Early-Stage CEOs: Read This Before Making Your First Marketing Hire

by Debra Andrews | April 14, 2021

Most CEOs don’t ever think about marketing until their product, software, or service is approaching launch. At this point, the marketing needs are many—more than most executives know—including, positioning, strategy, messaging, branding, planning, website, collateral, educational content, social media, email, CRM, paid advertising, public relations, and events.

Your first marketing hire would ideally be able to think strategically and prioritize these needs. You’ll also need them to execute on first steps and quick wins. But does this role exist?

It’s challenging for even the most experienced marketers (CMOs) to know how to start with a marketing function in today’s specialized and digitally driven world. How is a CEO supposed to figure out this puzzle with limited time, headspace, and marketing know-how?

In many cases, they do not get it right and the launch of their life’s work falls flat. I offer these suggestions to early-stage executives who want to see their baby bird fly.

Resist the mid-level hire; Commit to strategy first!

My first piece of advice is to resist the urge to hire a mid-level marketing manager who will likely not have the strategic skillset needed to build a strong marketing foundation for a launch. There is a difference between tactical and strategic marketers. Marketing managers tend to be skilled tacticians but may not have the strategic insight that comes with experience.

A company’s freshman year of marketing is about 75% strategic, requiring expertise with positioning, strategy, messaging, branding, and shaping the online presence.

Consider engaging with a strategic marketing consultant or fractional CMO during this period to get just the right amount of strategic support without spending a dollar more. After all, there need to be resources for brand and website development as well as any paid outreach which would likely be recommended to gain momentum.

More information on strategic vs. tactical marketing is outlined in the video below:

The plan is set; Now it’s time to hire!

Once your marketing strategy is set and some of the foundational marketing elements are in place or close to being there, it’s time for the early-stage company to grow its marketing manpower.

There are three different options as detailed in this video:

  • All outsourced
  • All in-house
  • A hybrid approach

Early stage companies benefit from a hybrid approach as CEOs can hire and then begin growing the knowledge base of a professional completely invested in their businesses.

It’s wise to continue tapping the strategic marketing consultant or fractional CMO but maybe less so overtime. Keep the marketing department lean in-house so that there’s budget for all of the various specialty areas like paid search, paid social, paid content (advertorials), and anything else needed to build awareness and demand.

Once you have that strategic foundation, who should your first hire be?

At this stage, the first hire might be a content marketer with knowledge of marketing automation tools, email marketing, and social media marketing. If, however, there is a lot of creative design needed to build-out sales tools and other marketing assets, perhaps your first hire would be a strong graphic designer who has well rounded tactical marketing skills. Your program will dictate whether content or design takes precedence.

It’s good to have one specialist in house as long as they can operate efficiently beyond their greatest skill. Your strategic marketing consultant or fractional CMO can help make the determination on the requirements for the inhouse position, create the job description, and help recruit and interview.

I wouldn’t hire a marketing “generalist” (often known as a marketing coordinator or marketing manager) as you’ll end up doing a lot of insourcing. Without the technical know-how needed to execute on tasks, you lose efficiency and end up with an administrator who cannot deliver on next steps.

Post launch growth; Scale marketing!

When it’s time to scale, many early-stage companies—especially those with SaaS products—tend to staff-up on sales development reps (SDRs). It’s important to keep in mind that a well-run, modern marketing function will typically offer a much higher ROI.

Instead of investing in a second or third SDR, continue building your marketing expertise by either rounding out the inhouse marketing team’s skill set or outsourcing the execution and analytics to a firm like Marketri. There are pros and cons to each approach which is detailed in my recent post, Inhouse or Outsourced: Which is Right for You.

I’m always willing to provide early-stage companies with advice and information on marketing and how to staff the function to scale. If you are a CEO embarking on the growth journey, please feel free to book a call here.