Go Big Or Go Home! Getting Workers Back To The Office
Although it is critical for HR functions to work closely with all other business departments, HR and Marketing I think have a special relationship. Both functions rely closely on one another to deliver their strategic plans.
Without an engaged, talented and trained workforce, Marketing’s carefully crafted brand communications to customers will be wasted. Likewise without Marketing’s expertise in building brands and communication strategies, HR will struggle to be an ‘Employer of Choice’ seeking to attract the brightest and best and talent.
So what is the state of the ‘Special Relationship’? Is it good, bad or indifferent? Are both functions investing enough time to understand what the other does? Does it matter?
This episode sees Marketing expert Jarmila Yu, Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Unique Marketing and Richard Merrin, Managing Director of Spreckley Partners, a London based enterprise technology PR agency give a lively, honest and open critique of the Special Relationship between HR and Marketing and where we go from here.
Jarmila Yu is the founder and consulting chief marketing officer of YUnique Marketing, a strategic marketing consultancy based in the UK. Having spent 25 years in technology marketing for both household names and start-ups, Jarmila is an award-winning and globally ranked top 100 chief marketing officer, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the Institute of Direct Marketing, and a member of the Direct Marketing Association and the CIPR.
Richard Merrin, is a public relations professional. Again, with more than 25 years’ experience in the field of enterprise IT, business-to-business communications, and reputation management. He’s the managing director of Spreckley Partners, a London-based enterprise technology PR agency, and a board member of International PR network Global Comm. Richard works for start-ups, mid-tier private enterprises, and all the way up to publicly listed organisations
[Chris]: If you’re enjoying the Oven-Ready HR podcast, please do rate and review us and feel free to share with your network. To find out more about Chris Taylor, your host, visit OvenReadyHR.com and follow us on Twitter too @OvenHR. Thank you.
This week’s Oven-Ready HR podcast breaks new ground, and instead of having one guest, I’ve invited two—all socially distanced, of course. This episode considers what would be the business benefits if the HR and marketing functions worked more closely together. Both functions are tasked with managing relationships, employees, and customers. Both are focussed on the organisation’s brand, and both functions spend a lot of time thinking up compelling messages in order to get buy-in from customers and colleagues, but in my experience, it never works quite as well as it should. HR can be remote and risk-averse, and frankly, some HR practitioners have never talked to a customer in their organisation in their life, which I find bizarre.
So, joining me today are two marketing and communications experts who I’m sure will give a robust and direct critique of the state of the special relationship. My first guest is Jarmila Yu. She is the founder and consulting chief marketing officer of YUnique Marketing, a strategic marketing consultancy based in the UK. Having spent 25 years in technology marketing for both household names and start-ups, Jarmila is an award-winning and globally ranked top 100 chief marketing officer, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the Institute of Direct Marketing, and a member of the Direct Marketing Association and the CIPR.
My second guest, Richard Merrin, is a public relations professional. Again, with more than 25 years’ experience in the field of enterprise IT, business-to-business communications, and reputation management. He’s the managing director of Spreckley Partners, a London-based enterprise technology PR agency, and a board member of International PR network Global Comm. Richard works for start-ups, mid-tier private enterprises, and all the way up to publicly listed organisations. Now, good afternoon to you both.
[Richard]: Good afternoon.
[Jarmila]: Good afternoon.
[Chris]: Good afternoon. How are you all doing this afternoon?
[Jarmila]: Well, thank Crunchie, it’s Friday, is what I’m going to say. We’re recording on a Friday. I don’t know when you’re going to be releasing this, but yes, I’ve certainly got that Friday feeling. It’s been a great week, but I am well and ready for the weekend.
[Chris]: Good, good. Me too. I think there might be a bit of snow this weekend. I don’t know. I mean.
[Richard]: It’s looking pretty possible by the look of it. Yeah. We’re expecting it in London. That’s for sure.
[Chris]: Good. Right. Okay. So, before we get knee-deep in snow, let’s crack on with our chat. So, look, marketing and communications carefully crafted lots of compelling brands and messages for customers, but that doesn’t always translate when dealing with an organisation’s employees. What branding messages could HR learn from you, chaps?
[Richard]: Ooh, shall I jump in there, Jarmila?
