Agencies Adapt to Lack of Mobile Marketing Talent

When Minneapolis and New York-based interactive agency Space150 decided to establish a mobile division, practice head John Grudnowski found the recruiting process more difficult than he’d expected.

Mobile was already a part of Space150’s offerings, but the agency wanted to augment its in-house capabilities with a new hire or two. Specifically, it hoped to hire at least one person with client-side experience.

“We originally thought we wanted to hire a mobile planner, someone with consumer insight that had a mobile background,” said Grudnowski. In the end Space150 settled for someone who had worked as a director of marketing on the vendor side.

Space150’s situation is not unique. As agencies seek to grow their mobile offerings in a tight talent market, many have lowered their expectations and begun to hire anyway. But which traits do you select for when all the candidates are under-qualified?

“There are very few people that have experience in mobile, even fewer people that have experience in mobile marketing,” said Maria Mandel, senior partner and executive director in Ogilvy’s Digital Innovation group.

According to Mandel, where direct experience in mobile is lacking, a demonstrated interest may be sufficient — especially if the candidate in question has worked in digital. “From an agency perspective, I would pick somebody that has interactive and a strong desire to learn about mobile than someone with a mobile marketing background, and train interactive,” she said.

But she also cautioned not all mobile-centric skills are portable from other media.

“If you’re talking about the messaging side, that’s interesting because that’s something very unique to mobile,” she said. “It’s sometimes compared to e-mail, which is a mistake, [it’s more important to] have mobile experience.”

How about personality traits? Courtney Jane Acuff, director at Denuo and a ClickZ columnist, said she looks for people with passion and the mindset to help define a new channel.

“Whether on the sales side or agency side, there are going to be ‘media’ skills that are applicable to the space, but if you truly don’t love the entrepreneurial aspect… don’t come to the party,” she said.

Add to that a healthy dose of workaholism, according to said Angela Steele, VP of mobile activation and director at Starcom Worldwide. “What it takes is natural enthusiasm and interest, raising your hand, and ambition,” she said. “Sometimes that’s done before nine, and after five. That’s how you become an expert in an emerging technology.”

Space150’s Grudnowski sees parallels to the evolution of search marketing expertise circa 2001. “You’ll see a lot of the talent base concentrated around the East and West coast, but you’ll see… that grow quickly,” he said.

Zach Rodgers contributed.

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