The big debate: Is CMO succession in crisis?

When appointing a new marketing leader, boards and CEOs must weigh up whether the skills they need exist within the current team or whether they should hire an external recruit who embodies the evolving CMO skillset.

When it comes to the crunch, external hires are growing in popularity. During the first half of 2017, 72% of publicly reported CMO appointments were external candidates, up from 64% during the same period in 2016, according to research by Russell Reynolds Associates.

The executive search firm recorded 187 marketing leadership appointments over a six-month period, the highest number for the past five years.

The tech industry registered the highest volume of marketing moves (19%), followed by apparel and retail (15%), leisure and hospitality (15%) and consumer digital and media (13%). Looking specifically at the leisure and hospitality sector, fast-food restaurants accounted for 57% of all appointments during the first six months of 2017.

Some 89% of marketing appointments made in the tech sector were external candidates, the highest of any sector, followed by healthcare (82%) and education/non-profit (80%).

READ MORE: Brands failing to promote CMOs from within

According to Richard Sanderson, executive director of marketing, consumer and retail at Russell Reynolds, this reflects the fact tech businesses are on an accelerated growth curve, meaning they quickly reach different stages of maturity that require different leadership skills.

“In the very early stages [of a company] we see marketers that look a lot like product marketers, then as growth starts to accelerate within tech businesses we see more channel-based marketers who have a strong focus on demand generation or revenue optimisation,” Sanderson explains.

“Then at later stages of their growth, appointments in tech organisations seem to be more about narrative storytelling and brand experience, so you often see more brand-centric marketing leaders take on these CMO roles.”

Bridging the experience gap

The rapidly evolving nature of marketing is exerting real pressure on the talent pipeline, meaning today’s CMOs need to be fully rounded individuals and not the channel specialists of the past, says Sanderson.

It is often the gap in experience between the CMO and their second in command that prevents the internal team from being the natural choice for promotion. For this reason, promoting from within can actually pose more of a risk, says Evans Cycles’ marketing director James Backhouse.

“Outside huge companies, marketing teams are not that big. If you have a relatively large gap in seniority between the CMO or marketing director and the rest of the team, then someone will have to make a really big step up,” he says.

“You have the CMO and then you might have people who are channel specialists and so there’s not an obvious succession, and therefore if you want someone else as senior then you have to go external and it’s almost a bit less of a risk if they’ve done the CMO job elsewhere,” he adds.

Another factor often standing in the way of internal promotion is the perception that the existing team is too aligned to the previous CMO, especially when the board or CEO are looking for a change of direction.

Companies often recruit from outside for this reason, though Ryanair CMO Kenny Jacobs believes this can prove to be a costly mistake if the newly-appointed CMO does not work out and they end up hiring the best internal person anyway.

“You might have the CEO and chairman saying we need this man or woman from this particular company and they overlook internal people, because they want to be seen to hire someone who is in the place they want to take their company to, and often that doesn’t work out,” Jacobs explains.

“The company then loses its second, third, fourth or fifth best marketers, who move on because they didn’t get the job, and then two years later the person who was sixth best suddenly becomes CMO because they were still there.”

Jacobs’ advice to companies is not to automatically opt for a well-known person from the outside as they could be ignoring some real gems one level down.

READ MORE: Brands don’t need to be loved to win over consumers, says Ryanair CMO

This is an opinion shared by Francesca Davies, who was promoted to Weetabix marketing director in July. Davies has a track record of internal promotion since joining the company in 2008 as senior brand manager. Within a year she became group brand manager, moving on to head of brand in 2011 and group head of category in 2014.

“Weetabix is pretty special. We work hard to grow talent from within. We have designed the organisation and nurtured the right culture that allows people to have the appropriate levels of vision, challenge and support to excel,” Davies explains.

“The flat and nimble organisational design that we have here means everyone, especially marketers, gets the opportunity to really affect things, building breadth and depth of experience from the get-go.”

The average retention rate at Weetabix is growing, due in part to the business’s focus on rewarding talent with autonomy across all elements of the marketing mix, including commercial profit-and-loss ownership, strategic brand building, communications planning, shaping creative propositions and end-to-end marketing.

Davies is not the only marketer to benefit from internal progression within Weetabix. She cites former group marketing director – now managing director – Sally Abbott; and Claire Canty, who recently made the move to head of innovation following a series of senior brand manager roles.

READ MORE: From marketing director to MD – Weetabix’s Sally Abbott on ‘failing forward’ and driving growth

Resist job title obsession

A factor encouraging marketers to consider leaving their company for a role in a new business or sector is the time it takes to be appointed CMO. Russell Reynolds’ research finds that for internal appointments marketers have to wait on average 7.3 years to be promoted to CMO from the next most senior role.

Jacobs calls on marketers to be patient and accept that they can learn a lot about leadership without necessarily being promoted.

“In marketing there’s a lot of people who say ‘I have been doing this job for two years and I haven’t been promoted, what’s wrong?’ I’m saying this as a 43-year-old, but there are probably times in my career where I wish I had waited [instead of changing jobs],” says Jacobs.

He sees an obsession among marketers with attaining their first marketing director or CMO role, which encourages them to change industry or move into the wrong organisation just for the title.

“I’ve seen a lot of people make the move because they just want that title, even if they’re not that interested in the sector or the business and they don’t enjoy the job that much. Whether you are CMO, CTO or COO people should be careful about moving just for a title, because in a way it’s career vanity,” Jacobs adds.

