With my own experience and feedback from industry, I have found a consistent struggle for HR team hiring brand manager of top quality or rather a growing start-up team to hire the most innovative, creative and out-of-box people in brand management and marketing team in India. It is quite unfortunate that some of the best start-ups have missed hiring great creative talent for brand and marketing who could have probably taken the company’s growth and customer engagement to a much higher level. I can’t just blame the HR team who don’t have the skill sets to screen or shortlist by reading the resume. Or the core team of a start-up that doesn’t know relevant criteria and qualities to select the right candidate when it is about a combination of. But one consistent feedback I have got from industry leaders and experts alike is, “There is no shortage of hard working, intelligent people but a SEVERE shortage of innovative and quality talent in India.”

I will address this on a separate note but one of my learning has also been,

“There is a severe shortage of innovative and quality talent but also an equal shortage of people who have the skills/ abilities to discover and nurture creative talent in India.”

I have talked about the best of brand and marketing talent possess dual “superpowers” so here we are sharing a few tips, insights and approach to hiring the most innovative (hopefully) in brand and marketing.




  • Challenge 1: Start-up growth in the short term is marketing, long term is brand management but a strong brand foundation will lead to marketing. The brand creation to brand standardization process needs to be completed before large scale ATL & BTL activities are handed over to creative agencies externally. Have you hired the best of brand talent to do that? Especially after your series A or B funding? It is first important step that the founders can see the relevance and importance of brand management and impact on marketing activities beyond the conventional idea of hiring a CMO.


  • Challenge 2: Brand and marketing have 2 sides – Imagination & strategy, creative & financial, design & numbers, rational & emotional. Everyone focuses on hiring people who possess skills in strategy, financial, numbers, rational, conventional “job” trajectory. I was surprised to find an article on attracting superpower marketing talent on HBR that resonated with me. When did you last check on hiring people with both sides of the skills?


  • Challenge 3: MBA is a pre-requisite and a basic filter to find the right talent. A big mistake to rule out the most creative and strategic talent that don’t have an MBA. It can be one of the criteria for a senior position in marketing or a strategic position but should not the first stage filter. Education is a “requirement” but not a necessity in the role of brand management and marketing.


  • Challenge 4: The KRA and job description in brand & marketing roles by many of start-up teams are poorly written. They bombard with too many details, not prioritising the key needs/ skills required, expectations are sky high and criteria of ideal candidates are a narrow bridge. A bad job description can attract poor applicants, repel quality candidates and set the wrong benchmark for a start-up team.


Categories & criteria


Start-ups that offer service/ non-product, should consider the following criteria and background for brand team:

  • The need to build a brand culture is important part of brand building process.
  • In more than 1 to 6 team members of brand and marketing, hire a mix of creative and business talent is a recommended combination. You don’t want too many creative people or too many “linear” thinkers either in a marketing team.
  • Appreciates design and can differentiate quality of design execution (qualification in design not required)
  • Hands on experience of ATL & BTL activities
  • Has managed creative agencies from brief to execution of brand.
  • Can align business goals with brand strategy. Translate the brand strategy to marketing activities


Start-ups that offer product

  • The need to build a brand culture is important in a product company that requires design expertise in product design and/ or technology.
  • Your company has a product/ merchandise team, UX/ Technology team, marketing team. Brand team needs to liaison with all three departments internally.
  • Understands design, can interpret, quality check and approve creative collateral (although not necessarily a KRA)
  • Hands on experience of ATL & BTL activities
  • Has managed creative agencies from brief to execution of brand.
  • Can align business goals with brand strategy. Translate the brand strategy to marketing activities


How to hire? Your checklist


  1. Unconventional Resume: A resume that has more years of experience in brand and marketing managing ATL and BTL activities is a general norm. It DOESN’T matter how long/ time duration of their role in a company. Conventional profiles, with long stints in companies could mean stable employees but not necessarily innovator, challenge seeker and top performer.

