Controversy over ‘zero-hour’ contracts has abounded this year, with the Labour party promising to crack down on them if it comes to power in 2015, while business secretary Vince Cable ruled out a ban. Although a few brands such as Tesco, McDonald’s and Sports Direct use the contracts, which provide no guarantee of work, the field marketing industry is keeping a close eye on the issue as it relies on them for staff.
A survey by the Office for National Statistics has shown that employers in Britain are using around 1.4 million employee contracts that do not guarantee a minimum number of hours, yet a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showed that they can be useful for both employer and employee if used correctly (see CIPD study, below).
Many brands need to use temporary agency staff for one-off events or campaigns, so being able to use flexible contracts is key. And although field marketing staff are not directly employed by brands, many build long-standing relationships with temporary workers with training included.
Coca-Cola, for example, is training its non-permanent staff for when it takes its Share a Coke activity on the road again this year, this time with a ‘party pod’, despite many having worked with Coca-Cola since 2011.
The experience offers people the chance to personalise a bottle of Coke or Coke Zero with their name during the summer at cities including Liverpool, Glasgow, Cardiff and London, as well as the V and Boardmasters festivals.
This year, people can drop into ‘selfie’ kiosks to capture a picture with their personalised bottle in front of the famous Coca-Cola sign in Piccadilly Circus and hang out on the party pod rooftop terrace to listen to music.
Bryony Cox, Coca-Cola GB experiential and asset manager, says: “We pride ourselves on our long-standing relationships with our experiential staff and work hard to retain them.”
“Some of the people working on the Share a Coke party pods this summer have been with us since 2011 and even joined us for 70 days on the road during the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay.”
She adds: “Before each activation we carry out an immersive training experience to help staff fully understand the brand and our objectives, and feel motivated to represent us at our events. This includes live training sessions with our brand managers to factory tours so they can get a sense of the overall business.”
Being equipped with the right information is crucial if a brand needs explanation. This happened when Maxinutrition rebranded from Maximuscle to eliminate misconceptions about sports nutrition and the role that protein plays. The rebrand meant it was important staff knew the brand inside out, especially the experiential staff, who talk to potential customers face-to-face.
Senior sponsorship PR and marketing manager Mark Morgan says: “When we look for brand ambassadors we want approachability, trustworthiness and passion as standard. But, due to the nature of our products and campaigns, we also need people to have in-depth knowledge and understanding of our brand values and a natural affinity with sports, health and fitness.”
Maxinutrition, therefore, wants experiential staff who personally find the subject interesting and can talk to customers in these terms, not just say things the brand tells them to. The brand’s ambassadors are recruited and trained by Circle Agency, and are all active sports people.
Ensuring promotional staff have the right tools for the job, even if they are working flexible hours, is a must for Maxinutrition.
Morgan says: “Once trained, make sure that brand ambassadors feel like valued members of your team. How can you expect them to be passionate about your brand if you don’t show the same commitment?
“It quickly becomes apparent which brand ambassadors are the right fit, so we always ensure that we get to know them and show how appreciative we are of their work. That way they want to keep working for us and not other brands.”
The challenges of hiring flexible staff varies by brand and the planned activity, but an issue for many is ensuring they are engaged enough with the product or service in order to represent it.
Colin Banks, head of sponsorship at Glasgow arena SSE Hydro, says: “You have to get the right people – a core team who enjoy what they do and are engaged in what we are about as a brand.”
Utility company SSE bought naming rights to the venue as it wanted to extend its reputation for customer service beyond the call centre.
In an on-going campaign, the brand, working with staffing agency Hel’s Angels, provide ‘SSE energisers’ at SSE Hydro, who provide directions and general assistance to visitors.
SSE and the agency are replicating the activity at Wembley Arena as the brand bought naming rights to the venue earlier this year.
Involvement in the staff selection process helps the brand be realistic about their engagement levels. Banks says: “You have to take an interest in the promotional staff. If you’re a brand that just appoints people and is not prepared to get involved, then it can come back and bite you.”
Once trained, make sure your brand ambassadors feel like a valued member of your team. How can you expect them to be passionate if you don’t show the same commitment?
SSE also encourages feedback from its ‘energisers’, which it says creates trust and loyalty between the brand and the staff member.
“We are always keen to get promotional staff feedback because that’s how you make your activity better,” says Banks. “You might think something is the best idea in the world but if the people delivering it think it’s naff, you have to give them the courage to come back to you.