TSB marketing director Pete Markey agrees that often job titles are misleading and can mean different things to different businesses.

“When I worked at the Post Office I was CMO with a team of 50 people and a budget of about £30-40m. Then I went to Aviva, took on the role of brand and marketing director, and I had a team of 150 people and a budget three times that amount,” Markey explains.

“So I went from having a job that was called CMO to a job that wasn’t, but was in fact three times the size.”

Increasingly marketers are subverting the traditional route to leadership on their way to the top. Of the 21% of marketers who were internally promoted during the first six months of 2017, 25% took on a more senior role outside marketing such as CEO, president or general manager.

A further 34% were appointed to a newly-created marketing role such as chief brand or customer officer.

Atom Bank CMO, Lisa Wood, believes that getting general management or operational experience under your belt adds a different dimension to a marketer’s skillset.

“People sometimes think the next step in their career is one rung up the ladder in terms of the hierarchy of the organisation, but I don’t think it works like that anymore,” says Wood.

“You have to think ‘have I got a broad enough range of skills behind me from a CV perspective to allow me to step into that bigger role?’ That’s the way people should be thinking about it.”

READ MORE: Anatomy of a Leader – the practical skills you need to get to the top

Markey agrees that it is good for marketers to be seen as commercial and driving business performance by moving into general management, as long as the move is made for the right reasons.

“I don’t think it hurts at all to go into general management, but I’d hate to think people became disillusioned and wandered off into something else. I think we need to be quite deliberate in helping people so the choice is made to advance someone’s career, not just because it’s the last option left.”

Moving to grow

The pace of change is encouraging marketers to move into unchartered waters in search of professional development, rather than waiting for an internal promotion.

This was the case when Lisa Wood left her role as head of marketing at First Direct in 2014, after 23 years at owner HSBC, to become CMO at startup Atom Bank, which customers access solely through a mobile app. The new job was particularly attractive because it allowed Wood to move further into the tech space and acquire skills she believes she would never have learned staying at HSBC.

“I knew my learning curve would be quite steep and that was highly attractive to me,” she explains. “Marketing is evolving in a very rapid way, so you have to push yourself and that’s the only way you’re going to be able to move on with your career and get better roles. That does take a leap of faith and that’s absolutely critical from a CMO perspective.”

Reflecting on her career Annabel Venner, Hiscox global brand director and CMO of its subsidiary DirectAsia, has always moved companies in search of new challenges, which at times has meant moving into a different industry or role in order to build new skills.

READ MORE: From biscuits to insurance – the value of gaining experience across sectors

“Compared to Coke where I was doing FMCG, which was a very purist consumer-focused environment where I got the opportunity to focus on doing a lot of high profile advertising campaigns, Hiscox is a very different model, but I have digital skills and skills in other areas I would not have got from Coke,” she explains.

“It was a different sector, plus an opportunity to drive new skills. I think that’s why some marketers are doing it, so it’s a personal decision and it’s not necessarily around the promotion. I think part of it is driven by people not wanting to be pigeonholed.”

Ryanair’s Jacobs says most senior marketers making a move are opting for digital roles in a bid to futureproof their careers.

“When I talk to marketers in senior traditional marketing roles where they don’t have a decent chunk of digital, or digital is separate, there’s a bit of a scramble by the marketers to get into digital before it’s too late,” he says.

Weetabix’s Davies, however, believes if businesses create a dynamic marketing environment they will be able to retain staff who may have looked elsewhere to grow their skills.

“The difference in my opinion is the accountability Weetabix gives you, so you can stamp your mark on transformational change if you’re up for it. The second difference is the level of dynamism from a company like Weetabix,” she says.

“Who would have thought when I joined Weetabix in 2008 that in just over five years I’d have the opportunity to be launching a new sub category where people were drinking their breakfast from a bottle? Now this is a £20 million business for us where we have an 80% share of that market.”

Fixing the succession problem

So is the industry facing a succession crisis or are marketers just finding new ways to advance their careers?

Evans Cycles’ James Backhouse believes that if marketers find themselves waiting for a promotion it is within their power to change the situation.

“I don’t think it’s an issue. It’s life and it’s good that people stay in their jobs for a long time. I don’t believe you can really do a fantastic job in a marketing business unless you understand it,” says Backhouse.

“If they aren’t getting promoted internally then either they’re brilliant and the person who is doing the promoting doesn’t understand them, in which case they should leave the business, or they’re not good enough and they should go and get the skills they need,” he adds.

If you are ambitious and hit a ceiling, or feel like you are treading water, it is time to move on, says Markey. He advises marketers to get off their seats, rip up their job descriptions and get involved with other parts of the business.

“I do think there’s a slight element where laziness can creep in. The CMO leaves and the next couple of people in line think ‘it’s our turn next’, but their exposure might not be very good,” says Markey.

“It’s not about shameless self-promotion, it’s about backing the project and being visible where the businesses needs you. If you want a business to not look outside and look at you as the next in line, be visible and demonstrate what you can do.”

Regardless of the stresses and strains of being a CMO, Lisa Wood believes marketing leaders have a responsibility to their teams to spot people within the business who have the capability to stretch into bigger roles and then actively develop them.

Venner agrees that leaders should expose their team to projects that enhance their skillsets or help make them more prominent within the business. Although sometimes this can mean having difficult conversations.