[Jarmila]: Oh, sure. Please do, go first.
[Chris]: You go first.
[Richard]: I think the key thing is that when marketing and PR plays a key role in if you like storytelling. Telling the story of the business, and it’s those PR experts. We’re there helping and making that story engaging and interesting and making the teams within the business, I guess, ambassadors for that particular story. I think that’s where HR needs to come into the loop, if you like.
[Chris]: Okay. Jarmila?
[Jarmila]: I think it’s a timing consideration, and you’d expect me to say this as a marketer. You kind of got to go back to brand and specifically brand strategy. Whether it’s HR needing to figure out what tips and tricks they need to increase employee engagement through branding and messaging they use for employee branding, you’ve got to think actually, have they got the component parts already there to latch onto?
So, it goes back specifically to brand strategy, and that’s distinct from pure marketing strategy plan and campaigns, which later down the line, the marketing team and the comms teams working together will develop around specific products and services for that business, but brand strategy. It’s almost like a step one, and that really needs to be set firmly with all the stakeholders in mind. That’s whether you’re looking to attract customers, which obviously all businesses are looking to win business, but customers, investors, buyers, but importantly employees.
So, brand strategy, everything starts with that, and then you have strands that come off it. But if you’re expecting your HR team to invent employee messaging that’s going to attract talent in, they’ve got to have something to work with. It’s kind of difficult if the basic groundwork isn’t there that already starts to communicate the importance of that brand to its employees because they need to represent the organisation they work for once they’ve been hired. For customers, they need to understand they’re having that promise of the brand delivered to them when and they get to experience it when they use the products or services they buy.
But it goes back to that brand strategy bit, which really sets the direction for the entire organisation, and that starts with its own people. Then I think you work in the marketing campaigns for actually selling what it is the company does. So, I think the lessons are timing HR to make sure that the brand strategies there by knocking on the door of marketing and saying, “What is our brand strategy, and have we got the employee piece in there? And if not, can we work together to re-engineer it back in there?”
[Chris]: Sure. No, absolutely. Because I mean, a hot topic for HR is this employer of choice brand, and that works well if you’re Apple or that works well if you’re one of those big Silicon Valley organisations. But actually, if you’re a small business or you’re a much more local or regional business, you don’t have that natural attraction for talent. So, what messages, I mean, do you think HR people understand branding? Do you think they need to understand it, Richard?
[Richard]: I would argue that they do need to have an understanding of that particular process. Yes, and they need to be able to communicate that in every stage of any employment engagement process, such as an interview or whatever it may be.
[Richard]: Because they are ambassadors. They are key stakeholders in that choice. But taking a step back from that particular process, any business, it doesn’t matter whether they’re a large Silicon Valley-based one or a small architecture firm based in the heart of Hampstead, for example. You’ve got to have an external image that will attract talent, and that is why getting that communication and that marketing brand strategy correct in the first place is so vital.
[Jarmila]: Yeah, and having as part of that, the elements that people often talk about, and sometimes they use them interchangeably, but being really clear on the mission, vision, values of the organisation, and that’s really a key component. It’s a start point with starting to develop out the brand strategy. The brand strategy isn’t just the mission, vision, values, and isolation. It makes up the whole thing. But I’ll add a fourth point, if I may, Chris.
[Jarmila]: That’s purpose. To your point about how would a smaller organisation be as attractive as a larger organisation? One way to connect with people is around purpose, and we’re seeing this so increasingly important these days. It’s not about how it used to be in the old days of what would be attractive as an employer? “Oh yes. Well, it’s the high salary. It’s which company car is on the list that you could be applying to get,” and all of those kinds of things. You look at people today, and you go, “Well, actually, a lot of people are choosing not to drive.” A car isn’t the important factor for them. So, some of the why you work for a certain employer in the past, isn’t what it is today, isn’t today’s reality.
[Jarmila]: So, a lot of people are looking for that beyond the day job reason for work, and it’s, what does that job, what does your daily existence deliver to you other than your salary? It’s that connexion to purpose. What is really behind the organisations? Actually, I think that’s where some of the newer brands or companies can really steal a march and attract top talent because if they’re quite savvy, they can use their brand strategy, can use mission, vision, values, and purpose to really attract top talent and beat some of the larger organisations with maybe slightly higher salary opportunities. They might be able to get the right people in.
