8 Agencies share their best tips for hiring digital talent

As a digital agency owner, you know that finding and retaining top talent can be a challenge. Employee expectations around salaries, remote work, and schedule flexibility have shifted in recent years. This, combined with a climate of economic uncertainty, has led to a higher rate of employee turnover. Hiring digital marketing talent comes with higher stakes today.

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Hiring the right talent is crucial for the success of your agency. Not only does it save time and money, but it also ensures that your new hires are the best fit for your needs. Research shows that the cost of a bad hire can be as high as $17,000. By following the right strategies for hiring digital marketing talent, you can avoid this and find the talent you need for your agency to grow and succeed.

We reached out to eight leading agencies for their top tips and best practices for hiring digital marketing talent. Read on to learn how to define your staffing needs, identify the right candidates, and effectively onboard new hires. With these valuable insights, you can navigate the hiring process smoothly and find the talent you need to take your agency to the next level.

1. Nurture talent from within

The year 2022 was a challenging one for agency recruitment due to a shortage of labor caused by several factors, leading to greater adoption of remote work and reduced migration. Agencies must approach talent acquisition like they would the stock market: avoid overpaying out of desperation.

Instead, Chris Montgomery who employs a team of 30 at his agency Social Ordeals, suggests agencies consider nurturing and developing talent from within.

We don’t want to outbid ourselves in the market and get scared like a lot of businesses we’re seeing out there. I’m promoting from within, which allows me to slowly grow them into a management salary, as opposed to hiring somebody starting out with a management salary.

Chris Montgomery

CEO & Founder, Social Ordeals

“We also care about keeping our current employees. We’ve added benefits to our company including increased vacation pay, medical and dental, and pay raises for excellent performance,” says Montgomery.

Montgomery predicts that the labor market will eventually stabilize and salary expectations will become more realistic in the coming year.

Get the case study: Social Ordeals generates $4.7 million in revenue by reselling products and services with Vebdasta

2. Put applicants to the test

Even though an applicant may look strong on paper and have all of the proper qualifications to do the job, CEO and Founder of Loud Rumor Mike Arce suggests you need to put applicants to the test when hiring digital marketing talent.

By putting them through a test scenario or task, you can gauge their ability to perform under pressure, manage unexpected situations, and come up with creative solutions.

3. Determine whether the risk is worth the reward

It might be attractive to consider expanding your agency’s in-house team as a mechanism to increase output and attract more clients. Another team member can be a handy resource to have in the busy agency environment.

Founder of OctoHub Scott Sanderson, however, views hiring digital marketing talent a bit differently. According to Sanderson, agency owners need to first weigh the risks of team expansion in the highly competitive digital marketing space.

Hiring people and training them, and getting them on board, is very costly to do. Once you train them, it can be a little bit risky because now they may think, “Wow, now that I have all this intellectual property, maybe I should just be doing this myself.” So you can be seeding your own competitive landscape in the market.

Scott Sanderson

Founder, OctoHub

4. Have a crystal-clear vision and leverage referrals

Above all else, Founder and CEO of Growth Lab Will Palmer believes that, in order to succeed at hiring digital marketing talent for your agency, you need to have a clearly defined mission, vision, and values.

Even if you’re ready to hire employee or freelancer number one, at the very beginning stages, you need to be able to articulate to candidates what you believe in and what kind of culture you’re looking to create. That approach lends itself to getting the right people in the right positions, which is critical to your long-term growth and success as an agency.

Will Palmer

Founder and CEO, Growth Lab

Palmer adds that having the right people also means you can delegate more of your own tactical responsibilities to stay out of the weeds, thus allowing you to focus more on strategic growth initiatives.

Employee referrals are another mechanism Growth Lab uses to source quality candidates.

“We always ask existing employees if they know anyone who would be a strong fit for open positions before posting on LinkedIn, Upwork, or job boards,” Palmer says.

Get the case study: Learn how Growth Lab, founded in 2021 generates $1.6M in annual recurring revenue with Vendasta.

5. Ensure value alignment during the interview process

Since founding his agency SocialJack Media in 2017, CEO Jack Pires has expanded his team to 8 members, serving local businesses with the marketing and digital solutions they need.

He agrees with Palmer that hiring digital marketing talent based on value alignment first will make for the best working relationships going forward.

When hiring, ask candidates questions that will help you uncover whether he/she believes in what you believe and if they are 100 percent sold on your mission.

Jack Pires

Founder and CEO, SocialJack Media

“For example, what if a question like ‘What motivates you to get up every morning and go to work?’ is met with a response that speaks to obliterating the competition at all cost? If one of your agency’s core beliefs is that a company thrives when being collaborative and that there are plenty of fish in the sea, you will inevitably be faced with a candidate, if hired, that will be a poor culture fit,” Pires explains.