“Ultimately people need to have conversations with their teams if they believe they’ve reached as far as they can go in the business, and you need bravery and courage to do that,” she says.

“I think it’s wrong if somebody is very ambitious and constantly wanting a new job and a promotion, and the general feeling is they’re not going to get it. You need to be honest with them.”

It is important to recognise that not every marketer wants to become a CMO or CEO, and not all decisions to move roles are purely motivated by the lure of promotion. The appeal of working in a different industry and developing a suite of new skills is proving far more attractive to some marketers keen to define their own career trajectory.

Originally published in

Build Your Own Leicester City

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you may have heard of Leicester City

this week. Mainly because they won the English Premier League.

Why is this a big deal. Someone has to win it right?

Historically in the Premier League, there are generally 2 – 3 favourites who are tipped to win it.

Whether it be Man City, Chelsea or my own team Man Utd.

The reason Leicester City is such a big deal is because these guys were only promoted to the EPL in the 2013/2014 season. In their first season (2014/2015) they where in a relegation dog fight and miraculously stayed in the top flight. Winning 7 of their final 9 games and were rock bottom before this. They were 5000/1 to win the league this year. Kim Kardashian is currently 2000/1 to be the US president by 2020.

So what can we take from this.

This was a team built on confidence and togetherness. No egos or one man shows. These guys worked as a team. Lifted each other up when times were difficult. Most of the players were surplus to requirements at the bigger teams but they had a manager to bring them together and fill them with new ideas and listened to their concerns.

So, how can you be an effective Manager?

1. Set a good Example:

Managers that lead from the front, tend to get more out of their employees. You should strive to be your own ideal of the perfect worker and especially in front of your team.

2. Setting realistic targets:

When your team don’t have clear targets and expectations, they muddle through their day. They can’t be productive if they have no idea what they’re working for, or what their work means. So fix measurable goals and regularly monitor the progress towards their accomplishment.

3. Motivation:

The effect on how much a congratulations or a well done has on a team member is priceless. If a team member doesn’t feel valued they won`t feel the love of the company. Treat them how you would like to be treated

4. Encourage Ideas:

A team member that feels involved towards growing the company, feels a part of the company. Encourage new ideas and never chastise a team member for something you don`t agree with.

5. Be Patient:

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t  built in a day. Get to know your teams strengths and weaknesses and build on them. Communication is key. A good manager will know exactly what improvements your team needs. This will only be achieved by being realistic on how quickly your team gets to where you need them to be.

 Now, time to put a little bet on Kim Kardashian for President!

The People Group

The Call for Content Marketing

In today’s dynamic business environment it is essential that marketers understand the significance of digital marketing and how it can transform your business.  Digital marketing is an effective way to communicate with your customer. Digital marketing is dependent on technology which is constantly evolving and changing.  Marketers also must be flexible to respond to the dynamic changing marketing landscape. Communicating your brand through digital marketing is an important step for any business, big or small.

Content marketing in particular is growing rapidly compared to other forms of digital marketing.  It can alter the way brands interact with consumers.  Content marketing is all about demonstrating to the consumer what the brand represents rather than dictating to them.  Since the introduction of social media, brands have the ability to get closer and communicate directly to the consumer, ensuring increased customer loyalty and enhanced brand equity.  High quality content is imperative for search engine optimization.

Content marketing is a pull rather than push strategy. Content doesn’t interrupt or irritate the consumer, it actually attracts the consumer to the brand.  Consumers are attracted to a brand if the digital content provides the following information:

  • Informative information (Food brand – free downloadable recipes)
  • Expert knowledge regularly updated (Bank – Mortgage advice)
  • Feedback functionality (Competitions, surveys, web chat)
  • Added value (Business insight, entertainment)

Content marketing can provide the following benefits for a brand:

  • Increased reach
  • Improved brand image
  • Lead generation
  • Customer loyalty

Content marketing is a growing, evolving trend in digital marketing.  According to MarketingLand businesses spent more than $118 billion on content marketing in 2014.  With more than 85% adoption among B2B marketers, this demonstrates the significance of incorporating content marketing into your digital marketing strategy.

The People Group understands that the digital era of marketing is constantly evolving and companies will be seeking more defined skill sets in order to adapt to the changing marketing environment.  The People Group has been following the marketing landscape since our inception in 1989 and has built a large database of candidates who are specialists in various aspects of the marketing mix.  Understanding the future trends of marketing is important and building up a substantial repertoire of relevant candidates is imperative so when a company seeks an expert in a certain area they know they can be certain of finding the right match from The People Group.

View our latest Marketing Jobs

The Sales Institute – How to Recruit Winners

The Sales Institute is delighted to confirm details of a breakfast seminar on December 12th focusing on ‘How to Recruit Winners’ sponsored by ‘The People Group’, featuring speakers from LinkedIn and, this seminar will provide valuable insight into the best practice hiring and development used by two highly successful and dynamic organisations.