[Richard]: Sorry, I was just going to back that point up. It’s what we’re seeing, certainly within our client base and with us. People are joining businesses. So, I guess, to put it bluntly, when we used to go down to the pub on a Friday night, and we used to be out with our mates having a drink, we would say we’re working for X company, and it feels good to say it. You’re an individual’s personal brand is intrinsically linked to the place that they work, and I think that plays a big role, a huge role, in people determining where they want to work these days.
[Chris]: Yeah. Do you think that obviously with the whole pandemic and obviously none of the pubs are open, and Richard, I’m dying to go to the pub. I can assure you.
[Richard]: Oh, I know.
[Jarmila]: We all are. We all are.
[Chris]: I mean, honestly. I mean, that was some of the joy of work was the fact that actually, you were part of something bigger than just yourself, and it was a social enterprise. I think it’s all very well having the Zoom and all the rest of it, and it’s worked perfectly, I’m sure. But I do miss that interaction, and I think it’s been really tough on, which I guess you guys work a lot of millennials, generations Z, and that whole social aspect of work has been difficult for them, hasn’t it?
[Jarmila]: I think it has. The going to the pub, people may think that’s a bit of a joke, but actually, what this whole Zoom existence that we’re living in at the moment has shown us is that we need to set boundaries because otherwise, you could just work 24 hours a day. You could be on back-to-back Zooms, but it’s not healthy. So, the pub at the end of the day or the pub on the Friday night or the, “Yeah, we’ll have drinks in the office at the end of a good week. We’ve all had a good week.” These are things that organisations had in place for very good reasons because it created those boundaries. It was the breakpoint from work to actually switching off.
[Jarmila]: We’re not robots. We’re humans. The brain needs sort of rest and to have some downtime. It’s not just about the beer or the Gin or whatever the tipple is. It could equally be Fanta or Coca-Cola. Lots of brands are available. But it’s about setting those boundaries. You’re just switching off.
[Richard]: But do you know something? That one of the most extraordinary things. I mean, I’ve got a team of 20. They’re predominantly in their late twenties, early thirties, and working from home was always the nirvana for people before the pandemic.
[Richard]: The demand was there, and we put in place flexible working conditions, and people could work from home if they wanted to. Now, they are at home, and it’s compulsory. I am seeing the pressure coming the other way. Can we get back into the office? When can we get back into the office? We’re a bit off the topic, but this is an important trend for people in the workplace. They want to get back into an environment where they can be with that peer group again.
[Jarmila]: I’m going to disagree with you there, Richard.
[Jarmila]: Yes. Only in the sense that I don’t think you’ve gone off-topic. I think this is absolutely the topic, and it goes back to the organisation. It goes back to brand. It goes back to the culture. It goes back to, what do we want this business and the people that work in the business and that make up the business to be and feel and look like and act? And having an agreement, which is actually, we’re going to take a blended approach to where you work, or when you work, how you work. Blended, flexible, however you want to term it. I think, is very pertinent to the topic of HR and marketing and the world at work.
[Richard]: Taking that point, Jarmila, I guess you are absolutely correct. At the end of the day, the people who work in an organisation are the ambassadors for that business. As I said earlier on, an individual’s personal perception of themselves. It’s linked to the business they worked to, to the work that they’re doing, and what that business is like culturally. That is where HR slots in.
[Chris]: Okay. So, when you’ve been looking for talent, you guys, obviously, you’ve recruited people. Do you think HR has understood your needs, your requirements, at a granular level? Do you think they get what you do? Be honest.
[Jarmila]: There’s silence from both of us there quickly while we ponder that question. I think I would have to answer that by saying yes and no. Yes, if I, the marketer, sits down with HR, and I’m very clear on what the business objectives are, what my department is responsible for, and the tasks that we have to complete and perform, and where I see the team needing to go.
So, if HR gets properly informed by marketing, it could equally be the Tech Department. It could be the IT Department, or whoever is needing that hiring. If HR is appropriately informed, then I think they would get it. But yeah, you’ve just got to communicate really clearly what you’re needing. Now, they obviously know the ins and outs and the legalities around job specs and all the rest of it that they may put together, and they’re in charge of placing the ads and getting the recruiters involved.
