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Sue Keith, Managing Partner, Ceres Talent

Continuing our interview series in 2021, I spoke with Sue Keith, Managing Partner, Ceres Talent. In addition to sharing our interview discussion, I can testify to the excellence of Ceres Talent, as I’m fortunate to have been among the marketing pros Sue has placed.

Ceres Talent is a staffing and marketing recruiting firm in the Washington, DC area, specializing in marketing and related positions such as communications and product marketing. We’re a small, boutique shop, and our team spent the majority of our careers in marketing. We like to say we speak the language which makes us pretty good matchmakers.

What’s Changed Most About Your Industry in The Last Year?

We’re fortunate that we’re diversified. Ceres Talent places interim consultants as well as traditional, full-time roles. Last spring, we saw a complete pullback in hiring full-time positions. Fortunately, our consultants continued working, and with full-time headcount frozen, several of our clients turned to our consultants to solve their staffing needs.

We started to see an increase in hiring full-time positions in late fall, which has continued into 2021. Traditionally, headcount budgets open up at the beginning of the year, but it feels like someone really flipped the hiring switch in 2021 as companies started feeling more optimistic about the future. 

The Year of The Product Marketer

I’ve joked that we’re calling 2021 ‘The Year of the Product Marketer.’ We work with many B2B tech firms, and the last few years have been heavily focused on demand gen and digital roles, generating leads for sales. Pre-COVID, marketers could reliably predict conversion rates for demand gen channels, but with the pandemic, it all went upside down. So, marketers are going back to basics – focusing on the market, customer insights, buyer personas, how to best position their product portfolio, their content strategy and the right tools for Sales. And they’re investing in product marketing people.

The Continuation of Fully Remote Work

We’re absolutely seeing more openness to consider hiring someone who is 100% remote. We participate in periodic CMO round tables, and while there are mixed opinions and some hesitancy, most are willing to consider remote candidates, especially when they realize the benefit of opening the talent pool.  

I’ve been the lone remote employee on a team where it was always my disembodied voice on speaker phone. It’s human nature for the remote person to be somewhat marginalized if he’s not in the office and building relationships. We expect the proliferation of remote employees will begin to level the playing field, so everyone has more of a voice and a presence on the team.

As one CMO recently said, ‘If you need to get work done, stay home. If you need to collaborate, come into the office.’

Returning to The Office

Several of our clients have set a tentative return date in September, after Labor Day. However, even those traditional butts-in-seats companies that didn’t support remote work pre-pandemic are recognizing that they’re going to have to give a little.

Surveys have shown that the majority of employees don’t want to be in the office five days a week, which is going to drive most companies to develop a hybrid approach. Plus, there’s the very real case for reducing real estate costs.  

Marketing and Growing Ceres Talent

One surprise I’ve had as a business owner is that I assumed other business owners started with a grand plan. They knew ahead of time when they’d make hiring and other investment decisions, over a five- to 10-year plan. 

What we’ve found is we make big decisions when we’ve reached an inflection where what we’re doing isn’t sustainable without additional investment. It is at those tipping points that businesses will commit to a lease, hire employees, or invest in a new CRM. These decisions are sometimes scary, but you make the leap using the best data you have – and hope for a little bit of luck. 

We’re grateful that our business comes from word of mouth and referrals. A year ago, we revamped our website and invested in SEO, but we don’t make significant expenditures in marketing. The Ceres Talent Experience that clients and candidates have working with us is our primary marketing channel. We strive to make that experience something they want to tell others about. Our reputation both individually and as a company is what drives us.

What Do You Enjoy Most About Your Work? 

There are two elements. First, the fulfillment we get from connecting a great candidate with a great job that they’re really happy with. What we do is important. [Aside from Megan: I have indeed been thrilled with my experience as a candidate!]

Second, we work exclusively on marketing roles, so I still get to talk about the latest tools and strategies, even though I’m not doing it. I can talk about interesting campaigns our candidates have done or that our clients need to do. I get that marketing fix even though I’m not doing it anymore.

What Advice Would You Give Yourself 20 Years Ago? 

I’d like to flip this question and instead share the advice I’d give other people. Especially as you’re first coming out of college, be open to letting your career take you where it may.

I’m on my third career – and only one was intentional. I have an accounting degree and worked at Deloitte right out of school. Then I encountered a marketing opportunity at MCI and suddenly I was a marketer. Next, I had the opportunity to become a recruiter and run a business. These opportunities opened up because of the network and reputation I built, in addition to my being open to considering new challenges. Don’t assume your career has to follow a linear path. Be open to opportunities when they present themselves even if they may pull you out of your comfort zone

About Sue Keith, Managing Partner, Ceres Talent

Sue Keith is a Managing Partner with Ceres Talent, a marketing recruiting firm based on the Washington, DC metro area. After many years as a marketing leader and consultant in the telecom, technology and association sectors, Sue joined Ceres Talent to marry her passion for helping organizations build effective marketing strategies with her love of connecting great people. Sue started her career as an auditor for Deloitte and then made the leap to marketing when she joined MCI, followed by a succession of senior marketing positions at various organizations. She serves on the Board of Aspire! Afterschool Learning and the Marketing and Communications Committee for Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS). She earned a dual major in Accounting and French from James Madison University and is a recovering CPA.

Pugh & Tiller

Through an integrated approach, Pugh & Tiller helps B2B companies reach, engage, and influence the right audiences in order to achieve their business goals. By offering public relations, branding and identity development, digital integrated marketing, website and app development, and graphic design and audio / video production, Pugh & Tiller provides each and every service with an eye on the bigger picture.