skills across the board from strategy and tactics, to execution and measurement.

Warning Sign:  The last thing you want to do is hire someone who isn’t willing or able to do the work themselves and says "let’s hire an agency" right out the gate. If the candidate shows any signs of executive-itis, even the early stages, it’s not going to be a good fit for what you need. 

If you’re looking to pick up someone who’s been freelancing for some time or was recently let go, be sure to do your homework. Ask for references. Talk to prior clients and employers.

If you’re hiring right out of college, speak to the professor. Talk to the folks where he or she did or is doing an internship.

Warning Sign:  If there’s a history of jumping from place to place or a pattern of being the one "let go" -- proceed with caution.  If there’s no internship or prior real world work experience with your college graduate – ask why? Neither is a deal breaker, but should be discussed. 

Hire a Smart, Motivated, Roll-up the Sleeves Practitioner

Your goal in all of this is to hire a smart, motivated individual who is eager to do. They also must see the value your company provides and have the baseline experience needed to generate buzz, spur demand and fuel customer loyalty.

Unfortunately, just like with IT services, a number of people in the industry can talk the talk and make big promises when it comes to marketing and PR. One way to help ensure you’re not hiring an "all talk -- no action" taker is to have them test for the position and/or work through a real world scenario with you.

Yes, it’s old school, but it works and will quickly weed out the bad, and separate the good from the great. If the basic skills aren’t there, a quick in your office, on the spot test will show it.

Test for Tact and Tactical

So in addition to asking the candidate about some of his or her biggest career successes and failures, have them take 30 minutes to write up an event news release for the company, or draft a quick outline of the steps they’d take to launch a new service to your SMB customers. It should be easy stuff for anyone who knows the trade, but just to play it safe don’t give them a machine with Internet access to work from.

On the softer side of the interview process, here’s some advice that I picked up recently from The Women of the Channel and a New York Times interview with Kate Cole, the CEO of Cinnabon: Watch for the pre-interview mannerisms.

How did the candidate interact with the people in the office? Was he or she respectful, gracious when offered water or coffee? What was the vibe others got when she or he walked into the room?  

Another more entertaining takeaway I noted from her Q&A with the NYT reporter was this: Before an interview is about to take place she will wad up a large piece of paper and set it in the direct line of sight and path of the candidate. She said she doesn’t make huge judgments around whether the person picks it up or not, but it does give her a sense of how detail-oriented they are -- which is a must in marketing and PR where it’s all about reputation, relationships and results.

Hire for Skill and Attitude

The bottom line is this: When you’re hiring -- especially for a position like marketing that’s outside of what you can do or teach -- you must hire for skill and attitude.

Having a great marketing person on staff is a game changer for an IT service provider. Don’t be afraid to invest in the hire. When done right, it will become one of the best decisions you made for the company.

What do you look for when hiring someone represent your company? Is it difficult to find someone who is detail-oriented for the job?