But part of informing, and this is specifically with marketing. We do need to inform them that actually, we might’ve always had to maybe type A’s for a certain role, but actually going forward, let’s kind of park that kind of thinking. Let’s look at what we’re actually trying to achieve rather than the historical profiles for a role. I think that’s something which is relatively new for marketers to be going in to that direction if you’re thinking about profiling and types of personality traits, and all the rest of it. But that’s something that HR are much, much closer to. So, we equally need to sit and listen and be informed by the HR specialist. So, it’s a marriage, I think.
[Richard]: I would agree, Jarmila, and I think there is a very important market if you like that comms, PR, and HR need to address, which is internal marketing within an organisation. If we look at the current economic climate, there are a number of very large businesses that are restructuring. As part of that process, HR and PR need to work hand-in-hand to communicate organisational change, and it’s a crucial stakeholder group.
[Chris]: Okay. What’s the first thing that comes into your head then when someone says HR? What do you think? Is it a negative, or is it a positive thought?
[Richard]: Well, I’d disagree, Jamila. I’d probably say they need PR.
[Jarmila]: Well, it depends what you mean, but if you just say the words HR, then that conjures up positivity for me. I mean, and I’ll explain why. My very first job way back when, my first office job, I should say. Because I was on the shop floor of the very nice corner retail store in London way, way back when. But my first job actually was in sales, then I went into marketing, was with a start-up, and we were developing software for HR and recruitment industries, back when recruitment and HR software was not a thing. I’m showing my age there a bit. So, I’ve always had a fondness in my heart for HR. So, I do always. If you just sort of throw out human resources, I would view it as positive.
[Richard]: Do you know, it’s an interesting one, Jarmila, because it’s all about the words, isn’t it? It’s HR. It sounds remarkably 1970s. Okay. If you look at an organisation like Primark, for example, is a really good example. They don’t have an HR Department. They have a people and culture department, which really tells you about their focus. I think that’s fantastic because a lot of the functionality of HR is in that, but it’s a recognition that their people are their culture, and the culture is based on the people. I think it’s marvellous, really, really.
[Jarmila]: Yeah, that’s lovely. They also don’t have an online e-commerce offering.
[Richard]: I didn’t know that.
[Jarmila]: Which many in this day and age think is rather strange. But when you probe into that, and you think actually, well, why is that? Primark has actually said this, so I’m not disclosing anything that’s not in the public domain. They’ve actually said, “It’s because they want to ensure they get the best pricing out to their customers. If they were to go online, then the costs that are associated with online with returns and processing and all of that, it would create a potential increase in price.” So, I think again, that goes back to the brand values.
[Richard]: Yes, it does.
[Jarmila]: It goes back to their promise. So, yeah. 10 out of 10 for Primark. The other brands are available.
[Richard]: Yeah. Primark did something quite extraordinary during the first lockdown. As we just pointed out, they’re a store-based estate, and 33,000 people were sent home and couldn’t work, but once a week, they organized a Friday DJ radio station thing. Everybody could dial in off their laptops and play it through their phones or wherever, and it bought the business together. It enabled people who were working in stores to communicate with one another, in other stores, in other regions. It was a truly amazing initiative.
[Jarmila]: How lovely.
[Richard]: Yeah, amazing. Amazing.
[Jarmila]: There’s lots of things that organisations can do, which leads on to different elements of marketing. If you think about merchandising as one part of marketing. The classic welcome pack. You join an organisation, and you get sent a welcome pack with your coffee mug and–
[Richard]: Your lanyards.
[Jarmila]: –your laptop and what have you. Just to make you feel part of that tribe.
[Jarmila]: It’s so, so important and recognition for a job well done and little thank you’s. They’re just so meaningful, and it doesn’t need to cost the earth, and it’s totally affordable for even smaller organisations to do some of these little tricks that really, really make a difference.
[Chris]: Absolutely. So, I think you two should actually clump together and rebrand the entire profession, and I think it’s crying out for it, to be perfectly honest. I quite like personnel. I thought that worked. I mean, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. But anyway, I’m not sure that many chief execs really care what it’s called, to be perfectly honest. So, people and culture department. Yeah, that works for me. I think that’s a really good idea.
