Three surprising mistakes principals make when hiring marketers

Marketing Strategy by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Written by Matt Handal

Special to Ontario Construction News

It looks like the economy is improving and more firms are hiring new or additional marketing staff. Unfortunately, time and time again principals make illogical and critical mistakes when hiring marketers. Let’s take a close look at three of them.

Hiring extroverts

Over the years, we’ve collectively come to the understanding that there is a type of person that is good at marketing (I’m including business development in here too). This person is an extrovert.

Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Being an extrovert is about as good of an indicator of whether you are a great marketer than it is of whether you are a great engineer.

In fact, a recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania explored the relationship between extroversion and sales results. Unsurprisingly, the study found that extroverts are not only more likely to get sales jobs, they are more likely to get promoted within those jobs.

However, when the researchers looked at actual results they found something ironic. The sales performance of extroverts was the worst out of all the groups they studied. Yes, extroverts (statistically speaking) are the worst salespeople.

This may come as a surprise, but introverts actually performed much better in a sales role. And the most successful group were those who were “middle of the road,” people who weren’t the life of the party but also weren’t wallflowers.

I think architects and engineers tend to be introverts. They also tend to hate marketing and sales. Naturally, they think someone with personality traits they wish they had must be good at sales and marketing.

Look, I’m a terrible singer. You don’t want to and you will never hear me sing. I wish I was a good singer.

When I see a person who is clearly a talented singer, should I assume they have great taste in music? No, that would be insane. Having a great singing voice says nothing about your taste in music.

So why do we believe that extroverts are naturally good at marketing and sales? Frankly, it’s an illogical and stupid belief. Yet, people are always being hired into marketing positions because they are extroverts.

On point experience over ability and talent

A different mistake I see people making is hiring someone solely because they worked for a firm just like yours. Now think about this. If they were so successful while working for your competitor, why aren’t they still there? And was that firm really kicking your ass while he or she was there?

There is another problem with this thinking. It’s based on social proof, which is a mental shortcut that could lead you to make poor choices.

In reality, if you can successfully market one service, you can market them all. The skill set is not connected to a specific service. If you can market the services of an accounting firm, you can market the services of an engineering firm.

Yes, you need an understanding of the services that are to be sold. But any marketer worth their salt will spend significant time during the early stages of employment to learn your business. You can learn any firms services in a few weeks.

By basing your choice on whether they sold the exact service for the same type of firm will, at best, give you a few weeks head start. That’s a fairly insignificant benefit and hardly worth making a bad decision for.

Also consider this: creative people are not just creative in one thing. Bob Dylan is one of the most well-respected musicians of our time. He’s also a talented painter. Michelangelo was one of the greatest painters to ever live. He was also an inventor. Benjamin Franklin invented everything from bifocal glasses to flippers, and is said to have discovered electricity. He is also one of the greatest writers to ever live. Sam Shepard is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and an academy award-winning actor. Sure, these are the extreme cases. But there is a point I’m trying to make.

Creativity, or any core ability, doesn’t just show up in one aspect of a person’s life. It typically shows up in several. If someone has the core ability to be a great marketer, that’s going to translate into public relations, or even business development. I’ve written entire proposals and won large contracts, successfully pitched cover stories to Engineering News Record, and talked clients into hiring my firm sole source. The ability to make a compelling pitch isn’t confined to one situation.

When hiring marketers, try to discover their core abilities. It’s their abilities that will determine their success more than anything.

Talent also comes into play. People gravitate to where their talents lie. My talent seems to be writing, so that’s what I gravitate towards. I also play music, make videos, and do a fair bit of public speaking. Yet, my real talent lies in writing. That’s where I spend the majority of my time. And when you spend a lot of time doing one thing, you get pretty good at it.

What if I had gravitated towards music? If I had spent 40 hours a week, for the last 10 years, playing music…I would be a much better musician than I am. But my writing would not be nearly as good.

Everybody has the capacity to be good at several skills. But to get really good at a skill, to become one of the best, you have to put in the time. You have to practice your practice, if you will.

Once someone discovers their talent, they usually gravitate towards perfecting that skill. This leads me to the next mistake Principals make when hiring marketing staff….

Graphic design vs. marketing

If you need a graphic designer…hire a graphic designer. Yes, creativity isn’t confined to one aspect of someone life. But graphic design and marketing are two different talents. Each one takes a significant amount of practice to get good at.

I’ve never met a great graphic designer who wrote a proposal that knocked my socks off. And I’ve never met a marketer who designed something that made my eyes pop out of my head.

It’s like you are either a great marketer and a half way decent designer or a great designer and a half way decent marketer. That’s why advertising agencies have separate copy and design departments. They can’t afford for either one of those aspects to be anything less than outstanding.

It’s perfectly reasonable for you to expect a marketer to work within a page layout program like Adobe Indesign (or QuarkXpress). And it’s perfectly reasonable to expect your graphic designer to write and edit text.

But a marketer’s talent is making connections between two intangible things (what a client truly wants and a compelling way your offering fits into that). A graphic designer’s talent is to convey information visually.

Let me demonstrate this with a story. One of my first jobs out of college was creating the ads for a large chain of craft stores. I worked for someone who truly had a talent for graphic design. Just like her, I was putting ads together. But she had talent.

One day, I watched her draw a balloon. You and I know how to draw a balloon. You draw a circle, which is the balloon. Then you draw a string. But that’s not what she did.

When I watched her draw, I had no idea what she was drawing until a few seconds before she was done. After I finally realized what it was, I said, “Oh my god, that’s a balloon. It’s amazing.” Yes, I was super impressed with someone drawing a balloon. When someone has a talent, it’s impressive.

If you want someone to format text, create graphics, and lay it out into an impressive looking proposal…you are seeking a graphic designer.

If you are looking for someone to put your best foot forward and create a compelling message…you are seeking a marketer.

Don’t get those two confused.

Key takeaway: Keep these three mistakes in mind when you hire a marketer.

Matt Handal, based in the Philadelphia area, provides resources for AEC proposal writing and marketing at He has helped construction, engineering, architectural, and real estate consulting firms realize tens of millions in fees from projects ranging from $500,000 to $2 billion. He says he welcomes questions from readers about this article and can be reached by email at




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