Success stories

How to Prevent Top Talent Turnover on Your Marketing Team

by: John Coburn
How to Prevent Top Talent Turnover on Your Marketing Team
Let your talent play to their strengths.

There’s no good way around it: turnover among your top talent stinks. 

Losing a great employee can threaten office morale, disrupt project continuity, and risk the loss of the institutional knowledge they hold. It can also be costly. According to data published on the Strategic CFO website

“On average, every time an employee leaves, it takes 6-9 months of salary to find a replacement. For example, if a person leaves and made $40,000, that’s anywhere between $20-30,000 of hiring and onboarding costs that were not previously anticipated.”

Not only do top marketing specialists tend to command much higher salaries than $40,000 per year, they may also be more likely to leave than professionals in other departments.

An analysis of LinkedIn professionals published by Michael Booz found that, “Marketing roles had the highest turnover rate of any job function,” at roughly 17%, versus the 11% global turnover average revealed by the same survey.

If you’ve managed to hire top marketing talent – no small feat in today’s tight labor markets – it’s in your best interests to keep them happy. Here’s how to do it:

Match Hiring to Marketing Strategies

In a perfect world, all companies would have access to the unlimited resources needed to effectively leverage all of today’s marketing best practices. In reality? Few companies can afford to be experts in every area, and are instead better served by specializing in the few channels that are most impactful for their audiences.

Most marketers recognize these limitations, but HR hasn’t universally caught on. And if the two departments aren’t working together to match hiring initiatives to the marketing strategies employed by the company, any top talent that’s recruited is unlikely to stay long.

Imagine that a hypothetical company invests the bulk of its marketing budget into paid search ads, social media, and email nurturing. If HR brings on a candidate they consider to be “top talent,” but who specializes in content marketing, they’re unlikely to succeed in the long-term – no matter how much of a rockstar they may be in their chosen discipline.

Talent retention can only happen when the skillsets of team members match the department’s marketing priorities. Organizations can reduce the potential for turnover from the start by understanding what specific roles need to be filled and establishing hiring priorities around them. 

Optimize Jobs for Growth


Once you’re sure the right people are on the marketing bus, you can turn your attention to retaining top talent. But what is it that keeps people in their positions in the long-run?

In 2018, a team consisting of Lori Goler, Head of People at Facebook, Janelle Gale, Head of HR Business Partners at Facebook, Brynn Harrington, a lead on the People Growth team at Facebook, and Adam Grant, a Wharton professor, set out to better understand why employees were leaving Facebook.

Hearing the conventional wisdom that employees tend to leave bosses, they expected that managerial performance would be a driving factor behind departures. Yet, what they found, as reported in the Harvard Business Review, was that:

“The decision to exit was because of the work. They left when their job wasn’t enjoyable, their strengths weren’t being used, and they weren’t growing in their careers. If you want to keep your people — especially your stars — it’s time to pay more attention to how you design their work.”

From their data, the team identified three steps teams can take to design better work environments for top performers:

  1. Enable them to do work they enjoy
  2. Help them play to their strengths
  3. Carve a path for career development that accommodates personal priorities

One thing that’s particularly notable about these recommendations is the need for a high level of job role customization that they reveal. 

Say, for example, that your team needed to hire two marketing managers. For simplicity’s sake, it’d be easier to set them up with the same job descriptions, reporting structures, working environments, and more. However, in doing so, there’s a good chance that what works for one new hire won’t work for the other.

For instance, if one manager loves collaborative creative processes, while the other needs more solo brainstorming time to be effective, you’ll alienate one of them by insisting that they work in the same way. 

While it may not be practical – or even possible – to customize every element of every role in your marketing department to the exact specifications of the people filling them, making even a small effort towards fulfilling the three recommendations shared above could go a long way towards minimizing turnover due to poor job fit.

Recognize the Subjective Nature of Marketing (And Act Accordingly)

This is pure speculation, but one reason turnover may be higher among marketing professionals is that the direction and performance of marketing campaigns are notoriously subjective. 

Choosing to move forward with one marketing campaign generally means declining to pursue dozens of others – each of which could have, theoretically, produced stronger results. Even with those that are executed, performance measurement can be an inexact science, as it’s rare that a sale or other conversion activity can be attributed solely to one single campaign.

The inexact nature of marketing can make it difficult to identify and reward top performers, let alone lead teams in a way that encourages buy-in among members. One solution, according to Craig Bloem, Founder and CEO of FreeLogoServices.com, is to lean in this subjective nature. In an article for Inc., he writes:

“I stress to all my employees that we are data driven – it’s not just ‘my way or the highway.’ That means that we don’t just make decisions because it’s how I want it. Sure, I always provide guidance. But if the data says one thing, that’s how we do it.”

Letting data and results lead the way removes the frustration employees experience when they feel unheard or when they feel they’re being held to arbitrary or unattainable standards. It also encourages a sense of ownership and lets top performers – those whose ideas consistently produce the best results – stand out and be recognized for their efforts.

Incentivize Top Performers


On the subject of allowing top performers to stand out, you can be even more explicit in your retention efforts by directly incentivizing them based on performance.

Marketing professionals may not be as competitive and cutthroat as salespeople, but the field still tends to attract those who are motivated by producing meaningful results. Tapping into that with incentives offers two distinct advantages:

  1. It has the potential to increase departmental performance overall by encouraging each individual to operate at a higher level.
  2. It also makes it easier to identify who your top performers are, so that you can focus your retention efforts on them specifically – rather than applying them universally. This can be especially advantageous if you decide to customize roles to the extent described by the Facebook team above. While obvious preferential treatment can breed discontent, it’s helpful to know which levers you have to pull and when to pull them.

Incentives should be tied to measurable performance improvements, and they must be desirable. That doesn’t mean you have to give financial bonuses to those who qualify. Incentives also can be non-financial perks, such as event tickets, reserved parking spots, or even a custom interdepartmental trophy. These incentives will help to retain talent while not putting your finance department in a bind.

Ultimately, what you offer should come down to what you can offer that’ll motivate your individual team members to succeed at the lowest possible cost to your department.

Make Them Better

Finally, consider that the Work Institute’s 2019 Retention Report found that 22% of turnover instances studied could be attributed to a lack of career development opportunities – more than any other reason given.

People want the chance to improve, and this effect is perhaps particularly strong in marketing, where rapid advances in technologies and techniques can make fundamental best practices obsolete overnight.

Therefore, it’s wise to set aside part of your budget for career development – not just because doing so keeps employees happy, but because failing to do so could threaten the competitiveness of your company’s entire marketing operation.

With the wealth of online training resources and conferences available these days on just about every aspect of marketing, there’s no reason not to invest regularly in career development.

You’ve Built a Great Team… Don’t Lose Them

Demanding marketing calendars and campaign priorities can make it easy to let retention efforts fall through the cracks. But with today’s historically low unemployment rates, that’s a mistake your company can’t afford to make.

If you don’t invest in keeping your top talent happy, they’ll start looking elsewhere – or they’ll be recruited by others who recognize their potential. Talent retention activities don’t have to be expensive or time-consuming, but they do require proactive attention on your part. Make them a priority in 2020, if you haven’t been doing so all along.

What You Can Do Right Now

Schedule a discussion with your marketing talent (or add it onto your next performance review) and aim for the following:

  1. Ask them if they are being used to their strengths. 
  2. If they feel they aren’t, ask what they need to be able to demonstrate their strengths. 
  3. Set goals together to get there. 

Really listening to your marketers makes them feel valued, and that they have the opportunity to grow the role into their strengths.

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