I-Media: Hiring at the Management Level

We all know that finding experienced online media planners can be a chore. Truth be told, it’s hard to find people who understand it all targeting, ad management, measurement, rich media the online media marketplace is a very difficult one to follow. Six years after the commercial explosion of the web, there’s a lot that online media management needs to know. Your media department needs experienced people to keep things running smoothly and to mentor the less-experienced employees.

Quite a few people have asked me about my hiring strategy. While I’m not willing to give up my entire bag of tricks, I can share a few pointers for finding quality managers to help you run your online media department:

  • A manager must have command of the basics. Workload tends to fluctuate quite a bit at an online agency. Sometimes, managers have to jump into the trenches with the planners supporting them. Additionally, entry-level planners need to learn from someone who knows the basics backward, forward, sideways, and upside down.

    One of the best ways to determine whether someone can handle all aspects of an online media campaign is to ask them to put one together. In my initial interview with K2 Design, department heads Joe Apprendi and Scott Paternoster (now of 24/7 Media) asked me to take a day or two to put together a campaign for one of their clients. Not only did this give them a chance to check up on all my interactive media skills, but it also afforded them the opportunity to witness my presentation ability, decision-making skills, and pretty much anything else they might have been concerned about. You might consider asking a prospect to participate in a similar exercise.

  • Pick strong marketing skills over strong technical skills. Of course, the ideal online media planner has marketing and technology down pat, but if you ever find yourself having to choose between a candidate with a good marketing background and another candidate with a tech background, choose the marketer. It’s been my experience that marketers will quickly recognize the similarities between online and offline media and will thus be able to pick things up more quickly. While many concepts in the online world need to be understood from a nontraditional point of view, there are far more concepts that can be perceived easily from a traditional marketing frame of reference.
  • A manager must be prepared to make sacrifices. Be careful to manage expectations about managing in an interactive agency. As I mentioned before, workload tends to fluctuate quite a bit, and a media manager must be prepared to work a few late nights. Watch out for candidates who expect to treat a media supervisor role as a 9 to 5 job. Not in this business…
  • Let the supervised help you select their supervisor. Ask your entry-level planners to spend some time with a management candidate. Solicit their feedback. This demonstrates to the entry-level folks that you’re serious and conscientious about selecting someone that they will be able to work with. It also shows the candidate that you are looking out for your people.
  • Ask a candidate about his or her strongest relationships. Online media planning is a business of relationship management more than anything else. A conversation about the candidate’s strongest media relationships can reveal quite a bit about that candidate’s business philosophy, ability to get along with others, and overall effectiveness as a planner.
  • Do not ask the standard “What are your strengths and weaknesses” question directly. A smart candidate will answer, “I have no weaknesses, except maybe for green kryptonite.” I have yet to meet an interviewee that could answer this question objectively. I don’t think it’s possible. Instead, try asking the question in a different way: Present a list of the agency’s clients. Ask which clients the candidate would choose to work on and why. “I feel I’m strong with telecom accounts, so I’d like to work on MCI,” or “I’m not sure I’d like to work on Pampers; packaged goods are not my bag” are honest answers.

Finally, as I mentioned in my last column, culture is key. Most interactive media department heads are pretty good at spotting the guy who can’t or won’t fit in with the rest of the group, so I’ll spare you the tips on how to filter out the uncool people. Just remember that culture is probably your most valuable intangible when it comes to attracting and retaining employees.

Happy hiring!

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