Featured Author

Keith Kennedy

Associate, Director of Marketing

STUDIOS Architecture

Keith Kennedy
Everyone—from principal to marketing team lead—seems to be looking for that one-in-a-million “rockstar.” I mean, who isn’t these days? But everyone seems to think they have to find someone who is already that rockstar. As early as 2014, Linda Hill, Harvard Business School professor, and Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, senior adviser at Egon Zehnder, noted in an interview that the future of talent wars depends on potential. Yet, when I talk to fellow hiring managers among the A/E/C community they all talk of a talent drought and their feeling that the only way to get top talent is to “poach” someone from another firm.

Making our own Rockstar. When our new Marketing Coordinator first started, it was her first time working in marketing. Amanda had never read a RFP, authored a scope of work, or filled out a SF330 (oh, the days!). But I didn’t hire her because she could hit the ground running—I knew she would need significant guidance when she came on board. I hired her because I knew what she could become. She had a strong sense of design, she understood graphics, and she had a gut instinct that was unmatched, as well as many other qualities that can’t be taught.

Within six months, Amanda was leading marketing efforts with limited guidance from me. She was crafting proposals at a quality better than some marketers I’ve worked with who have 20 years of industry experience. A year into the role, leaders in our office started going right to her for marketing help—a rewarding feeling for any manager and mentor. She did whatever it took to get the job done and she was helping the firm win some great work, including Kearny Point Industrial Park which is 10-plus years of work for the firm.

So how did we do it? What’s the secret formula for making a rockstar? It’s pretty simple: treat them like a rockstar from day one. Like Linda Hill and Claudio Fernández-Aráoz said, hire for potential. I believe the people with potential will rise to surpass whatever bar you set for them—much like Amanda did—because it’s who they are.

I am a strong believer that the best way to lose great talent is to treat them like they are “less than.” When I mentor junior marketers as part of the SMPS New York Mentorship Program or talk to them at events, I always try to get a feel for what their average day is like. I try to assess if they have an understanding of why they do what they do (most do not) or if they understand how their work impacts the organization (even fewer know this). What I often uncover is that many entry-level to junior-level marketers are not treated like marketers—they often spend their days formatting sub consultant resumes for a proposal effort, merging PDFs, filling out forms, or resizing images into the various sizes the company saves on the server for future use. They have no idea of what they are a part of—it’s our fault as senior marketers—and how could they when those are the tasks they complete for 40 hours a week?

On Amanda’s first day, we set the bar incredibly high. She sat in every strategy meeting—from pursuit strategy to communications plans—so she could understand why we do what we do as marketers, see how we execute these strategies, and understand what the intended impacts were. It didn’t matter if a topic was over her head because it wouldn’t be for long. I threw RFPs at her immediately and had her lead the process among our internal team with my support from the backseat. As a result, she understood our brand immediately and is able to interject it into everything we do, from proposal to email campaign. She now approaches everything from a strategic standpoint, while she also appropriately questions typical marketing practices and focuses on what it actually means to STUDIOS.

It’s time we all make our own rockstars. I remember the day I had Amanda interview with our leadership and how they were hesitant. They noted that they thought she was “too quiet” and that she might be too timid—not the right qualities for a marketer. But I pushed and staked my career on her, fully aware of the extra effort and long hours it’d require to train her while still delivering the marketing materials the firm needed to sustain business. And it was worth it. The better memory I have came about six months into her tenure when late one night our CEO stopped me in my tracks to tell me that he and the other principals couldn’t imagine the team without her. “She is nothing short of amazing.”