Fractional marketers occupy a senior role for a set period of time – anything from a few hours or days a week, to a number of months. They’re often brought in to tackle a specific business challenge or fill an organisational gap, and in many cases it’s by brands that don’t quite have the need or resource for a permanent senior marketer. For startups in particular, a full-time CMO is often the last of the C-Suite to be hired.
Generally speaking, your fractional marketer isn’t a hands-on presence; they adopt more of a high-level, consulting role that taps into their breadth of ability and understanding. And many businesses find huge value in hiring someone that can offer a broader, ‘outsider’ perspective by virtue of not being there full-time.
For a three-part series, we’re delving into WHY fractional is trending and how it can help brands, WHEN it’s the right time to hire a fractional marketer, and HOW to get the most out of the relationship – with the help of some of the best fractional marketers working today.
So, how do you make the most of a fractional marketer, and how do you set the relationship up for success? Scroll down to find out.
Find the right match to start with
AUFI’s day-to-day business is all about finding businesses the best agencies to work with, so we know that getting the right mix of matching skills, personalities and culture plays a major part in setting up a successful relationship. And this has to go deeper than a quick browse of someone’s website or social media.
“One of the big things I tell people is: don’t assume that because someone has a lot of followers it means they’re great at everything they do, and don’t assume that because someone has a lot of press, it means they’re a genius,” says Tatiana Simonian, fractional CMO and brand consultant with 15 years experience driving growth for tech, social media and entertainment companies.
“When I talk to a prospective client, I can usually tell [if it’s a good fit] within 10 minutes. But you also need to be clear: do you want someone who’s a performance marketer? Or someone who’s all about brand, strategy, marketing and dynamic storytelling, and has big creative chops, as well as some experience you’re interested in?”
“Do you want someone who’s a performance marketer? Or someone who’s all about brand, strategy, marketing and dynamic storytelling?”Tatiana Simonian, fractional CMO and brand consultant
Understand how senior they really need to be
Brands might assume they need someone at CMO level, but seniority should be informed by the company’s individual requirements. According to Grace Clarke, a fractional marketer who’s worked with Target, Graza and Jones Road Beauty, most companies below Series B, or between $5-20m annual recurring revenue, need someone more hands-on than a high level CMO.
“They might need someone who can stretch from setting the growth agenda for the fiscal year ahead all the way down to someone who can get their hands a little bit dirty managing the org,” she explains. “The role of fractional CMO at this stage requires a fluid approach, from crafting an annual brand plan to managing launches and campaigns.
“My hot take is that some companies don’t really need a fractional CMO,” she continues. “Some brands believe they need someone with that title to be taken seriously. Especially when fundraising, investors want to be confident in the department responsible for growth. A CMO signals that. Conversely the company may not realise they need more of a builder than an architect – someone who can design campaigns or more directly manage agencies or even other consultants.
“Especially when fundraising, investors want to be confident in the department responsible for growth. A CMO signals that.”Grace Clarke, fractional marketer
Get clear on what you want - and tell your marketer
Most founders or CEOs will already have an idea of their end goal, whether that’s a tangible sales target or a major creative ambition. The next step is to communicate that to your fractional marketer.
“I think the first thing, out the gate, is to have a conversation around goals – so everyone is clear on what the goals are and the time frame against them,” says Simonian.
“Some founders want big events, or splashy PR, or want to feel excitement on their social channels,” says Brady Donnelly, a fractional CMO that specialises in domestic and international growth strategies. “Understanding the ambitions and intangible goals of the team is a really important step in establishing a cultural fit. A fractional marketer can focus on the numbers, but if it feels too tactical to somebody who’s very creative, there’s a weird sense of dissatisfaction you can’t quite put your finger on.”
“Establish a clear scope, rooted in the specific business objectives you want to focus on and stick to them,” says fractional marketer Will Sowerby, who has 13 years experience at London agencies and tech companies. “Deviating can dilute their impact and reduce your ROI.”
“Understanding the ambitions and intangible goals of the team is a really important step in establishing a cultural fit.”Brady Donnelly, fractional CMO
Have some honest conversations
Once you’ve set the goalposts, there needs to be a straightforward conversation about what can be achieved with the time, budget and resources available. A fractional marketer can advise you on what’s possible, and discuss any potential setbacks or compromises.
“They should be able to outline the tradeoffs of each decision,” says Donnelly. “They might say, for example, I would love a significant activation or a massive influencer partnership, but for now, we need a high volume of content in order to populate your feed, and we can't afford to do all of those at the same time.