This event takes place in the Alexander Hotel Dublin on the 12th December from 7.30-9.15am and is free to attend for current members of the Sales Institute of Ireland (non-members €80). To reserve tickets please click here or contact the sales institute on 01 662 6904 or email

The Sales Institute of Ireland
Knowledge and insight to help you compete more effectively

Event kindly sponsored by The People Group
Sales and Marketing Recruitment Specialists
Carol Murphy, Head of Training, Sales & Fulfilment,

Carol Murphy has worked in Training and Development for ten years and has been involved in the design and delivery of an innovative range of training programmes for sales professionals. She combines her extensive knowledge of tried and true models with current organisational trends and a deep understanding of systems operation and human behaviour, to design and develop effective programs. Carol is a qualified trainer and coach and holds a Degree in Commerce and a MBS from NUI, Galway. Carol will discuss her company’s vision and recruitment strategy, the recruitment and selection process at Goldenpages and what the company looks for in the interview process.
Lindsay Browning, EMEA Lead Recruiter, LinkedIn

Prior to her current role as EMEA Recruitment Leader at LinkedIn, Lindsay Browning was EMEA Recruiting Specialist at Google. Previously, she held the role of Senior Marketing Recruitment Specialist at CPL and before that Lindsay was a Director and Recruitment Manager at Elite Placement Agency. “Talent is any company’s number 1 asset and that’s why I love the world of recruiting as we can connect career aspirations with opportunity”.

Lorcan Carpenter, Strategic Recruiter, EMEA, LinkedIn

Lorcan Carpenter is a Senior Recruiter for Executive and Emerging Market roles with LinkedIn EMEA. He has been championing social media recruitment since July 2006. Prior to working with Linkedin, Lorcan was a Recruitment Specialist at Google / YouTube. Previous to this Lorcan was with CPL as a Principal Consultant.


This event takes place in the Alexander Hotel Dublin on the 12th December from 7.30-9.15am and is free to attend for current members of the Sales Institute of Ireland (non-members €80). To reserve your place please click here or contact the Sales Institute on 01 662 6904 or e-mail

Marketing sector making moves

The Sunday Business Post

Sunday, July 14th

Marketeers are reporting steady growth, especially in the digital area, writes Gareth Naughton

Recruiters are reporting that hiring in the sales and marketing sector has stabilised in the first half of the year bringing slow but steady growth. Good salespeople survived the downturn because their impact on the bottom line is near immediate, but marketing is now recovering – giving a strong indication that companies are growing in confidence and thinking long-term again.

The growth is not isolated to one particular industry, according to Colm Buckley, managing director of The People Group, who said that there has been a noticeable shift in focus at board level.

“From talking to senior people, you get the sense that the commercial, sales and marketing directors are getting more voice at the boardroom table. It is more about growth and creating future markets, rather than cost-cutting. No disrepect to the finance people, but I think that all of the cost-cutting has been done and it is about moving it on now,” said Buckley.

“For a lot of companies, their reaction in the past number of years has been to hire in sales people, and we have seen many marketing positions and teams decline. Now we are starting to see companies reinvesting in marketing and hiring in. These are new positions, not distress positions where someone is off on maternity leave or someone has retired,” he said.

This is a good sign, said Buckley, because it takes time for marketeers to produce a return on investment. “If you hire in a good sales person, you will see a return on your investment within one or two months but, with a marketeer, it is six to 12 months which is a much more medium to long-term play. I think that is a really positive message that companies are genuinely looking at growth again. Marketeers do not come cheap and the results take a while, so there definitely seems to be a confidence in the business community in that respect.” he said.

A lot of growth in the recent year or so has been driven by greater emphasis on digital marketing. Buckley said that we are heading toward a point where digital marketing becomes another channel to the market, rather than a “panacea for all your ills”.

“Companies more and more are coming to us saying that they are looking for a strong, experienced marketing manager, and if they have some digital marketing skills at a strategic level, if they understand the language and the integrated marketing relaionship between digital and traditional, that would be fantastic,” he said.

That said. there has been a clear change in the characteristics and competencies being included in job descriptions for sales and marketing roles. according to Karen O’Flaherty, chief operating officer of Morgan Mckinley.

“It is a hybrid of the traditional role with digital…You have to have a vocation for marketing and you can adapt or upskill depending on the market but you are never going to have an accountant who wants to be a marketeer. You need to have the mindset and competencies of someone who is particularly interested in that area, and what we are saying is that from there things have changed.

“Digital marketeers are in some ways old news – it has almost moved to data managers. Somebody from a marketing perspective who can manage that data as they see it,” said O’Flaherty.

New areas of interest include marketing analytics – mining data to direct marketing strategy – with a number of companies setting up in Ireland. “You are still a marketeer but the difference is now that you are analysing in a different way how the customer behaves or the information from site, etc,” she said.

Although marketing took a hit across the sectors in the boom, it does not necessarily follow that Ireland has an abundance of suitable candidates. Recruiters are increasingly accessing the passive market – candidates who are already employed – to source talent.

“We would consider this one of the areas where there is a skills shortage at the moment. There are the skill shortages because the people are not in the country and there is the skills availability, where the population of talent is here but they are gainfully employed, well looked after and not active,” she said.

Sales roles are also picking up, which O’Flaherty also sees a good sign because those roles are the first to go when the market slackens. “Field sales roles have increased and we wouldn’t have seen that for the past two years.

Employers can now afford to put people into cars and afford them the opportunity to go out and start selling their products and services. There are challenging areas to fill because employers’ expectations on return of investment of somebody in that role need to be aligned with what people are willing to buy at this stage,” she said.

With competition for experienced talent and increased activity in contract, temporary and permanent positions, there has been an impact on remuneration, according to John Mansell, manager of Abrivia’s specialist sales and marketing team.

“Base salaries have slightly improved for sales and markeing professionals but a more noticeable increase and package improvements have not gone unnoticed in certain specialist and hard-to-fill roles. The technology market has continued to show an increase throughout the year as the market becomes more and more competitive. Sectors such as FMCG, medical and financial services have stabilised with high demand on product focus and/or qualifications necessary for many roles,” he said.