So, you guys work with a lot of data. You’re a data-driven profession, ultimately. HR is getting into this a little bit more. What do you think we should be measuring, if we could? Beyond the normal, oh, the attrition rate of employees or how many people were engaged with or whatever. What would you like to know?
[Richard]: It’s a bit like the Kingdom of Bhutan, isn’t it? That doesn’t make a GDP but measures gross national happiness. That’s a fact, folks. Go and Google it, and they don’t measure GDP. They measure the happiness of the people, of the citizens of the subjects. I think that that is a difficult one to measure but because it’s so sentiment-driven, but I think it’s an important one to look at.
[Jarmila]: It might be. Yes, it might be difficult to measure on the one hand, but on the other hand, you could still set up quite easily an NPS-type score for that internally. Just as you have an NPS score with customers, you could set something up relatively easily. Again, it doesn’t need to cost you the earth. It could be quite cost-effective.
[Jarmila]: To just check the sentiment of your workforce. But it depends what your, yeah. There’s lots of things that you can measure, lots of different. There’s so much data out there. We’re living in an era of big data, huge data. But what are you actually going to do with it? So, rather than think about lots of different data points that you could get, pick just a few and actually do something with it to reflect a change. Whether it is actually looking at whether it’s skills assessments, which then can feed into a learning and development schedule or to help direct where spending should go on different courses to up the people’s skills.
Yeah, there’s different things, but it’s about that duality. What’s the thing you’re measuring, and what is it immediately allowing you to take a decision on is the cool thing. Because there is just so much that you could measure, but my top one would be if there was a way around the skills piece. So, we’re continually investing in developing our people because, yes, you want to attract the top talent, and the war on talent is fierce.
So, you want to get them in using the right branding in the first place, but get them in. They’re in the right job and then helping them progress. So, they can do their best work. They can grow the business and grow as the business grows as well.
[Chris]: I think that’s the key point. Isn’t it? It’s getting them, and it’s keeping them. As we’ve already discussed, a lot of people are joining businesses. The talent is there, and it’s got to grow. It’s got to develop, and they’ve got to remain loyal to that business. Otherwise, they’ll go, you know what? My personal brand tells me I want to go and do X, Y, and Z, and off they go.
[Jarmila]: Yeah, and the cost of rehiring is huge. I mean, not just purely on to say recruitment fees, but the disruption it causes, or if somebody has to exit a role, and then you’ve got a gap from that role being filled and that workload being done. There’s just so many sort of hidden costs around the replacement of that person, that function. So, ideally, you want to keep them, but equally, it’s quite good to have fresh talent coming in.
[Richard]: Oh, yeah.
[Jarmila]: Even if they change roles every six months but having some fresh viewpoints or experiences from other organisations. I mean, gone are the days of a job for life where you’re 35 years in one single company, but getting different experiences in is hugely beneficial and getting that diversity of thought.
[Richard]: No, I totally agree with you about getting the DNA altered within any business. I heard, and I don’t know whether you’ve come across this phrase—slashers. These are people who define their jobs as, “Well, I’m doing a bit of marketing slash Instagramming influencer slash PR slash. The slashers are on the march, and what their look at is grabbing skillsets from multiple different sources to build their own, to push their own development. That is probably going to be a trend we see increasingly over the next couple of years.
So, businesses need to harness that energy, that creativity, and that sort of approach to work because it is different from the person who walked in and spent 35 years in the same business.
[Jarmila]: I’m not sure I like the term. I think maybe we’d rebrand that. However, the spirit with which it was intended, I think, is brilliant, you know?
[Richard]: It is.
[Jarmila]: Gaining all these different skills. If you just have to look at the job specs that are out there at the moment, they’re so varied. In fact, one of my soapbox moments is that I think, sometimes, some of these job specs are too broad because no one, no single human, could possibly do absolutely everything on some of these job specs. But it just goes to show the breadth of skills that somebody needs to have these days. It is the Instagram slash this slash.
[Richard]: Slash this.
[Jarmila]: We will rebrand that.
[Richard]: I agree.
[Chris]: We will call them dashes.
[Richard]: Yeah, why not.
