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Curating Great Marketers

Three ways to grow the best marketing team

by Lynn B. Upshaw

Marketers are scrambling to refine their skills at the delicate art of content curation – the aggregating, organizing, and disseminating of information that customers value.  In the same way, marketing leaders might consider how best to “curate” the optimum marketing teams.  Here are three strategies that will help you make that happen:

  1. Hire the best athletes

As they say in sports, you should be looking to draft the “best athletes”, not just fill open positions.  Slot-filling leads to costly mistakes because the people you hire may not have the breadth of talent to prosper as your marketing challenges inevitably morph.  Instead, hire the women and men who will contribute the most to the marketing team overall, even if the positions they will best fill are not yet open.  Patagonia looks for people who are committed to the environment and figures they can teach them the other skills they need.  Google looks for people who can be brilliant when they’re not on company time, not just those who might have the right technical skills for an existing role.  Ideo wants innovators who are more inclined to ask forgiveness not permission, and many of those people don’t even like the idea of job slots.

Take a weekend to map out a specific and actionable plan for building the right marketing team whenever money becomes available.  Work closely with HR as strategic co-planners instead of just screeners and implementers of your decisions.

Curate for the Greek Ideal

When it comes to skillsets, aim high.  Look for paideia, known more commonly as the ancient “Greek ideal,” a near-perfect blend of athleticism, intelligence, and morality.  The marketing equivalent:  an ability to create with passion, emotion, and instincts – plus, the skill to validate those creations with insightful data.  Seek a near-perfect blending of poets and quants who carry these kinds of traits:

  • Practical intelligence – I once built  a brand personality statement for a client which was an engineering-based b2b company. They valued intelligent people but wanted the brand personality to be about being “bright.”  An intellectual might be useful but someone who is “bright” is someone whose intelligence can be applied to achieve practical solutions to thorny challenges.  It takes “bright” marketers to come up with the intelligent designs and promotions of IKEA.
  • Relentless curiosity – Curiosity is often an acquired skill. The marketers you want cannot turn it off and on.  They can’t help themselves; they are compelled to keep digging until they get to the bottom of whatever the challenge may be.  It’s at that bottom point in the pile of information that some of the best idea lie.  Samsung product designers are showing the world how they can lead, not follow, the innovativeness of Apple.
  • Channeled passion: We’ve heard a lot lately about “emotional intelligence or “EQ”.  No group in any corporation should value and reflect emotional intelligence than a marketing team.  EQ yields passion that can be channeled into a job or an idea or an initiative.  The exceptional marketing by Red Bull has demonstrated many times what market movement can be generated by brand passion that is funneled for maximum impact.
  • Lightning-fast agility: Marketers deal with serendipity and uncertainty every day because marketing is about appealing to human beings who are anything but predictable. As a result, great marketers have to be agile and carry great reflexes like a backpack.  Working from quick-response newsrooms, brands like Oreo (2013 Super Bowl), Coca-Cola (#royalbaby), and Denny’s (first to announce Apple’s purchase of Dre).
  • Collegial instincts: Marketing attracts egos that can be checked at the door.   No one person can possibly be as effective as the collective power of the marketing team as a whole.  Those who play it as a springboard for personal growth are endangering the Company’s mission and need to be replaced with marketers who celebrate collaborative victories.


  1. Cultivate accountability addicts

The superior performers in any field perform at their best when the stakes are at their highest.  Today’s marketers cannot just cope with accountability, they must be addicted to the adrenaline rush that comes from delivering what is promised, no matter how high the bar.  That’s what drives such individuals to conceive, design, and implement marketing programs that are ruthlessly accountable.

Marketers at firms like Gap, McDonald’s, and Starbucks track daily – sometimes hourly – updates on the marketing results of their promotional efforts.  Financial firms like Schwab and Bank of America are held accountable for promoting accurately and ethically in highly regulated industries.  Marketers at Disney must demonstrate that they adhere to child advertising guidelines.  Those in CPG food companies like General Mills and ConAgra have to be dead certain that they are marketing in such ways that kids and other vulnerable segments are not exposed to dubious information. There simply isn’t room for people in marketing who cannot be held accountable for specific decisions and in-market actions.  In today’s marketing environment, it’s step up or step out


Marketing leaders can also increase the accountability instincts of their people by 1) adopting the techniques of other departments who are the most persuasive with management; 2) exorcising soft and fuzzy language and frameworks from their vocabulary and replace them with unflinching pragmatism; 3) and integrating ultra-advanced measurement techniques into the operating approaches of the department.

As hard as it is for a consultant to admit, many marketing teams don’t have to hire an external marketing coach to curate strong marketers.  Assuming you have instinctive teachers on staff, using your own senior people to coach up-and-comers is a great way to reinforce best practices without spending precious funds on outsourcing.

Strong content curation may result in great marketing —  but marketing leaders may create a more lasting legacy by curating superior marketers.