This is likely to remain the case for the rest of the year with the shortage of skilled and suitable professionals willing to continuing.

“Due to lower turnover in staff and the focus on employee retention, employers will continue to reward good performance and over-achievement, and I anticipate that this will remain the case in 2013 and beyond as the market continues to improve in a slow but upward curve.

“The expectations for the remainder for 2013 will follow a similar pattern to the first six months – with the digital/online and social media sector seeing the strongest growth,” said Mansell.

He said he also envisaged key growth areas to include the FMCG, telecoms and medical sectors, with steady growth of activity expected in the ICT sector

View our marketing jobs

Jobs set to grow in digital revolution

The Sunday Business Post

Sunday, February 24th


The emergence of digital marketing is creating new roles that did not exist five years ago, but employers should take care to hire marketers with the right mix of digital and traditional skills, writes Gareth Naughton of ‘The Sunday Business Post’.

These emerging roles are in search, social and mobile. In the search area, the roles on offer are in the areas of optimisation, search marketing and, particularly, analytics, according to Ian Dodson, chief executive of the Digital Marketing Institute.

“Ultimately, no matter what form of digital marketing you do, analytics and an understanding of how to pull the numbers together and deduce actionable insights out of them are crucial,” said Dodson.

“It is a strong, emerging field. Pulling decent insights out of data is one of the challenges with digital. There is so much data available to companies, the challenge becomes how to decipher the data and pick the information that you use to make decisions like where to base spend or focus on.”

Social networking

Social networking has been responsible for the most obvious shift in marketing departments with companies bringing in their own teams and to take care of Facebook, Twitter and the rest rather than outsource to an agency.

For organisations accustomed to delivering a centralised message and speaking with one voice, consumer demand for interaction over social media is a significant challenge. “With social, one of the problems is that you cannot outsource your soul,” said Dodson.

“We are seeing companies hire people back in to deal with social media. You are talking about everything from copywriters and content writers right through to community managers.

“You need people who can write and communicate through social media, who are able to reflect the tone and extend  into that company’s brand on the internet.”

New Technologies

The advent of mobile, and the continuing evolution of smartphones and tablets, is giving companies a new marketing platform that will become increasingly important as the technology develops.

Although this may seem like an area for app developers, there are opportunities for marketing specialists, Dodson said.

“There are technical and programming roles, but it is very concretely sitting within the marketing sphere in terms of being able to communicate with people and now adding that additional element that mobile brings, which is that whole location aspect. It is not just sitting at a computer at home, now we are searching or interacting in a context,” he said.

Companies also need to be mindful that digital goes beyond the marketing department and will become a factor throughout the organisation.

“What you are seeing are digital channels actually spreading right across the organisation, so it is not just the marketing people who will be challenged by these digital channels, it is everyone in the company,” said Dodson. “Ultimately, it is a paradigm shift away from a company-centric view of the world to a customer-centric view and that means that companies have to adapt.”

Skills shortage

The common refrain in digital marketing circles is that Ireland is about two years behind our British counterparts. There is an understandable skills shortage across the board, according to Colin Lewis, a fellow of the Marketing Institute of Ireland.

“It has exploded very quickly,” Lewis said. “The training has not had a chance to catch up and people have not had a chance to train up their skills. A lot of companies believe they need to source this externally. It takes existing people a while to build up skills and there is a lag there: people who did not upskill five years ago are behind the times.”

This is a full-employment sector and those with the right skills are in high demand, Lewis said that companies needed a combination of people who are skilled in traditional and digital marketing.

“You have a fleet of specialists who need to be expert. The people who want to move up the marketing channel don’t need to be experts but they need to be able to understand it, because with the talent to manage these people, understand the creative aspect and really see where they plug in right across all channels, those are the guys who can make the real difference. That is the digital end game.”

Getting the skills necessary is not an insurmountable problem. Organisation like the DMI, MII and the Digital Skills Academy are among a number offering courses in digital marketing ranging from seminars right up to full-time postgrads and much of the training is practical.

“What we have now is this continuous education requirement and it does not stop, because you have to keep on top of both the features and the technology capabilities and what that means for the business and how to mange the people with those specific skills,” he said.

“Instead of continuous professional development being something that was nice to have, it is now going to be the only thing that will make you survive in your marketing career. What you learn today, even with the best course, will have to change in two years time.

“The thinking is changing very quickly on the back of it. How you create brands used to be straightforward. People are now launching brands, huge international brands, without using the old channels.”

While there is no doubt that the emergence of digital marketing has created new roles and significant opportunities for those with specific skills, at mid-to-senior level there is an emphasis on commercial marketeers who can oversee and plan across a wide range of channels both traditional and digital.

Colm Buckley, managing director of The People Group, said there had been a noticeable shift: employers were thinking less about cost-cutting and more about growth.

“The accountants and, to some degree, the HR people have been the power base in a lot of blue chip corporates in Ireland over the last three to four years”, said Buckley, and ” it has been about cost-cutting, reducing the numbers of people and doing more with less for less. Over the last year – and this will continue in 2013 – a lot of chief executives have been saying: ‘how are we going to do more with less marketing spend and fewer sales people?’.

“Traditional marketing, or integrated marketing, including digital is coming back to the table. If someone is looking for a digital marketer only, I would question that. They are most probably looking for a good marketer in a practical sense who has digital knowledge and experience,” he said.

