What marketers want from a position is often at odds with what employers think they want – and subsequently offer.

The improving employment market of 2010 has presented challenges for marketing employers and employees alike.

For employers rebuilding their marketing teams, more buoyant conditions have reiterated the importance of having effective staff retention strategies in place to retain these teams. For marketing professionals seeking employment, meanwhile, an improvement in job prospects has resulted in increased competition for plum roles but also a more discerning and even cautious, approach to their searches. The acute skills shortages that saw power shift from employer to employee throughout the heady ‘hire-don’t-fire’ days up until late 2008 may have eased, but not by that much, and employers should be alert to the fact that good marketers are still hard to find, and are just as difficult to retain.

The annus horribilis that was 2009 saw many marketers take roles out of necessity. Mortgages and family commitments – and earning a living to meet these commitments – were, at the time, more important than the role itself. Some employers unfortunately took advantage of stagnant hiring conditions, offering uncompetitive salaries in the knowledge that, in a weak market where supply outstripped demand, they would still be able to land a suitable candidate. For many marketers, fear of unemployment made them more willing to accept these concessions. Note to such employers: the game has now changed.

Where are these marketers who ‘settled’ for a position now? Chances are they’re already out the door, or are looking to leave as soon as possible. The rise of the ‘passive’ candidate – one who is gainfully employed but looking for another opportunity (mostly on a covert basis) – is giving employers a false sense of security. As the hiring market continues to heat up, many employers are going to be left exposed by an exodus of highly-skilled marketing professionals, putting their continued recovery at risk.

Aquent released its latest Market Eye survey in July, which looked at hiring intentions and salary movements across the marketing and design sectors in Australia and New Zealand. The survey, which gathered responses from nearly 500 employers across Aquent markets in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Auckland, suggests that the marketing sector is firmly in rebuild mode. Close to 55% of employers surveyed intend to add permanent headcount in the coming six months, with salaries also expected to rise.

For the first time, however, Aquent asked both employers and employees to rank the most effective staff retention strategies. The results suggest that, while employers are increasingly seeing non-tangible strategies like flexible work practices as important and effective, there remains a disparity between what employees want from an employer and what many employers think they want, and thus offer.

Employers across all six Aquent markets ranked discretionary bonuses in their top four retention strategies, but employees ranked such bonuses significantly lower. The word ‘discretionary’ is important here; too often last year such a carrot was dangled temptingly in front of employees but often never followed through. The result is that many employees now view such offers made during the interview process with a degree of scepticism. Increasingly, career development programs and additional leave entitlements are being viewed by employees as more effective retention strategies than monetary incentives.

Bonuses are still important – and in many cases effective – retention strategies, but there is a growing consensus across the marketing and design sectors that monetary incentives don’t suddenly make an unsatisfying position satisfying. A position is satisfying because of the people one works with, the type of work one completes on a day-to-day basis and the opportunities it affords to continue one’s professional – and personal – development.

As recent months have demonstrated, not understanding the individual motivations of employees is a sure-fire way to ensure they won’t be there for long. Targeted retention strategies – ones that are developed in consultation with employees and not for them – are more effective and a basic premise of effective strategic human resource management.

It’s through listening to employees’ and through the implementation of an open and continued discourse where individual – and group – motivations can be assessed and developed into effective retention strategies.

Marketing is all about listening to the consumer and creating value through the building and maintaining of effective customer relationships. In Australia’s increasingly convoluted marketing landscape, marketing employers would be best placed to apply this strategy to their own headcount in the coming months. Good people remain hard to find and hang on to; knowing what will make employees commit to your business now could save much time – and money – down the track.