Choosing job titles at your marketing agency

Written by: Karl Sakas

I recently helped a client hire their first full-time Project Manager. The process included interviewing the owners about their business needs and priorities, doing a Culture Survey of their current team, and creating a research-based job posting so they could find a great new hire within their budget.

One of the key factors revolved around what the new role’s job title should be. As an independent agency, you have lots of flexibility. But how can you ensure you choose the right job title? Read on!

Easier job postings: 7 questions to consider when you need to pick a new job title

Doing this yourself? I’ve identified seven factors that digital agencies need to consider around how to choose the right job title.

1) What are the current team’s titles? The new role’s title has to fit into the current team. If the role is identical to an existing role, odds are good you should use that as a starting point. You also want to consider the new hire’s level of experience and responsibility compared to current people. If you hire an entry-level person with the same title as someone who’s been doing the work for a decade, the experienced employee won’t be happy.

2) What’s the salary? The job posting’s job title signals your salary range. An Account Supervisor role will pay better than an Account Assistant, and a Senior Project Manager will pay better than a Project Coordinator. This can work in your favor when you have a small budget.

On one hand, you can use a more-junior title to signal that you don’t want the person with 15 years of experience. One the other hand, you can sometimes use better titles to attract people who wouldn’t take the job otherwise. (In this case, be sure to publish the hiring range so you don’t waste everyone’s time—your time and their time.)

3) How much promotion potential do you want? Digital marketing agencies usually don’t have hiring bands and salary classes like at big companies or in government. But the reality is that if you give someone a high title now, it’s harder to promote them (via title) later. That was partly why I recommended a “Project Coordinator” for the client I mentioned above—it gave them the flexibility to promote a superstar new hire to a better title (e.g., “Project Manager”) in the near future.

You can use modifiers like “Junior” or “Assistant” or “Associate” to do that kind of thing. Or use a version of a traditional ad agency’s title system—Account Assistant, Account Coordinator, Account Executive, Account Manager, Account Supervisor, Account Director, VP.

Having flexibility in titles helps when you’re negotiating job offers with your top candidate—maybe you can’t (or don’t want to) give them an extra $10K, but you’d consider doing an early performance review in six months to consider whether they’ve earned a raise.

4) How will clients perceive the title? The downside to using “Junior” and “Assistant” titles is that it signals to clients that they aren’t important enough to merit senior staff from your agency. Traditional banks take this to the extreme, where almost every employee is a “Vice President.” The flip side is that if you have senior-sounding titles but junior-experience employees, it can feel like a service quality mismatch.

Either way, think about client perception—the exact answer will depend on your agency and clients.

5) What are the market norms? What’s normal in your market? If you’re in a big city, there’s probably more role specialization. If you’re in a smaller market, people probably have general titles. If you’re not sure, check out the job titles in your competitors’ job postings (locally and beyond) to see the latest trends. It gets more complicated when you’re making 100% remote hires.

6) What’s the job’s main focus? As you think about how to choose the right job title, consider the agency role(s) involved. For instance, if you need someone who’ll keep clients happy (and upsell them), you probably want to have “Client” or “Account” in the job title. If you need someone who’ll keep projects running smoothly, that’s more of a “Project-” title. That’s not to say an Account Manager can’t do any project management, or that a Project Manager can’t do any account management, but people will tend to be better at one than the other. Choose accordingly based on your business need.

7) What’s your view on cute titles? I’m not a fan of cute job titles. They sound good internally and to current clients, but cute titles make it harder to recruit people. Are prospective candidates looking for a new job as a “Client Wow Director” or as an agency “Account Manager”? It can also come across as confusing to prospects (and client)—I occasionally review an agency’s team listing and can’t tell who does what because the titles are so off-the-wall. But if your agency’s culture supports using cute titles, make sure the new one’s consistent with the others.

What about recruiting at your digital marketing agency?

Have you hired someone recently at your agency? What did you (or your management team) choose as their title?

Question: What’s the right job title for your agency’s next hire?

Turn your agency headaches into profits…

Get a copy of my popular eBook, Don’t Just Make the Logo Bigger: Taking Clients from Painful to Profitable, by filling out the form below.

In addition to the free eBook, you’ll join 2,500+ agencies and get my articles delivered twice a week, directly to your inbox!