How to filter for the best marketing executive recruiters [2024]

Moises Beahan
Talent Manager at HireCMO

But before we jump right into it, I want to give you some context about who we are, and why you should consider our advice below. We are HireCMO, a startup that recently debuted in the executive search search space. Our founder built this company because of his deep-rooted network with marketing professionals who excel at traditional and digital marketing talent.

Putting aside all the shiny, big words though, we became marketing recruiters because of our expertise in the field of growth, marketing and product for startups and mature companies. In other worlds, I've had to spend over 50 hours learning marketing from scratch, and another 50 hours interacting with founders and CXOs to really get to the bottom of customer questions like:

  • What do marketing recruiters do and why did ours fail?
  • What do executive marketing recruiters do?
  • Why are marketing staffing agencies so expensive?
  • How can I spot a great marketing staffing agency?

It's a mess. There's way too many cooks in the kitchen, and everyone is trying to "add value" and charge an arm and a leg for using the exact same strategies... and I personally am sick of it.

I mean just look at all the sponsored websites who're literally paying Google to show up when you search for "marketing executive recruiters" on Google:

Maybe I'm biased but I don't think anyone (including you) should be bombarded with 200 different types of staffing agency, when you're... just... trying to find someone to lead our marketing team. Come on now!

And so, HireCMO is my personal way of standing out from the crowded field of staffing agencies and really drive home the value for clients like you who're building marketing teams for the first time or just need that extra hand to guide you in the right direction for your next marketing talent. I understand you.

And I'm here to help. And so with that, let's get started.

The state of marketing executive search in 2024

It's sincerely alarming how the first of Google returns zero level of insight into this question. Every page, and I swear, is just 4-5 paragraphs put together by a second grader using keywords to make them list higher in the search results for you to click on. Extremely sad.

But let me change that.

I looked over the report from USA's Department of Labour's (Sept 01, 2023) to see if any stats caught my eye but there's nothing in particular about C-suites or marketing. I also skimmed through a report that spoke with 900+ C-suite and human capital leaders globally.

Then I turned the pages of Mckinsey's report for 2023 where they spoke with C-suite execs. And here's some facts that'll help you get a more complete picture:

  • In many organizations, between 20 and 30 percent of critical roles aren’t filled by the most appropriate people. There's also a good percentage of folks who are uncertain about which roles are the most critical for the business and who the high performers are across their teams!
  • But, get this - the highest performers in a role are 800% more productive than average performers in the same role.
  • And yet, only 25% of organizations said their leaders engaged and passionate about their roles.
  • Finally, 40% of recipients said they were planning to leave their jobs in the following 3–6 months.

Now why should these facts draw your attention?

Because as evident from the numbers above, it's gotten extremely difficult to spot good talent, vet them the right way and then place them in roles where they feel empowered. No matter how many marketing staffing agencies you speak with or how many executive search firms you ring up - if you don't have a complete picture of the kind of personality and skillset you need for the positions in your company, you'll only make your marketing executive search harder.

And what's even more fascinating, is the average tenure for chief marketing officers in 2020/2021 was around 40 months. I mentioned it in our article around virtual CMO services. And so that makes your hiring process much harder! No pressure :)

Our recommended (and tested) 4-step process

Digital marketing is a new domain for many of us. But without understanding what defines marketing success for your company, it gets immensely more difficult to brief marketing executive headhunters on what you're looking for exactly.

If you want to get an idea of how marketing job descriptions are written, have a look here.

Step 1: Get your house in order

And so before you go out and even talk to staffing agencies, you'll have to sit down with your own marketing directors/team to determine the following:

  • What prompted us to start this marketing executive search? Why now?
  • What marketing skillsets (think deep, granular details) are we looking for in our ideal marketing executive?
  • What top 5 non-negotiable skillsets should our qualified candidates possess? What trends in the marketing industry should our marketing candidates be aware of?
  • What's the actual, real annual salary we're wiling to spend on this person? Or should we just cut our expenses in half and get a fractional CMO through HireCMO (wink wink)?

This conversation should take you hours. And you should involve the CEO, CRO, and other marketing leaders/professionals along with anyone from the product and sales teams to understand the cross-functional dependencies.

Jot down your takeaways. Put numbers and hard facts, share the finalized details with your internal stakeholders and ask them to correct, refine and adjust as they see fit. Good? Done? Let's move on.

Step 2: Filter the best marketing executive recruiters

Okay, so now we can begin to start our executive search. First up, you'll need to make a list of execute marketing recruiters. We're obviously you're #1 choice by now! But for some reason, if we're not the perfect fit for you or are overbooked, you should look at other places. So here's what you could do.

