Fractional marketing is on the rise, with companies increasingly hiring experienced people on a part-time or fixed project basis.
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, why is it happening, why is becoming more popular, and what does it offer brands? Scroll down to find out.
Much has been written about the seismic changes in the world of work, many of them driven by Covid and a growing need for people to redefine their careers. “We take for granted the way work works,” says Singapore-based Oliver Lo, a fractional CMO who has nearly two decades experience working with tech brands and startups. “First, it was office space, and that’s crumbled. And now, what you might call ‘monogamous’ working relationships are changing. People want flexibility and variety, and that’s part of a larger trend about how people are approaching work.”
The fractional model isn’t a new one, and has been in place in major cities in the US for a number of years now, however Lo says it’s growing quickly in less developed startup markets such as the UK, Europe, Asia Pacific and Australia - where companies have less money to burn, and founders are attracted to the “de-risking” aspect of hiring someone on a fractional basis.
“People want flexibility and variety, and that’s part of a larger trend about how people are approaching work.”Oliver Lo, fractional CMO
Tapping into experience
By bringing someone in on a fractional basis, companies can access a high level of experience and ability at a much earlier stage than waiting to hire a traditional, full-time senior marketer. It also means companies can plug a significant gap in their team.
“The reality is that if you’re early stage or you’re small, a CMO is not a cost-effective investment at that juncture,” says Tatiana Simonian, a fractional CMO and brand consultant with 15 years experience driving growth for tech, social media and entertainment companies.
“What you are likely to do is have a really solid marketing director, probably reporting into your COO, and in a lot of companies there’s a knowledge gap. C-Level staff may not know a lot about marketing. Or you might have a really smart marketing director who doesn't have enough experience to get things across the line, or communicate effectively within your business group.”
“A fractional basis means you’re getting the benefit of a best-in-class marketer who might have worked at multiple unicorn and Fortune 100 companies,” she continues. “It’s the opportunity to have a best-in-class, top shelf marketer work for your company, maybe 10-20 hours a week.”
“A fractional basis means you’re getting the benefit of a best-in-class marketer who might have worked at multiple unicorn and Fortune 100 companies.”Tatiana Simonian, fractional CMO and brand consultant
For many businesses, the why of fractional is financial. Brands at an early stage often face the kinds of challenges that require CMO-level expertise to solve, but lack the CMO-level budget to hire them. To compound it, they can’t afford to experiment with creative work that doesn’t work.
“When they need, and when they can actually afford, a senior marketer, are often two different time periods,” says Lo. “They probably need one at seed stage, but can maybe afford someone – depending on the startup – at Series B, maybe Series C.
“As a startup founder, there’s a reality of having a certain amount of money in the bank: you’ve got a burn, and you’ve got a runway of 12, or 24 or 36 months. It’s stressful, because it can take up to 12 months to raise a round and you don’t want to be the founder that runs out of money and has to close down. So you have to be very frugal about your capital; every hire has to count, and the CMO is usually the last of the C-Suite to be hired in most startups.”
“A fractional hire is going to be cost-effective, and they’ll bring savings in time because they’ll direct the team in a specific way, making near-term decisions that actually drive value for the company more immediately,” says Grace Clarke, a fractional marketer who’s worked with Graza, Jones Road Beauty and Target.
And savings are critical in the current moment. As fractional marketer Will Sowerby points out, business has been in a period of deep instability since 2020 thanks to interest rates, consumer behaviour, investment and valuations. “Consequently, cash has been tighter for businesses while their growth demands have remained consistent,” says Sowerby, who has 13 years experience including London agencies and tech companies. “This has created a challenging job market, particularly those at the executive level. Fractional roles offer access to top talent and experience, without the full-time salary.”
“You have to be very frugal about your capital; every hire has to count, and the CMO is usually the last of the C-Suite to be hired in most startups.”Oliver Lo
An ‘outsider’ perspective
It’s not just about the cash, however. Fractional marketers offer a breadth of understanding that full-timers often lack. According to Clarke: “Generally, people who are hiring fractional marketers are looking for someone with more of a cross-pollinated approach, and with experience across multiple industries. If you’re hiring someone fractional, you’re investing in their broad-ranging expertise and – if you pick the right one – dogged curiosity and relentless drive to up-level proactively. You get that person’s network, their vendor relationships and their talent resources.”
“It’s a second set of eyes to fill in the knowledge gap,” says Simonian. “Generally, fractionals have more time to be in the market and see what’s really moving and happening. A lot of time when you’re inside a company you develop tunnel vision. When you bring in a fractional, it’s great to have a fresh set of eyes who can talk about what else is going on in the market, because they’re working across multiple sectors.”
“Brands reach out to fractional marketers for a reason – likely because they don’t have the skillset or experience, so they’re coming in and potentially solving something the company has been laboriously thinking about for months, but didn’t have the experience to solve. In companies, you can become biased by everyone else around you, and you get groupthink where you’re going in a direction, and you’re almost on autopilot. Sometimes when someone comes in it’s jarring, but in a good way.”
“It’s a second set of eyes to fill in the knowledge gap.”Tatiana Simonian
A support system
Fractional marketers can also form a support system for existing marketing teams, particularly in companies where junior marketers lack senior guidance, or brands where C-Suite members need more convincing around creative work.
“If you’ve hired junior talent, often times they need to be told which direction to head in,” says Clarke, “and if you’re a founder without a marketing background, it’s not always something you’re in the best position to offer – and very likely not the highest-value use of your time.”
And ultimately, your fractional marketer can help you shape your understanding of the full-time role - including what kind of person you need, and how senior they should be. “The fractional person can be a resource to help you write the job description, or find the right talent pool or recruiter,” says Andrea McCulloch, a fractional CMO and creative consultant who’s worked with brands including Cora, PAX, Uber and Airbnb..
“It can really help you build a job description,” adds Clarke. “The best consultants are excited to make themselves redundant.”