What matters is the challenges they took up, what did they learn, why did they leave? The top 5- 10% performers are candidates who don’t seek a job/ position but seek challenges and opportunities in a company that allows them to grow.


  1. Creative strategist with “T” shape personality: The candidate should have managed projects, led brands that required imagination, innovation or out-of-box ideas in brand/ marketing activities. Design experience is a bonus. Does the candidate possess skills to translate business goals and business strategy to brand strategy, trickling it down to creative strategy for agencies and design team? The success of a creative strategist is based on their ability to translate business to brand/ marketing strategy. Ask the candidates a few challenges, case study or example from their previous roles where their strategic skill sets were tested. Look out for the T-shape personality or dual superpowers where they have a breadth of knowledge/ experience across areas such as design, retail, e-commerce communication or marketing but also depth of expertise in a specific area of brand or marketing.


  1. Collaborator: The best in brand management and marketing roles are candidates who possess the skills and deeply value the tool of collaboration. Start-ups with aggressive targets, limited marketing budgets need to be highly innovative and creative with their brand and marketing activities. Companies across sectors and industries have seen the ROI of collaboration, building strategic partnerships where they can spend less money but get more value by finding the right partners, influential people, quality resources and exceptional talent with barter deals rather than burning cash by paying for resources. It is more hard work and lot of patience but worth the money saved to maximize the output/ target. The candidate should be asked for examples and instances where they have been resourceful, facilitated collaboration and brought small or big success through strategic partnerships. This is a key quality which all HR and start-up team miss. It is harder to find that on a resume, it can be discovered over an interview and interaction with the candidate.


  1. 1% idea and 99% execution: Execution is everything, especially in brand and marketing campaigns. The candidate should have hands-on experience in executing brand activities especially with different types of scale. Scale is important as ATL and BTL activities are executed at different scales and quality should be consistent. The candidate should have the ability to conceptualise and (get it) executed at large scale as much as small scale activities that require eye-for-detail, creativity and resourcefulness within constraints. Media planning and liaising with agencies is a regular task and linear in approach. But while working with external agencies, the candidate should have the ability to translate the company and brand strategy consistently into creative activities. During interviews, examples and scenarios should be given to candidates to understand how they can quickly ideate and should be cross-questioned about execution strategies.


  1. Brand Culture evangelist: This is one of the best quality which very few brand and marketing candidates (top 1% in India) possess irrespective of the resume or years of experience. Building a brand culture is a big task in any start-up business but easier compared to an already established company or corporate giant that might have a set organization culture (might not necessarily reflect the brand). It requires a consistent effort over a period of time, managing senior stakeholders to follow brand “rituals” and reiterates its values amongst teams as trickle-down This requires a balance of standardization to be consistent and freedom to creatively grow within the company staying true to the brand values. A candidate that possesses strong story-teller, imaginative, problem-solver and design thinking skills can set up a framework that engages the employees to use symbols and rituals to endure them towards the brand core and culture.


During a few common discussions with my peers, we have discovered an efficient way of hiring the best of talent in brand, design and marketing. Hire credible and trusted brand consultant who can help you screen, review and select the right candidate along with the HR and senior management team. The consultant can work closely with the HR and leadership team to understand the requirements, KRA and business goals to set the context of hiring on the right note.

Hopefully these tips and ideas can help HR and start-up team to hire the best, most innovative talent and in brand and marketing. I would love to have any follow up questions and queries regarding this topic from entrepreneurs and their team.

We can talk about easy tips and ideas for talent acquisition but just beyond hiring the best in brand & marketing, what we really need is a re:imagination of future talent acquisition for start-up companies. We focus on talent acquisition as an important exercise of building a strong brand and the team for it.


We need design thinking workshops for every HR team to reimagine and come up with “new” or rather current and future ideas/ways of discovering, engaging and “integrating” (not recruiting or on-boarding, old terms!) new talent with the company. Because the markets are changing, businesses are changing its operation; hence leaders and teams need relevant skills for the 21st century to nurture talent.