  • Reach out to your colleagues: if you're (the one reading this) a Head of Talent or an internal recruiter, the fastest thing to do is to spend 30 minutes a day sending messages to your friends, colleagues and ex-coworkers asking if they know any executive search firm they could refer to you. This is generally how most CXO hunters get started - referrals.
  • Short list the executive marketing recruiters: yep, you read that right. You should always determine the best fit tailored to your own needs, from the list of the top executive marketing recruiters. Why? Because even if they're "the best", they might not be the perfect fit for your company's needs (salary, years of exp., professional background, etc.).
  • Speed date and find your ideal executive search firm: you can start with HireCMO, and get 2 more of those short-listed firms. Set up a 45-min call with them (you can do this right now) and ask them questions around your needs from Step 1, how the executive search firm determines the right fit, how long the interview/search process typically takes, etc. Remember, you may not get perfect responses to your questions on the calls themselves. But you can always take some things offline (over email) to chase down. The point of doing this exercise with 3 firms, is to give you a practical idea of next steps, the hiring timeline, budget required, etc.

And btw, if you're keen on reading more about the kinds of CMOs we work with, have a look at some of my personal favourite interviews: Nancy, Brad, Uana & Roger. Each interview is a 10-12 minute read. You'll learn something new that'll help you with this mission, guaranteed.

Step 3: Make your requirements crystal clear across the board

Okay so by now, you should have filtered out the one executive search firm you'll be working with. But if you're a person who just joined your company as a Head of Talent, or internal recruiter, you need to do an important step - ensure alignment internally!

Without this step, you will be wasting thousands of dollars and double-digit hours chasing clouds. Don't be that person. Do your homework. And ensure 100% alignment internally, so you don't become the scapegoat of your leadership team if the hiring falls through.

Again, this is important, so where possible, get agreements in email so you have something in writing from your CXOs/founding team as proof of moving forward. This may look something like - "this is the kind of CMO we want and yes, I have communicated this in full to the executive search firm via Person X." You're Person X in this scenario.

Okay, now that politics is out of way and you've protected yourself clever (thanks to your friends at HireCMO) let's keep moving. By this point in time, you should have done the following:

  • You have communicated to to the executive search firm what "top talent" means to your company.
  • You know approximately how long the recruiting cycle may take, given your specific situation.
  • You know their commission structure, where their incentives lie and how involved they'll be in finding, vetting and placing the marketing professional in your team. Make sure no one's confused about who pays who, and how much and for how long. Important.
  • You know the ballpark by which date the firm should bring you candidates, the date by which you would let them know your final pick, and by what date this search must be completed. Last one's important because of political reasons.

Good, you have the lay of the land. Everyone is aligned. The firm you hired know what you want. Let's move into the last and final step, which is the longest :)

Step 4: Interview, decide and close off

The executive search firm must now go ahead and bring you 2-3 of their finest candidates based on what you're looking for. Ideally, if they know what they're doing, these top candidates should be ready to be your next marketing executive because they're supposed to be fully briefed by the firm in question, which reduces your headache. If they're not doing this step, remind them of their role lol.

Firm sends candidates -> Head of Talent filters them -> Sends to CXO team for interview

That's how the sequence typically should be. Of course, the third step may not be the CXO/founding team directly, and could instead be your Head of Marketing first, before moving into the upper leadership interview series. And btw, the interview process is likely to undergo several rounds to ensure a great fit. I write about it here.

What I recommend (to reduce political damage to you) is that after every person interviews the candidates, they should send a brief email of bullet points explaining the pros and cons of said candidate, along with a one-line recommendation of whether or not the person should be hired. Why? Because you (as the recruiter) must protect your ass and not be held liable for anything that slips through the cracks e.g., CXO forgets she even interviewed the candidate, or the Marketing leader claiming she didn't like the candidate and that she communicated it to you but you forgot. Don't get into that bullcrap. Get things straight. Hold people accountable. And get everything in writing.

Now, while you're holding down the fort, you are also expected to communicate to the search firm, how your marketing executive search is going. You're not obligated to let them know a decision until the dates you had discussed, but try not to keep anything in the dark. Be as transparent as possible.

Once you decided which candidate has the top talent (or top marketing talent) you need, it's time to close the loop.

  • Align internally on who's the fit. Again, get things in writing from the primary stakeholders in your company. Invite the search firm on a call or email chain and let them know who you picked and why.
  • Ensure you pay out the firm for placing the candidate, and get complete clarity on how and when the candidate gets paid (e.g., are you paying the recruitment firm to then pay the CMO? Or are you only paying the recruitment firm once and now that CMO is on your company payroll? If so, is there a cutoff period or is this permanent?)
  • Sign the onboarding contract with your new marketing executive, and clear out any last signatures with the recruiting firm. Ensure all primary stakeholders form your end have signed and/or are fully aligned on next steps.

And BAM, you've succeeded! It'll be extra smooth if you had HireCMO on this, but hey, we don't judge :P

Wrapping up

I sincerely hope you enjoyed reading this. I've put in a lot of effort in thinking through the complete process, as well as making things verbose so that there is no chance of confusion for you.

If you have any questions, come say hi at [email protected], or just book an informal call with us and my founder will personally help you out. Until next time! :)

Click here to book a call with us!

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