Marketing & HR; the perfect marriage

There is no question that during the best of times or the worst of times, leaning into your brand and ensuring it’s keeping your culture connected is vital for a high performing business.

However, the question that, as far as I know, has never been answered… in fact is rarely publicly debated, is who actually owns delivery of the brand? No doubt, defining the brand and ensuring it resonates externally sits firmly with Marketing but who should ultimately be responsible for culturally bringing it to life across the business? Should that remain the responsibility of the brand “owners’ or should it be handed over to HR? Can Marketing rely on HR to be as obsessed with the need to shine the light of the brand internally as much as we’re shining it externally? 

Traditionally these two departments were like church and state; occasionally bumping into each other at the photocopier or a cross-functional meeting. Marketing were the pony-tail wearing, champagne-swilling “cool” advertising kids and HR were the comfortable-shoe-wearing, process-driven ‘computer-says-no’ business support function.

But today I would imagine any organisation who remains wedded to this outdated model will be struggling, particularly those who rely on either customer experience and/or attracting talent to survive. Which, let’s face it, is pretty much all of us. 

As we all know well, the always-on consumer means you can no longer afford to say one thing and then do another, because you’ll get called out. That means delivering the brand promise through every corner of a business is now a non-negotiable. 

During my time as Marketing Director of Eurostar, I relied heavily on my marketing team and my agencies to get on with the task of delivering great comms. That meant I was able to invest a massive part of my time and energy in driving the brand across a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-market business that was delivering experiences to up to 10 million people a year. It’s pretty common sense to imagine that if you are making beautiful advertising to attract business but then your customers walk into St Pancras and the first person they see has a face like a smacked arse, you’ve somewhat metaphorically pissed on your own bonfire. 

If you’re going to “walk the walk’ on culture, which is traditionally a responsibility of HR, that culture needs to be built completely and utterly around the brand promise. In fact the brand values should form the backbone of any internal Employer Value Proposition to not only drive behaviours of the existing team but attract that all important talent. That means that Marketing and HR need to be working seamlessly and harmoniously to make this all happen.

In a recent survey CEOs listed attracting talent as the thing that most keeps them awake at night. And as now more than ever and going forward into our post-covid reality, traditional advertising campaigns selling functional benefits of products and services will become a thing of the past. In a flash, society has learned that what matters most, above all else, is the people we care for, surround ourselves with, and support. Connecting with people. Helping people. Supporting our communities. These things are driving the business and key to the decisions we make now. Everything else is a distraction. And that’s why more than ever, if talent is the differentiator, you will live or die by your brand in order to ensure the right candidate “fit”.

This means relying on a few things; 

  • A clearly understood brand positioning
  • Strong internal comms that connects people into the brand
  • Recruitment focused on matching brand values
  • Performance culture connected directly into the brand i.e. reward and recognition based on delivering brand values as much as the numbers

Obviously the brand sits with marketing, recruitment sits with HR and performance SHOULD sit with every individual and line manager (that’s a whole debate in itself!) so really the big area of contention is who owns internal comms; HR or marketing? Or, whilst we’re having the debate… is it actually Corporate Comms?

Let’s start with challenging the idea that it should sit with Corporate Comms. For me, having internal comms (or social media for that matter!) sat with the external facing Corporate Comms team is a massive risk. It’s a bit like expecting a goalkeeper to play upfront. Their job is to protect the business, mitigate risk and present a business perspective to shareholders, journalists and senior stakeholders. 

Rarely (I’m not saying never, but rarely) have I met a Corporate Comms Director who has the ability to turn their journalistic broadcast-focused flair to be able to subtly influence behaviour change across different sensitive audiences. What often happens is those polished external messages are simply tweaked and sent out as internal comms which will mean they might lack the required sensitivity, inclusivity or empathy. 

So what about Internal comms sitting in marketing? In my experience this can work as it’s simply a matter of turning the ‘right message, right person, right time’ approach from external to internal.

In fact, during the change management when Eurostar was relocated from Waterloo to St Pancras I was given responsibility for all internal engagement and it worked pretty well, even if I say so myself… increasing engagement across the board by 24% within 18 months. However, it would not have been at all possible without my work husband throughout that time being an incredibly talented Head of OD, Dan Dobson-Smith. Dan and I worked shoulder-to-shoulder to ensure my sales and marketing skills were matched with his expertise around the psychological effects of change to ensure every message, every workshop, every forum, every party (remember them?) landed beautifully. 

Without this HR lens, the need to focus on the brand messages and the sheer pace of marketing comms could be at odds when there’s a need to land more sensitive, people-focused messages in the right way. Talented HR specialists like Dan have an incredible understanding of the nuances of different teams and behaviours and as the function of internal comms is also to deliver functional HR messages, my preference would be for it to sit in HR.

However, that’s only where a healthy tension exists between them and marketing; ensuring the brand is central to internal engagement, leadership behaviours and driving performance.

When this works well, both parties can ensure the other is doing their job properly and enter a virtuous circle of effectiveness; where the brand is motivating the team, delivering the experience and attracting the right talent and the talent recruited is heavily engaged and therefore living and breathing the brand. 

Seamlessly aligning their overall strategies in this way means the business really will  “walk the walk” and the companies who now appreciate the value of them working together will not only ride this current storm but will be the success stories of the future.