That said, like the IT sector, there is a distinct shortage of strong traditional marketeers with a good solid grounding in digital in Ireland.

This supply and demand issue has resulted in those who do fit the bill being able to command a premium.

“There has been a bit of panic in the market over the last two or three years here. The supply of good digital marketeers has not been there. It is very new in Ireland so they do command higher salaries. Where you are getting a traditional marketing director in a blue chip company for 100,000, a digital marketing director is going to cost you 140,000,” he said.

The traditional marketing manager should also take heed that burying their head in the sand and ignoring digital will do them no favours.

Yes, they need to have solid marketing foundations but the future will be in integrated marketing where companies reach out to consumers with a cohesive strategy, and digital is going to play a significant role in that. It is not going away.

“There is no doubt about it but the people in their 30s and 40s need to get with the script, upskill, get some digital skills and be able to talk that language. But at the end of the day, companies who are looking for people in that age and experience bracket are always looking for a commercial marketeers – If someone has digital skills, that will definitely enhance their position in the running,” said Buckley.

View our marketing-jobs

Cautious Optimism Lifts The Jobs Market

Business Plus Magazine

October 2012

Despite high unemployment, specialist recruitment agencies and head-hunters report buoyancy on the jobs front compared with last year writes Robert O’Brien

Colm Buckley, Managing Director of ‘The People Group’ gives his  opinion on the state of the market

The People Group has been trading steadily throughout 2012. There has been a pickup in the volume of sales and marketing roles we’ve been dealing with throughout the summer, which is a marked difference over the past few difficult years. Business sentiment seems to be somewhat more positive and there are indications of cautious optimism across a range of industries. We have seen a bigger increase in hiring for interim positions that have translated to permanent roles a number of months later.

While we have continued to successfully fulfil assignments in the FMCG and drinks sector, we have also had good success in the technology, services and business-to-business spaces. Digital marketing skills are increasingly in demand and Ireland is behind the UK and the US in this respect.

Most employers we are dealing with are not only only seeking levels of technical skill and experience but also the right attitude and fit for their companies and cultures. For a mid to senior level hire, it is vital that the right type of individual is introduced to the recruiting process.

While we have embraced many of the new social media channels, we continue to maintain our reputation for producing the right results by focusing on the tried-and-tested methods of recruitment. We continue to meet with candidates, where possible, and fully explore their experience, attitude and fit for roles and work cultures we are dealing with on behalf of our client.
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BDO Professional Services Sector 2012

In conversation with Colm Buckley, Managing Director of ‘The People Group’.

We all know people are key to success in professional services. The recruitment sector has had a rollercoaster few years. How have things changed for them and the candidates they see every day?

How has your business model changed over the last three or four years?

Overall, I would say that specialist recruitment companies are generally doing better, because they are very focused on their sectors. We concentrate on sales, marketing and more senior management positions, and our strategy has been to become even more of a valued professional service to our client companies. So you could say that, overall, we are working harder and smarter in the current climate. I think the future of recruitment is definitely specialist: you need to be seen as one of the best at what you do and most of what we do these days is exclusive or on a retained basis.

In terms of getting to this point, like any business, one of the first things we did was to look at our costs. During the Celtic Tiger era, costs in the industry did get out of kilter. We have refigured our commission structure to reflect the new situation but, most importantly, we also continue to reward high achievers. At its height this company had 16 people. We are now down to eight but, like our clients, always looking for strong performers and adding to the team.

Has it become a significantly smaller sector because of the recession?

The recruitment industry was hit massively over that period and a lot of people have left the sector. Many recruitment companies went to the wall; there is no doubt about that. Like a portion of businesses in Ireland, they perhaps went a bit wild in the Celtic Tiger years, invested too heavily and didn’t have the reserves to save themselves. There haven’t been many acquisitions or mergers; they have simply gone out of business. Within companies themselves, what you saw is that, as times got tougher, and real business and sales skills were required to bring in new business, and manage existing business, a lot of people got out.

How do you coordinate your rewards structure now?

Throughout the industry, I don’t know that rewards have changed that much over the years, aside from targets coming down. The way we structure it now is that everyone starts with a good basic salary and then has individual targets for their desk, and an overall target for the business. Our people can earn the majority of their bonus if they hit their own individual targets. That reflects the nature of recruitment generally. It is probably the closest you can come to being self-employed in an employee structure. If you have that mentality, you can do very well.

How has the fee structure changed?

Our fee structure has been recalibrated and is down something of the order of 10% to 20% on four years ago. However, we have maintained our high service level proposition so that, while fees have been reduced, we have not been as affected as the industry as a whole, which is down 40% or 50%. Our offer is quality. A client is looking to enhance their balance sheet with quality people. They want a service that delivers that and they recognise there is a price to be paid for it.

How do you resist the squeeze on fees in negotiations?

In a lot of conversations, you are eventually going to be hit with ‘what is your price?’ You have to bring the conversation to a different level. We would ask ‘what are you looking for’, ‘what hurdles did you have to get over to get to this stage’, ‘what is the succession plan for this position’? When you begin asking these questions, price gets sidelined as clients recognise that you know what you are talking about. The core of our business is sales, marketing and commercial management. Everybody in our business comes from a sales and/or marketing background. They understand the environment and they have their connections and networks there. They can talk the language.

Has the industry fundamentally changed the nature of its offer?