“Staff are keen to give feedback when they know we are open to it and we have used their comments to make changes.”
Banks adds: “I would challenge them as much as any staff member that we have and I would hope they would challenge us back as much if they were employed by us.”
Even when activities are long-term, engagement has to be a continuous effort. Revlon, for example, has a five-year relationship with its agency iD and works on building up brand ambassadors and field staff through an audition process attended by the brand in order to hand pick staff (see case study below).
When it comes to rewarding flexible-contract staff for their hard work, brands can take their cue from their permanent staff schemes.
Cox at Coca-Cola says: “We run an incentive programme, which includes regular access to cinema tickets and music gigs. We find this helps our experiential staff to feel part of our business and passionate about working for us.”
Promotional staff at SSE Hydro also get to reap the benefits of a job well done. Banks believes that including experiential and field staff in the results of the campaign and rewarding them will help them feel included and will build a relationship between the employee and the brand for the future.
Banks says: “If staff take pride in what they do, it’s important to let them know what the end result is and for them to feel part of it. If we achieve our goal, we have done things like take them to gigs or let them go with their friends to reward them.”
It is clear that the flexible working status of field and experiential staff suits the employers and employees in the industry.
However, in the same way that corporations using zero-hour contracts are being asked to treat their workers fairly, brands also need to take a hands-on approach with the agencies and their promotional staff to ensure the right people are representing them.
Case study: Revlon
Revlon wanted to drive sales at point of purchase throughout the year for new product launches and support retailer listings. This requires a longer-term relationship with promotional staff in order to become Revlon’s in-store experts.
The brand has a five-year relationship with iD Agency, which provides core brand teams for store demonstrations and works with Revlon to pick the right people.
The staff go through auditions attended by the brand and also attend bespoke training sessions at Revlon’s headquarters before going out into the field.
Anna Fowler, senior account manager at Revlon, says: “Having the ability to be part of the selection and training process ensures that brand awareness and knowledge is second to none and it really makes ambassadors feel part of the bigger brand picture.”
The Revlon ambassadors work as in-store experts with 250 trained demonstrators across the UK and a core team of regional territory managers to help implement and ensure standards are kept up. The nature of work helps the brand bolster long-term relationships with field staff.
Fowler adds: “We have a core team of staff who represent us throughout the year across different projects and product launches. This enables us to develop an on-going working relationship with them and gives us the confidence that our brand messages are conveyed in exactly the right way at point -of-purchase.”
Field and experiential staff are the face of the brand in any activity so it is vital that brands take an interest in staff members and build a relationship with them. SSE Hydro head of sponsorship Colin Banks says: “If you are a brand that just appoints people to do a job and are not prepared to get involved yourself, it can come back and bite you.”
A CIPD report made recommendations to improve the use of zero-hours contracts, including careful consideration and regular review by employers of whether they are appropriate for the nature of the work involved, and are offering the right balance of flexibility for employer and employee.
At SSE, the brand made it clear that it is open to feedback about the work and the activity and also has members of permanent staff pairing up with flexible staff to help engagement in the first weeks of activity.
Ensuring flexible staff know the brand, understand the campaign and the desired outcome requires rigorous training. Brands therefore need to invest to ensure the agencies are preparing staff for any eventualities. After rebranding, Maxinutrition had to educate consumers about its products, which meant staff needed scientific knowledge.
Zero-hour staff and job satisfaction
A 2013 study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) of 2,500 UK workers, found that zero-hours contracts are used for the right reasons, providing flexibility for both employers and individuals.
It also found that compared to the average UK employee, these staff are as satisfied with their job and work-life balance and less likely to think they are treated unfairly by their organisation. Almost half, 44 per cent, say they are satisfied or very satisfied with having no minimum set contracted hours.
The CIPD collaborated with law firm Lewis Silkin to publish guidelines on employment rights for zero-hour workers.
Mark Beatson, chief economist at CIPD, says: “Such contracts can work to the advantage of employers and their workforce in the right circumstances. However, employers must ensure they are properly managed.”
Employers cite both sides of the flexibility equation to explain their use of the contracts. Two-thirds (66 per cent) highlight their need for the flexibility to respond to peaks and troughs in demand, but around a half (47 per cent) who use zero-hours contracts cite the need to provide flexibility for individuals as one reason informing their approach.