"We can be idealistic and focus purely on creativity, but it's a question of time and money. A fractional CMO can't force creativity – you need a different, less-tactical set of resources to make that happen. Financially, that can mean trading one for the other.”
“A fractional CMO can't force creativity – you need a different, less-tactical set of resources to make that happen.”Brady Donnelly
Establish the scope of work
A major part of the relationship is understanding how much time you need from someone. “It starts with either budget or bandwidth, and you figure it out from there,” says Andrea McCulloch, a fractional CMO and creative consultant who’s worked with brands including Cora, PAX, Uber and Airbnb. “Some clients ask, what time can you give? Maybe you have three hours to offer. Sometimes you start with a budget, and a client says, this is what I can afford, what does that equal in hours?”
Whatever the agreement, McCulloch says getting crystal clear on expectations is essential. It’s important to remember that fractional marketing isn’t like hiring a freelance person – these are people that are plugging directly into a business. She recommends getting “painfully” clear in the scope of work or consulting agreement and, as much as possible, avoiding any assumptions – even when it comes to methods of communication. That means discussing things like whether someone will join the Slack channels and use a company email address.
“Write a job description like it’s a full-time role, and sit down with the consultant and look at it together,” says Clarke. “How does this person interface with all the departments? What’s the expectation? Close your eyes and imagine the dream scenario, and what that looks like. How involved do you want this person to be, and what assumptions am I making that might be confused or misread?”
Sowerby advises “explicit rules of engagement” – which includes frequency of interactions, specific time slots and communication channels. Fractionals will generally have commitments to other clients, so establishing a clear working arrangement ensures the brand gets the time and access they need while accommodating a fractional’s other obligations.
“Write a job description like it’s a full-time role, and sit down with the consultant and look at it together.”Grace Clarke
Part of the initial agreement is understanding where your fractional marketer’s duties begin and end.
“Get really clear with the level of collaboration and flexibility, and the approach and partnership,” says McCulloch. “Try and have as many conversations as possible upfront to make sure you’re on the same page, because it’s a different way of working and you have to figure out a little bit more upfront. Working through that and hashing it out before you sign something is going to reduce the risk a lot.
“Acknowledge the fact that there’s a boundary; this is not an employee and you’re not micromanaging them, so the amount of time that person agreed to work for you needs to be acknowledged. Sometimes I’ll even outline that in the scope of work, and say you get x number of calls or questions about this a week, “ says Simonian.
“It’s not open season,” agrees Clarke. “If the company wants the highest value a seasoned marketer can deliver, the whole team should not have access to this person as their boss or decision maker all the time. Great marketers can feel like an extension of your team, but the consultant’s business is not likely set up to deliver on that.”
“Acknowledge the fact that there’s a boundary; this is not an employee and you’re not micromanaging them.”Tatiana Simonian
Plan to revisit the agreement
It’s highly likely that the relationship will change over time, as the brand gets a better understanding of what they need, and the marketer gets to know the business on a deeper level. Establishing expectations at the outset is critical, but it’s equally important to revisit those conversations further down the line and adapt the agreement as needed.
“A brand’s needs might change quickly, so what we set out to do is not what they need in 60 days,” says Clarke. “So you need clean communication, rather than a firm, set plan – or you need a firm, set plan for a period of time and a meeting on the calendar to revisit it, and see if it’s still relevant. It’s about aligning on doing the best the company needs and being open to evolution.”
“You need clean communication, rather than a firm, set plan.”Grace Clarke
Fractionals are there to advise, not execute
In most cases, fractional marketers function at a strategic, advisory level, and brands should avoid pulling them into the day-to-day. “You’re paying for thought leadership and IP, so you want someone who can say, here’s how I think we structure this,” explains Simonian. “They might develop a strategy for what you’re doing, but you have to have the resources in place to execute it. You’re paying for thought leadership and to bounce ideas off them.”
Sowerby also says to keep a fractional out of the weeds. “Their time is not as abundant as you’re used to,” he says. “While it’s tempting to put lower-level work in front of them, this comes with the risk of compromising their focus on the key strategic outputs they should be delivering.”
“One of the slides in my pitch deck says: only use me for the difficult questions,” says Oliver Lo, a fractional CMO who has nearly two decades experience working with tech brands and startups. “In most cases, startups need to be cost-conscious and so they should focus the focused amount of time they have the fractional CMO on the things that they and their team can't figure out themselves."