by Erna George. When looking for great marketers or fresh approaches, I normally turn to those I trust: past colleagues, agency partners and others. What has most struck me in recent engagements is the frequency with which people announce the lack of marketing skills in our industry. Often I’ve heard that many are not willing to recommend anyone (a topic for another day) and that teams shift before depth of skill is properly developed.

Over the past year, I have restructured my team for business-growth imperatives and it has been more complex in some instances to find and match the right people for the job at hand and for their development. Matching the right skills and competencies (as well as cultural fit) to each position within a team structure is a multifaceted process but it is required to develop a high-performance team. To sustain these, identifying and filling gaps effectively in a minimal timeframe are vital, given marketing is shifting at a greater pace than ever before.

Starting point

The starting point is first a detailed understanding of the current team and of the requirements for new roles or new hires. You see, the end point is not about the CV or credentials of a single person; it’s about a combination of which skills the business needs and what is still missing in the team. [Note: I have assumed in this point of view that the management teams have know-how and strong commitment to developing talent.]

Getting the right solution is based upon:

  1. Assessing the skill levels and strengths within current team members (skills-gap analysis)
  2. Determining what are the necessary skills and shape of the skills to meet brand and business vision

Do you need more thinkers, more analysts or more digital-based skills? It is not enough to simply look for a brand manager or marketing-management experience levels — you are also looking for a set of marketing and leadership competencies and skills that will best fit the gaps that you have. In return, you offer individuals a platform to grow and close their skills gaps.

For the first assessment, this may be done externally as there are a number of competency-based tests offered. These tests provide good insight but are not a substitution for on-the-job assessment. These evaluations provide a starting point and a framework for the development tool that may be used as part of annual reviews to show development areas.


In my view, it is about a combination of formal reviews and continuous feedback to grow people. Continuous in-the-moment feedback deals with building basic skills such as project management, presentation skills and agency relationship-building. A formal review at least twice a year (a full review and a high level check-in) will aid a clear view of the development of individuals to proactively close gaps. (Of course, this means training on-the-job with targets focused in the relevant areas.)

Now, in some businesses, this is merely a review of performance vs targets — a focus away from what is often called the ‘soft stuff’. Once, after an in-depth review session (including example-based feedback), a member of my team said with surprise that they had never before discussed this kind of ‘stuff’ and it was helpful. I am by no means perfect or an HR specialist but, in being ‘developed well’ in my early years, I have developed a deep respect for the ‘soft stuff’ in conjunction with more-objective skills. It is ability and aptitude plus attitude and people’s context that affect development. In short, assessing, observing and understanding the soft and hard measures are key to progressing people and building highly successful teams.

This journey must start at the interview stage. I have sat on both sides of the table where some very theoretical, to the extent of frivolous, questions were asked — eg to test creativity: “Name five ways to fill a pool?” There are numerous questions that deliver a claimed version of the “what” and some that focus upon the “how”. But why is it that creative teams must evidence their ability via a portfolio yet, in some marketing organisations, we have a simple conversation and rely upon memory to tell our stories and illustrate ability? Is marketing taken seriously enough or still seen by some as ‘fluffy’? (Again, a topic for another day.)

The clearest picture

I agree that a less-onerous process is possible but, in applying for some roles, having to deliver a response to a case study or similar test of thinking in order to illustrate a response to “real” situations is where I have delivered the clearest picture of my ability or gaps. Here candidates may show strengths within a broader business context, reflecting basic, strategic and commercial perspectives. Here an interviewer may assess if the candidate’s skills will bolster or be of no additional use to the broader team or business. Add to all of this the need to ensure that you understand how the person will fit the organisation culture — starting at the interview stage is vital.

During stage two (determining the shape of team required), you need to use the gaps identified in stage one to see what is needed, as well as benchmark against marketing greats, to create a strong vision of the ideal team. This, of course, is dependent upon your organisation context.

What do I mean? If your foundation skills in the current structure are strong then, you can shoot for the stars. If not, get the basics (strategic planning, excellence in execution, good relationship-building, commercial acumen, creative thinking, etc.). Now, build upon that. It’s not always the most experienced marketers poached from competitors whom is needed, as they may simply regurgitate previous successes which could lack relevance and impact.

The trick for the future will be to find a blend in your team of experience, skills, great learning agility and the ability to adapt in an ever-changing requirement. So, in 2016, hiring someone who has zero digital understanding or appreciation would be questionable. Yes, we all need to take a couple of leaps and hire some newbies but then ensure there are resources available and time made for focused training. With a strong foundation of skills and strong learning agility, staying ahead in techno-savvy world and managing the skills gap will be that much easier.

The cycle

This topic has many layers so this may well be the start of several similar discussions around this topic. As a start:

  • Continuously assess teams in the moment and in relevant projects, and provide feedback to optimise performance and close skills gaps
  • Refine structures or new hire requirements based upon current team gaps and benchmarking against the best
  • Start a skills-based assessment at the interview stage

This cycle then keeps going. It is by no means easy and I learn more every day. Good luck!


Erna GeorgeErna George is the marketing executive of Pioneer Foods’ Cereals & Other division. She has worked on both client and agency sides with diverse brands and categories — from FMCG, alcohol and agriculture to financial services and entertainment — in countries across many geographies, including South Africa, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Philippines and Brazil. She contributes the monthly “Fair Exchange” column, concerning business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland, to MarkLives.

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