One of the things we have always done is offered an opportunity for people to come and have an adult conversation about their career. We get lots of candidates, particularly at senior level, who want to bounce ideas off us. It’s a conversation they can’t have with their spouse or their boss. We do lots of that right now. Our view is that we live in a village and these people will come back to us if they value our advice. Over the last few years, a lot of recruitment firms, particularly in niche sectors made what we would see as mistakes in terms of going into outsourcing, on-boarding, business coaching and psychometric testing. That is the route to being seen as a Jack of all trades and a master of none.

Have the job specifications of your clients changed much?

I definitely think that the word ‘commercial’ has become a given when it comes to the disciplines of marketing and sales. The recruitment process is more and more about quantifying returns: how much of an audience the candidate is going to get for a client, rather than what the creative strategy is going to be. At the end of the day, employers are asking ‘what return are we going to get in this role?’

In terms of market recovery, by early 2009, we would have seen a lot of companies once again looking for really high-quality sales people. Marketing took a little bit longer to recover, as the return can take a bit longer to see. However, it has definitely shown good signs of recovery this year and there is a sense of real intent in companies across a range of industries to reinvest in sales and marketing.

So return on investment has become critical in hiring decisions?

There is no doubt about it. At the end of the day, there is going to be a commercial director sitting at the table in an interview. While they will be interested in a candidate’s background and qualifications, they are going to be asking much more about the bang they will get for their buck.

What about the international dimension – and FDI in particular – are there opportunities there?

We have links with the IDA and Enterprise Ireland. That has worked very well in the past. We also have quite a close association with a UK company called the People Network. If they are dealing with an opportunity in Ireland, they will talk to us and we do likewise in the UK. It’s not only a bridge into the UK, it has given us a reach into mainland Europe too. Social media has obviously helped in that respect and has helped us place people in the roles from as far away as Australia. A lot of the time it is about the diaspora who are looking to come back home.

Has social media changed how you work?

We have embraced it over the last two or three years but it is like any other marketing channel at the end of the day, it works in conjunction with what we do well. There was a Forbes study recently that concluded there are three questions people want answered in an interview: can you do the job, will you love the job and can we tolerate working with you? Two out of those three questions cannot be ascertained from a LinkedIn profile – you have to meet the candidates. We, essentially, play that role. Our process ensures that any client benefits from a thorough search of the market using our own powerful database, a variety of social media and a deep dive into a passive network of candidates who are not necessarily on the lookout but may well be suitably qualified for a client’s requirements.

Is that an opinion of social media that’s widely shared?

One of the trends I have noticed recently is the whole advent of internal recruitment in large corporates. I can understand how professional HR areas would question the fees that they are paying to recruitment agencies and so turning to LinkedIn for talent. But I would also say that about 60-70% of the processes that we are involved in, for blue-chip corporates and more medium-sized companies, would be roles we have exclusively worked for a period of time.

So they recognise it’s not as simple as looking at CVs online?

Exactly. If you give the job to a trusted and expert recruiter, there is an exclusivity about it and a value immediately attached to it by candidates. Then you are also giving the recruiter time to really investigate the market, rather than just taking the best of the first batch of responses. We would often see in the corporate sector, a role advertised for maybe a month and a half. We have candidates coming to us who don’t want to apply for it directly.

What you also find are that candidates, who may have been approached directly through LinkedIn, are a little bit uncomfortable with that and would prefer to deal with an intermediary. They can come to us knowing there is trust and confidentiality in what we do – so we can establish the opportunity and whether to bring it to a formal stage. If they engage directly with the company, it becomes quite formal from the beginning and they don’t know where their CV has gone or who is looking at it. That can be quite a compromise for them.

Is there a process to educating staff when it comes to bringing in new business?

I feel strongly that, to be at the top of your game in sales in any walk of life these days, you need to be able to manage two things: new business development and account relationship management. Developing new relationships isn’t as difficult as it might seem if you are offering a quality service. Every client is focusing on reducing costs but, as the market has settled, quality has come back with a bang to the point where, this year, people are less focused on the cost and more on the quality.

We meet lots of people who absolutely want to be account managers and then people who like the chase, but don’t want the responsibility of looking after it. This is a complicated business and getting good people for recruitment is complicated. You need to absolutely love dealing with people and, at the same time, be opportunistic in terms of putting the right candidate with the right job. You are essentially a matchmaker so, at the end of the day, you need to be commercial, it is not a charity.

So new business development is, in a sense, inbuilt?

We all share information – we have an open door policy. We are constantly learning from each other’s examples, successes and mistakes. There is on-going training in that sense but this is also a business where no day is the same; no HR person is the same; and no business unit or director is the same. There is a sort of pre-qualifying level of maturity and openness in our consultants that brings them here in the first place.

What would you say is distinctive about the way that your company does business?

The reputation of the People Group is something that I cherish very closely. Everything we do on a daily basis, every conversation that we have with a candidate, or interaction with a client, needs to enhance our reputation in my mind. If someone has a good experience, they will go out and tell two or three people. If they have a bad experience they will tell 10 or 15. Confidentiality, reputation, integrity and professionalism are at the core of what we do.

Is there a phrase that you think sums up what’s happening in your sector right now?

