Marketing Matters Series: What Google can’t tell you about hiring your first marketers

How do you know when it’s the right time to hire your first marketer? What should that first marketing hire be in charge of? How will you measure their success? How can you make sure your company is compelling to top talent?

All of these questions were addressed in the first event of our new marketing series, “Marketing Matters”. Two weeks ago, we invited marketing leaders Elain Szu (VP Marketing, Narvar) and Elaine Zelby (Principal and Director of Growth, SignalFire) to the office to answer these complex questions and offer their best solid advice on hiring your first marketer. See a summary of the event below.


1. There is no unicorn candidate.


“I get asked at least 3-5 times a week by early stage companies about how to find the “unicorn” marketing hire.

What I find is that people want this unicorn hybrid: an expert at growth, product, positioning, messaging, channel strategy, marketing personas, paid, and SEO. To be honest, that person rarely, rarely exists.

You have to start with understanding your audience and finding out what is going to resonate with them.  Before doing anything else, nail the persona, messaging, and positioning. You can pour a ton of money into paid channels, but if you're not using the right language or targeting the right people, even if you get an influx of people, they're not going to stay.

I fundamentally believe that the best person for a first marketing hire is somebody that understands how to go out and find who your target audience, learn their language, and then bring that back to the business. You want someone that's pretty junior and willing to roll up their sleeves. Look for someone with a few years of experience (not freshly out of school) that understands what product marketing is and how to craft messaging and positioning.”

2. Never start with a VP of Marketing.


“If you attempt to recruit a VP of Marketing, you're going to either find people early in their career who just want the title, or experienced individuals who are used to having an army do all the work.

The ideal hire is instead the person who is almost ready to become a director. Maybe they've managed one or two people, or a small team, but they're still used to being a strong IC. This person should understand the fundamentals of crafting messaging and aren’t “above” writing content.

If you hire too junior, you’ll risk having a tail without a head, so that person has to have enough of an acumen to dive into the space (about 3-5 years of experience is ideal).”

3. Less is more.


“Sit down with 5-10 customers and get their feedback. As a founder, you’ve likely already done this, but a new marketing hire should be able to ask questions as a holistic deductive thinker when determining your company’s strong value proposition. Never getting more resources and having to do everything is the classic marketing challenge. Marketers often get relegated to the tactical portions of a business, and aren’t given a chance to think about strategy. Ensure that your new marketing hire has the room to think strategically to create that perfect marketing mix.

As a new startup, you’re probably not going to have 16 channels and campaigns running at the same time. When I was Head of Marketing at MoPub, I found that I could realistically only tackle 3 big projects effectively. We decided that these 3 would be most effective:

  1. We developed our positioning by conducting customer interviews until we recognized 2 product features that needed to be built to solve our audience’s problem.

  2. Then, we created a video that was top of funnel and explained what our product was. Having something that clearly articulated the value of your product was an excellent resource to be shared by the sales team, sit on the website, and be distributed to our email database.

  3. We launched our flagship product with as much press as possible, and an event as well.

This marketing mix plus a bit of paid advertising against the launch itself (in the form of LinkedIn targeted ads) was key. We weren’t trying to boil the ocean, or use all of our budget on Hubspot or Marketo, but instead we choose some parts of the marketing mix and put them into play.”

4. Allow your new marketing hire to use contractors.


“I fundamentally believe that the “centralized company with full-time employees sitting in one office” is over. Everybody is transitioning into a hybrid workforce made up of remote workers, contractors, and consultants. This is actually very cost-efficient, so you should empower your first marketing hire to use contract resources.

Hire somebody who knows how to be scrappy, who takes the time to understand the users and messaging of the business, and then allow them to go and hire the experts in those things. Hiring a content contractor is an easy win for your new marketing hire, as writing content can be a huge pain point for some.”

5. Let them do what they do best.


“I find that many early-stage CEOs are often compelled by easy wins, or encourage new marketing hires to chase after the next “shiny object”. The reality is, it’s not your job to actually give the new marketer a tactic. If they’re junior enough, they may just go run and chase down the random channel you’ve targeted for them.

As a CEO, it’s your job to give your new marketing hire the “why”. For example, you might ask your marketer to gain top of funnel buzz to get your audience engaged during the holiday season.

Where you set the bar (and the KPIs) will really dictate the behavior of the team. Ultimately it’s the responsibility of the founders or the executives to be the experts in the overall health of the business. Set company OKRs, team OKRs, and individual OKRs, and then let the experts in each area figure out how to achieve them.”

 6. Give it time to work.


“Many people ask me how long you should let a new campaign run before checking in on the metrics. If you try something and it doesn't seem like it's working, that doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't a good channel. It might mean the messaging is wrong, or that you’re targeting the wrong audience.

I like to model my campaign lengths around how Google ads work. They have a setting which is on by default that auto-automizes your ads for a certain amount of time (typically 30 days). I think that 30 days is a good minimum, especially as a standard coming from Google who definitely have enough data scientists to give them credibility.”


“Aligning multiple initiatives can be really powerful. I compare it to the accelerant in a racing game (a “nitro”). You have 1 nitro, and you need to determine exactly when to fire that 1 nitro in order to make it around the track in the most efficient way possible. 

If your marketer has organized an event, you have some sort of guaranteed PR, and a powerful asset (whether that be a white paper, an infographic, or an email campaign), then you want to align all of those and deliver them at the same to significantly forge ahead in the race."

7. Know what’s important to potential marketing hires. 


  1.  “Product market fit is the first thing I want to understand, Why is this product or service interesting and unique? Who are you going after as a customer, and what are some early indicators that you’re onto something? For B2C businesses, it’s more about gut instinct, but B2B is more scientific. In this case, I’ve actually asked to speak to customers about their thoughts on a product during the interview process. 

  2. What is the appetite and runway for me as a marketer to test and do what I do best? Am I going to be working with the CEO who's going to try and dictate all of the tactics to me? Will the CEO give me time and space to trial and error?

  3. Collaboration with product, customer teams, and leadership is hugely important, especially since eventually, you may be hired over by an actual VP or CMO. If the company is successful, you’ll want that person to come in with 20-30 years of experience as a mentor who will help scale and manage a team.”

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