[Chris]: No, but I think you’re right, but I also think that there’s a lot of pretty sort of quite rubbishy job descriptions out there where I think the HR Department has literally kitchen sinked every single task that has to be done. Purely I think that’s driven a little bit by the people saying, “Well, I don’t want someone turning around to me and saying, ‘Well, that’s not what I thought I had to do.’”
So I think there’s a little bit of, again, risk adverseness from HR. So, they put every single thing down, and actually, HR are terrible at writing job descriptions and terrible at writing job adverts. I mean, if they want to make a job sound dull, give it to an HR person. It rarely is absolutely awful.
[Jarmila]: However, Chris has on their job description to do those things.
[Chris]: Absolutely. Absolutely. Now, my last question is that you guys are very good at getting board seats. You’re better than HR. Does that mean that you’re better at managing up than us, or would you say that you’re just a bit more confident?
[Jarmila]: I think it should be even-stevens, really because, and Richard, you touched on this. Marketing comms, HR, all of us, we’re inextricably linked to people.
[Jarmila]: Until we live in an era of a hundred percent robots, which we never will hopefully. These are functions that are extremely well suited for a board, or even say, the top seat, the CEO slot. I think that understanding about people, that psychology. The getting into people’s minds and having empathy, and seeing things from different people’s perspectives. When on the board, you do need to be mindful about who else is around the board table, and if you’re in the CEO seat, then absolutely. You can’t go deep on anything. You’ve got to have a real sort of helicopter view across everything. I think either should be very well suited to rising the ranks to right to the top.
[Richard]: Well, I would agree with you, Jarmila, and there is one key thing here, and I think that’s an awful lot of C-suite. The board will sit there, and they are rightly concerned about the external communications and the external image of the business for shareholders. For whatever that stakeholder may be, and that’s why comms tends to get on the board because it’s seen as that, we’ve got to get this right on the exterior.
However, HR, as we’ve already discussed, has a critical role in communicating corporate values internally, and it should be at the table with the external communications team with the rest of the board. I think that’s the key added value for HR.
[Jarmila]: Absolutely. But talking about board performance, I think you can have excellent individuals that are IT, finance, HR, marketing, all of them as individuals sitting around that board table. But the magic really happens when you actually team up and make certain projects, initiatives that a couple need to actually work very closely on.
For example, if you did pool say, marketing and comms with HR to be working on something equally IT because the whole switch and so the app for everything right type mentality. Where does the tech budget sit these days? Is it with the C-suite, or is it with the CIO, or is it with the CMO? That’s a whole other debate.
But when those two come together to discuss and agree the direction for, say, marketing technology requirements, et cetera. That’s so powerful. They’re great in isolation, but they’re even greater when they can team up. Then the ultimate is when you get the whole board really firing on all cylinders and following that CEO agenda and the CEO direction.
[Richard]: I’ll give you a good example on that one, if I may, Jarmila. We did some work at the back end of last year, and the organisation, of course, will remain nameless given the restructure they had to go through, and it was the HR Department who approached us to help them communicate the changes that were going on internally within the business. That team was us on the comm side, HR Department, and the head of general counsel internally. So, you had legal, HR, and comms working in unison because the impact of the restructure on this organisation was big, and it had to be managed incredibly carefully.
[Jarmila]: Yeah. Absolutely.
[Chris]: Okay. So, the States of the special relationship, then you have optimism for it, HR and marketing?
[Jarmila]: Oh, absolutely.
[Richard]: Let’s put it this way. I think it’s stronger than the special relationship between Britain and the States. So, there’s a future in this.
[Jarmila]: It depends on what day of the week it is, of course, but yes, I think so. Often it’s HR that is not given necessarily too much budget to play with for learning development and HR systems and all the rest of it.
[Richard]: You get all the nice stuff.
[Jarmila]: We all know that marketing are never always getting more and more budget thrown at them. So, actually, by teaming up, we’ve got an opportunity to be more effective and efficient with what we are given to play.
[Jarmila]: Again, it’s that combo act, I think.
[Richard]: Yeah. It’s it sharing the crayons, isn’t it?
[Chris]: That is going to be my takeaway is sharing the crayons. That’s it.
[Jarmila]: Oh, we got so close to having a conversation about marketing and branding without the mention of the c-word. There is was, right at the end.
[Chris]: Thank you very much, indeed.
[Richard]: Thank you.
[Jarmila]: Thank you.
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