When I talk about our area of professional services at the moment, I find the phrase that ‘everything is changing, but everything is staying the same’ resonates a lot. What this company has been doing for 23 years has not changed that much. It is still about providing a solution for a client, understanding their challenges and seeing beyond the job spec. We have certainly got closer to our clients over the past three years and they see us as a true value-adding partner. It’s said that we are six to nine months ahead of the curve in terms of what’s happening in the economy and, if that is the case, I’d be quite optimistic about prospects for an overall recovery.

Do you have any underlying message to candidates about what’s changed in the market out there?

Attitude and fit is everything. This is something I’m very passionate about and it goes to the heart of how we recruit. The whole attitude and fit piece, I would say, accounts for 50% of an interview process. You can have all the degrees in the world but the question is – are you going to fit with that environment and management team strategy and where it is going?

You cannot ascertain attitude and fit over a telephone call, from a piece of paper or online. That’s where I see us really benefitting a client. The whole recruitment process with any serious company now is taking longer – they are looking for people who will be there in the medium to long term. Succession planning is always in the background – they want someone who can do the role right now but also the next role planned for them.

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Careers and Recruitment: Let’s talk the talk…

Ireland’s workforce lags behind the rest of Europe when it come to speaking foreign languages, which is something that will have to be remedied if we are to make real economic headway, writes Gareth Naughton of ‘The Sunday Business Post’.

Ireland’s exporters are looking overseas to fill thousands of vacancies because the workforce has neither the languages nor the international sales skills they need.

That is according to a new report from Forfas and the Export Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), which is calling for a fresh approach to the teaching of languages from primary school right through to third level.The group also wants to see more third level students and postgraduates getting the opportunity to add an accredited international sales qualification to their CVs.

“The most fundamental issues are foreign languages and cultural awareness. Foreign languages in Ireland are treated like second cousins,” said Una Halligan, chairperson of the EGFSN.”We just don’t promote them. We have a lot of very highly skilled graduates, but they cannot go to work in Germany or Spain, because they don’t have a second language.

“Mandarin and Indian are equally important but, because we do much trade within the EU, we found that our lack of a second European foreign language was actually a huge hindrance to being able to export in those areas and to do business.”

The upshot, Halligan said, was that companies were looking outside Ireland to fill some vacant positions, despite the high level of unemployment here.

Radical Solution Needed

Exporters may require a radical – and potentially controversial – solution to the gap in language skills in the Irish market, said Colm Buckley, managing director, The People Group.

“From the commercial perspective, we don’t have the resouces necessary in terms of people with foreign languages – we simply do not have enough of them – and there are companies crying out for them in unemployed Ireland right now,” said Buckley.

“The government needs to look at the education system for further down the road and they can, right now, incentivise people to come here that have the skills,” he said.

Although such a measure could prove unpopular in a country with a relatively high rate of unemployment, Buckley said the shortfall in language skills has created a two-tier employment market, in which there were few candidates for available bilingual or multilingual roles.

“They are going to move for the opportunity to work with a global player and to advance their career, but it is a big move to come to a distressed country like Ireland,” he said.

“What incentive can we put on the table? For the first year, a reduced tax rate to get them over here and then, after that, they are contributing like anybody else to the tax system here.We have a need right now and we cannot service it from within.

“If we do not service it, what happens when these companies announce that they are pulling out of Ireland and moving to Germany or France? Then what do we do?” he said.

The approach to sales had improved in Ireland in recent years, with many Irish companies taking a more professional approach to building customer relationships. He added, however, that language barriers could hold back the country’s performance in the long run.

“For a lot of the roles that we have filled that have an international sales dimension, companies are looking for somebody who is going to be based out of Ireland – who has worked in Abu Dhabi for a number of years, for instance, and understands that culture or that market,” said Buckley.

“More connection with the dispora and more of a network with the dispora would help, but I don’t necessarily think that if the government throws funding at it, it is going to sort it out. It is a longer term play,” he said.


Taken from the ‘careers and recruitment’ supplement in ‘The Sunday Business Post’ from July 1st.

INTERNATIONAL Ireland: Government Action Plan to create 100,000 jobs

The Irish Taoiseach (prime minister), Tánaiste (deputy PM) and minister for jobs, enterprise and innovation have launched the first annual Action Plan for Jobs, which aims to create 100,000 jobs by 2016.

Of the nearly 4.5m population in Ireland, 1.8m are currently in work, and this would rise to 1.9m by 2016 and then 2m by 2020 under the new plans.

Colm Buckley, managing director of Sales & Marketing recruiter ‘The People Group’, says that while he acknowledges that the plan is no magic bullet, he hopes it can promote more optimism across the economy, saying: “Working and operating here over the last 10 years, particularly over the last seven or eight, we’ve been very good at boxing above our weight – I think we’ve now become too good at talking ourselves down.”

Plans underlined in the document include support for “indigenous” start ups and established businesses, and “developing and deepening the impact of foreign direct investment”. Buckley comments that the US will be a particular target, and especially given that “there is something like 48m people who claim Irish descendency in the US” it makes sense to “tap in to it”.

The manufacturing sector is the first sector of 20 in total mentioned in the report with growth potential, and the report suggest it can provide 20,000 new jobs in the next five years.

Working with sales & marketing roles, Buckley works across a number of sectors and suggests particular optimism for direct and supply chain jobs in the digital sector, especially given companies like Google and LinkedIn who have recently-established Dublin offices, while FMCG roles have “petered off a little of late”.


The article is taken from , with Colm Buckley, Managing Director of ‘The People Group’ giving his reaction to the job creation initiative announced by the government here in Ireland.