When Virgin Media’s marketing head ran the HR department

Marketing can raise its profile within a business by using its creativity to identify and fill a consumer need.

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But marketers can also gain real influence in a company, and help other departments better understand the role marketing plays

in the business. So when Virgin Media merged with NTL and Telewest in 2007, marketer Ashley Stockwell made the unusual move of running the HR department for eight months, following “offline” conversations with the directors of customer care and James Kydd, who ran marketing for Virgin Media at the time.

He was also responsible for hiring current chief people officer Elisa Nardi and for setting recruitment criteria to make sure people that were hired were “a sort of Virgin character”, says Stockwell, who is now executive director of brand and marketing.

“What we do from a marketing and brand point of view has to be reflected from an internal brand and cultural perspective. If what you are trying to say and execute to [external] prospects and customers isn’t flowed through internally, in terms of how we act, behave and believe, then people will see that disconnect,” he says.

Stockwell wanted to get brand values embedded into the company. He explains: “It’s not just about your key performance indicators as an employee but how you are delivering those KPIs from a Virgin brand perspective. It’s trying to get the brand element into staff training and inductions.”

He took on Sir Richard Branson’s mission to put staff first, with the idea that if a brand makes its employees happy, then customers and shareholders will be happy. So he removed the dress code, to make people feel more relaxed.

Stockwell says: “It was about allowing people to wear what is appropriate. If they are in a call centre all day it doesn’t matter what they wear. Historically, there were rules for all those elements, which felt quite restrictive and controlling. It’s getting staff to do the best they can and giving them tools to deliver great customer service.

“That will make their lives easier and therefore the customers’ lives easier – whether the staff member is from a call centre, IT, finance or another team,” he says.

Following this experiment, other Virgin brands might integrate marketing and HR by having a staff change committee, such as the one run by Virgin Atlantic, where the brand team is represented.

“Getting the people team and the brand and marketing team working together is fundamental for any business. It is something that is a bit missed in larger businesses,” says Stockwell.

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