‘Respect individuals but connect them to the bigger goal’: The key to a successful marketing team

The Guardian’s marketing director explains how instilling a common purpose helped Marketing Week’s ‘Marketing Team of the Year’ overcome considerable challenges.

In these straightened times, most marketing teams are asked to do more with less. Not many, however, are tasked with hitting punchy targets to meet a challenging company goal in a vertical undergoing severe disruption with a smaller budget and fewer staff.

This was the challenge facing The Guardian’s marketing team in 2016. The media group underwent a major voluntary redundancy programme as part of its bid to break even by 2019. As part of the programme, much of the marketing team left. New digital roles were created in a restructure aimed at growing revenue from readers directly rather than through advertising based on reach.

Ensuring the team maintained focus and morale in the wake of significant changes of personnel was challenging but necessary if the team was to play its part in achieving the business’s goal. According to marketing director Sonia Sudhakar, it was a joint effort.

“We called them [those that did not take redundancy] ‘remainers’. We made sure they felt important to the brand’s future – lynchpins and core to the success of the future of the team. They really looked after the new people coming in and almost by osmosis our purpose started to spread through the new members of the team,” she recalls.

“What was brilliant was that the new people brought so much enthusiasm that people who had remained were really emboldened by that. They thought ‘I know we have been through some bad times, but this is great’. Being honest about the whole thing is key.”

I don’t want to look at people in a team meeting and think I have someone here who isn’t committed to the cause.

Sonia Sudhakar, The Guardian

Sudhakar says it was essential team members old and new bought into the purpose of The Guardian’s journalism – high quality, progressive reporting that challenges the status quo and helps change behaviour – and how it could help deepen relationships with readers and grow revenue.

“We ask people in their interview ‘why do want to work here?’ and we look for an answer that’s rooted in The Guardian’s mission. If someone says ‘it’s a big brand’ or ‘it’s global’ and doesn’t reflect the vision in their answer, we don’t hire them,” she explains.

“Even if they are a raging Tory and read The Telegraph, as long as they understand the importance of balance in media and understand how The Guardian’s independent structure supports this and why it’s important, that’s fine. We capture that at interview stage. There’s no point if I look at people in a team meeting and think I have someone here who isn’t committed to the cause.”

Once the new team was in place, processes were redesigned to meet the team’s objective to deepen engagement, which, in turn would help them achieve The Guardian’s goal of increasing direct from reader revenue.

To this end, the 45-strong team, which consists of specialists who work across the customer journey, developed its ‘Patrons’ scheme (the ‘honesty box’ alternative to a paywall) and launched a daily podcast ‘Today in Focus’ and premium app, as well as relaunching Guardian Weekly globally. They also conceived campaigns such as this year’s ‘Hope is Power’, which aims to sum up The Guardian’s approach to journalism.

How The Guardian turned ’emotional desire’ into financial support

The activity has played its part in the business’s strategy. Reader contributions helped The Guardian post a £800,000 profit in its last financial year; Guardian Weekly subscribers grew by 15% in the period; 1 million ‘supporters’ (those choosing to voluntarily contribute money to help the brand achieve its mission) signed up; and there was 54% growth in premium app subscriptions year on year.

Sudhakar says it is important they share success and best practice, “to be loud and proud” about positive results. But key to her team’s success is understanding the bigger picture.

“Respect the individual but connect them to the bigger goal. People need to be recognised as individuals but they need to see how that ladders up to the purpose and mission,” she concludes.

The Guardian was  named Team of the Year at the Marketing Week Masters Awards in October. For a full list of winners and case studies go to our dedicated page.



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