The worlds of marketing and PR have become increasingly close over the past few years as techniques such as “word of mouth” grow increasingly important for getting the most out of campaigns.
Despite this increasing demand for its services, the industry has been hit by the recession and has seen budgets and new business shrink, while existing clients rely on them to avoid negative reports. As a result, PR industry chiefs are turning to their core skill of communication to keep executives motivated.
Richard Millar, chief executive of WPP-owned agency Hill & Knowlton, says: “Times are tough internally and externally, so you have to over-communicate with your staff to ensure that they know they are valued and are doing a great job.
“You can’t shrink the volume and leave people in fear for their job safety. We realised this and stopped using digital means to communicate with staff, favouring the face-to-face approach instead.”
Hill & Knowlton chooses to focus on explaining challenges and heralding achievements with its staff on a weekly basis. It also boosts morale by doing collaborative charity works and team-building exercises. Millar adds: “By using opportunities to address negatives through team-bonding and brainstorming events, we know we are getting the best out of our team and keeping them motivated.”
Scott McKenzie, the chair of the internal communications working group of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, heralds this approach. He says: “It’s essential that companies are seen to be investing in people, even with limited resources. The use of internal marketing helps to encourage staff to do their best against all the economic turmoil and expose their talent as best they can. When they come out of the worst, they can apply the lessons they learnt in future endeavours.”
But David Bells, a director of Garnett Keeler Public Relations, warns that any internal communication must have its roots in reality to seem credible. Transparency is more important than putting a good spin on a situation.
“Initiatives to maintain morale must be grounded, believable, credible, evidence-based and must have integrity. It isn’t about what happens at the interface between management and employees; there is no magic formula for using communications to raise morale when the news is bad,” he argues. “Employees are generally not stupid and will see through any such programme pretty quickly.”
Those firms that manage to get it right, however, will achieve a reputational boost that will take the company far beyond the short-term bad times; those seen to be “spinning” or ignoring the situation will suffer. Lorraine Barker, head of the PR division at recruitment company Major Players, says that PR consultants are relying on word-of-mouth feedback to determine if a company is worth joining when the economy recovers.
She says: “If a company ignores the power of internal marketing and employees are left distressed, then it will suffer when the economy lifts and candidates look for new positions. To the employee it becomes apparent that the company doesn’t recognise good talent and cannot nurture them.”
Creative push and mentoring case study
Marketing agencies have faced the effects of the recession first-hand as their clients begin reducing budgets and cutting back on media expenditure. Traditionally hubs for young creatives, pressure from clients to cut costs has meant that agencies have cut back on their own expenditure.
Ian Millner, chief executive of Iris, says the onset of the recession has had a “massive impact” on the independent agency. It has had to come up with initiatives to keep morale up among those people developing creative ideas.
“We’ve gone from increasing business 50% year on year to having clients asking us to freeze work for a period of time,” he says. “We had to re-evaluate our spending drastically, which led to a decline in morale and questions as to whether we had become too corporate.”
To address the issues and keep the balance of idea-generation high and costs low, Millner began a programme of communication with employees, explaining clearly why things had changed and challenging people to see the creative opportunities posed by the situation.
“It was all about making people feel empowered and making sure they realise how important they are to us. We set up regular meetings so that people could come together and co-create new creatives. Each agency division also set up their own morale-boosting events like ‘Mad Hatter tea parties’,” recalls Millner.
The new approach aimed to ensure that marketers were able to keep up creative development in their career. The agency also started a mentor programme, graduate scheme, a development academy and “have your say” opportunities.
Millner says the mentoring and emphasis on opportunities has helped boost the agency staff’s spirit. “It’s all connected to eradicating the circumstances from external factors and bringing back a culture so that when clients ask, our teams are always happy and able to give them their creative best.”
Jeremy Shaw, chairman of Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw, says that companies that help employees develop ideas and see creativity as a positive influence, rather than a costly nice-to-have, are those which will benefit in the long term.
“They thrive on innovation, growth and change. So it’s tough to keep the marketing troops happy when budgets are cut. But smart marketers can thrive on this too,” he says. “Just as great creatives can come up with wonderful ideas on a restricted canvas, so smart marketers can relish the extra spur to innovation and imagination that restricted budgets bring.”
He adds: “We have to work smarter. Delivering great campaigns on low budgets brings a satisfaction of its own. The real officer material emerges more quickly from the ranks.”
Internal marketing academies and creativity case study
Many consumer-facing companies are trying to cheer up customers through the recession with cheerful and optimistic campaigns but internal positivity can be tricky when brands are chopping marketing staff.
The insurance sector is one of many industries to have felt the strain of the recession. RSA Insurance Group’s group director of strategy, marketing and customer, Clare Sheikh, says developing a marketing academy for the organisation has helped to keep employees motivated.
“We have embedded marketing into the heart of our company so that anyone can learn about marketing skills and use them in their future careers,” she claims. She says this lets marketers learn “any aspect of the company they want to” and boosts both the working patterns of the business and the individuals.
“It’s all part of sustaining engagement and developing our brand internally, helping anyone determine their own career path,” she adds.
Other companies such as telecoms business TalkTalk are also using its external brand activities to engage its marketers and other employees. TalkTalk sponsors TV talent show The X Factor and took a roadshow to all of its business sites. It gave employees the chance to become “bright stars” by creating their own dances for the idents appearing on ITV during The X Factor.
Olivia Streatfeild, TalkTalk’s marketing director, says: “It’s vital to drive engagement, excitement and buzz around the brand
and ensure that marketers feel that the brand’s relaunch is a project worth feeling motivated about.”
Jean-Michel Boujon, head of marketing for recruitment website TheLadders, says this sort of activity helps keeps marketers interested and motivated in their jobs even when financial career development is not an option. “If employees can understand as a business and a team what you are working towards, it puts the decisions and changes that are made along the way into context,” he claims.
Retailer HMV has also been conducting its internal marketing by treating its marketers in the same way they in turn treat their consumers. Gennaro Castaldo, director of communications, explains that the firm’s brand proposition about getting closer to music, film and games works just as well for motivating marketers as consumers.
“It’s about bringing everyone together through their passion for the product. We’ve also been developing our CSR and community engagement activities and these have had a huge galvanising effect, especially at store level,” he reports. Involving marketers on pushing society-friendly initiatives can be a cost-effective way of keeping interest levels high.
In the manufacturing sector, which has had to reduce supply due to plummeting levels of demand, businesses are relying on internal communications programmes to push the future potential of a marketing role, despite a lack of activity.
David Warfel, director of global marketing at Zippo, says a positive mentality has been essenti