Agencies can be vulnerable to high employee turnover when there’s a lack of loyalty and trust established from the onset. Giving all new hires a six-month trial (minimum) for both parties to test each other out is recommended. According to Pires, the test trial is more likely to end favorably for both if these questions are asked during the interview or screening process:

  • What do you stand for?
  • Tell me what you hope to advance in your life that’s more significant than the money you make.
  • What is one time in your career that you loved being a part of, whether it was commercially successful or not?
  • What core value in your place of work would you stand behind even if at some point in time it became a competitive disadvantage?

Get the case study: learn how Jack Pires scaled his agency from startup to $1M in gross annual revenue in only a few short years

6. Getting candidates in the door with an internship first

Marketing and communications expert Cheryl O’Hern also manages a team of 8 at her agency,  Spin Markket, which is based out of Fort Dodge, Iowa. O’Hern has built a reputation as the agency of choice for recent marketing graduates to cut their teeth and expand their skills.

We have a reputation now that they come to us and so we're really able to vet them. Whether it's coming from a major university or a community college or whatever, they bring them in and that's what we've hired off of.

Cheryl O’Hern

CEO and Founder, Spin Markket

O’Hern says that, often, when it comes to digital marketing, post secondary institutions offer little in the way of practical knowledge and education in the fast-moving space. She prefers to teach those skills to interns on the job and bring them to a point where they can later be hired onto her team.

“I'm a firm believer in internships. They appreciate it even more when you bring them in,” O’Hern says.

Additionally, offering perks, like a pet-friendly office environment, and flexible remote work options allows O’Hern to attract the young and eager marketers that she’s looking for.

Get the case study: Learn how Spin Markket streamlined operations and generated $486K in revenue with Vendasta.

7. Keep a solution-driven process top of mind

A big part of the culture at luxury branding agency Retna Media is their solution-based mindset. Executive Creative Director Fritz Colinet says it’s imperative to identify this type of candidate during the interview process when hiring digital marketing talent. It’s also important to nurture that ability from the very beginning of their work with you.

We hire mostly creatives, designers, art directors, strategists. We try to unearth how they see things and how their solution-driven process operates. Our questions are more strategic. ‘How do you start creating a campaign? Where do you look for inspiration?’ We look at their portfolio and understand what they contributed to that piece.

Fritz Colinet

Executive Creative Director, Retna Media

Colinet says it’s important to keep the lines of communication open with new hires as they’re onboarded. It can often be a big transition starting with a new organization. If front-line employees notice elements of the work or process that could be improved or made better for the next person joining, he recommends agency owners encourage that feedback.

“We make sure that everyone has a voice, but everyone has a strategic voice. If a new team member identifies something that isn’t working, we try to get to the bottom of why it’s not working or how they might suggest to improve it. We have to be a solution-driven company.”

Get the case study: Retna Media captures $45K in monthly recurring revenue in partnership with Vendasta

8. Always be hiring

Slater Strategies CEO Mitchell Slater approaches finding talent in his own unique way. According to Slater, agency owners should always be on the lookout for a good hire whether they have a position available or not.

I might not know I'm looking to hire but I like to find people locally when I see them demonstrating those qualities of an amazing employee at another company. Not a competitor, but someone who's great and working at a fast food place. Maybe they’re a really good people person. You can't teach people skills very well but you can teach marketing. So I'll hire based on personality and work ethic over skills any day.

Mitchell Slater

CEO, Slater Strategies

Additionally, when it comes to fulfillment and expanding his team, Slater says outsourcing is always a great alternative when budgets are too tight for hiring digital marketing talent in house.

“If money is the hindrance, hire overseas every time. It will save you money to where you can grow and then hire locally. We love to use OnlineJobs.PH for hiring overseas. The Philippines is a great country for outsourcing.”

Get the case study: Learn how Slater Strategies has evolved over the past decade from startup to a busy team of 13 strong.

Leverage these expert tactics the next time you’re hiring digital marketing talent

By asking the right questions during the interview process, agency owners agree you’re more likely to find talent that aligns with your organization's culture and will be with you for the long haul.

The cost of a mishire is simply too high to overlook under-leveraged tactics like employee referral programs, longer probationary periods, and internships as mechanisms to ensure you’re hiring the best talent to join your agency.

About the Author

Nicole Lauzon is a Content Marketing Manager at Vendasta and has spent the last decade of her career helping local businesses tell their stories. Kickstarting her professional journey as a writer and producer for a major Canadian television network, Nicole would later spend five years as a PR Agency Creative Director, managing brand journalism, social media, blog and video content for corporate, non-profit and local business clients. Whether Nicole is marinating over her next piece of writing or enjoying some down time with her family, she likes doing it in floral print.

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