Why marketing and HR should join forces to drive advocacy among employees

Closer collaboration between marketing and HR is helping define brand identity and create customer-centric company culture, as well as helping to nurture and develop future leaders.


As structural transformation takes hold and businesses abandon siloed working in favour of cross-functional collaboration, the relationship between marketing and HR is becoming closer than ever.

Working together to drive agility and customer centricity, marketers and their HR colleagues are collaborating to define company culture and project a consistent brand image all the way from the recruitment process to interacting with consumers.

The current focus on customer experience and digital transformation is having a big impact on HR, according to Econsultancy’s latest report ‘The future of HR in the digital age’, which finds HR teams in many organisations are repositioning to focus on customer-centric strategies.

Responding to a heightened interest in culture, learning and employee engagement, the report finds HR is increasingly playing a critical role in supporting change and encouraging employee empowerment.

The changes happening in HR are coinciding with the continued emergence of dual roles in marketing and HR, bringing the two disciplines even closer together. Far from being a compromise or cost saving exercise, the creation of dual roles is a strategic decision helping companies from Sky Bet to health and life insurance firm Vitality define their culture.

Kathryn Austin, HR and marketing director at Pizza Hut Restaurants, believes there are many transferable skills across the two roles, which when combined help create a strong brand that is firmly reflective of internal culture.

READ MORE: How dual roles for marketers can make brands stronger

Although there are no marketers with dual roles at clothing retailer Seasalt at present, the close-knit nature of the team means HR and marketing are in constant communication on issues from recruitment to internal communications. It is this shared vision that helps maintain consistency across every touchpoint, according to head of brand and PR Helen Rowe.

Seasalt frequently gets all the team together at HQ in Cornwall to celebrate their achievements, including presentation days

“On a daily basis we’re coming at it from the same point of view and while it’s vital how the customer perceives our brand, it’s just as vital how the people who are already working for us, and want to work for us, perceive us as well.”

To help achieve consistency, marketing and HR collaborated on a handbook for new employees explaining the history of Seasalt and what makes the brand tick, focusing strongly on the retailer’s people values. When hiring marketers, Rowe conducts joint interviews with her colleagues in HR, who she believes are adept at finding brand advocates with an affinity for Seasalt.

It speaks volumes that we have both brand and HR representation on the board.

Helen Rowe, Seasalt

As a rapidly growing business that experiences a high level of seasonality in its retail workforce, the challenge for Seasalt is to maintain a consistent brand image across every touchpoint, which is crucial in the fiercely competitive fashion market.

“It’s a massive thing for us having that strong brand identity utterly rooted to Cornwall and all the maritime and creative heritage that goes with it, so while we can wrap that up as a brand, as an employer we want to make sure that everybody who works for us becomes a brand advocate themselves,” says Rowe.

“We’re proud that our collaborative approach has meant we have recruited interesting people with a really diverse range of talents and experience. And it speaks volumes that we have both brand and HR representation on the board, so this filters right down the business.”

Employer brand champion

In their efforts to attract the best talent, brands are increasingly embedding marketers within the HR department.

“The marketing team needs talent and there’s a lot of external hiring that needs to happen, so it’s in the business’ interest to put that marketer’s skills to good use in the HR department,” says Charlotte Matthews, employee brand manager at AB InBev.

A classically trained marketer, Matthews left Red Bull to take on the role at the brewing giant, which owns Stella Artois and Budweiser, in January 2015, adding global responsibilities to her European title in November 2016. The attraction of the role was the opportunity to gain a rounded experience in marketing.

“I had a friend who was working at AB InBev who said I should go for this marketing role in the HR team,” Matthews recalls. “And I was like, ‘why on earth would I do that? I’ve got my ultimate marketing job, why would I go to HR?”

But when she met the AB InBev team, they explained that the company had a problem with not being able to attract top talent quickly enough and they wanted Matthews’s marketing knowledge to fix it.

“For me it was going into an environment where there’s no rulebook, which was so appealing to me as a marketer,” she explains.

“I could have carried on at Red Bull, or another large organisation, and been a small part of the marketing piece, but I felt I wasn’t learning fast enough and I wanted to learn the whole of marketing quickly. There’s no better way of doing that than being thrown into the deep end with expectations high, but no one knowing what to expect. So for a marketer it’s a really strong move to make.”

Having a marketing mindset is essential in the employer brand space, says Matthews, whose role is primarily focused on brand building and developing content drawing on employee stories that will encourage candidates to apply for a job at AB InBev.

It’s in the business’ interest to put that marketer’s skills to good use in the HR department

Charlotte Matthews, AB InBev

The majority of the media buy is focused on LinkedIn, which in 2016 directly resulted in 75 hires of people who had interacted with an AB InBev-sponsored advert or piece of content. Stories about employees and their achievements work best, striking an authentic note with potential recruits.

READ MORE: LinkedIn’s CMO on being a marketing boss with ‘PR DNA’

“It’s a marketing role as you need to be able to understand what content and what platform works because if you don’t understand those two things, you just end up doing ‘social media’,” says Matthews.

“If you don’t have the right paid media behind the right types of content, it’s a waste of everyone’s time and effort, so it’s crucial to have a marketer in these roles.”

Working so closely with HR has taught Matthews to be creative with less money and not rely on agencies. As processes are not set up in the same way as in consumer marketing, she can’t use traditional forms of measurements so has had to develop her own methods to measure ROI.

When somebody applies for a job at AB InBev, they do so through one website, which allows Matthews to link marketing investment to recruitment. “I can say what we did affected 75 hires and that we received X amount of job applications off the back of it, so the role itself has really made me look at how you define ROI,” she says.

For Matthews, the experience has been similar to being an entrepreneur running a startup business.“I really had to get my hands dirty because I’ve been one person, so I’ve done everything from the tasks which you would give to an agency to actually raising the money in the first place,” she explains.

“Because you don’t have anything you have to work really hard to get something, and when you get it, you savour it.”

Talent management

To build an agile business culture, HR departments are increasingly refocusing their leadership programmes on promoting collaboration and an entrepreneurial spirit, alongside the behaviours that establish company culture, according to Econsultancy’s report.

Marketers and HR teams at GSK collaborate closely on leadership programmes like the early talent programme

This is the case at GlaxoSmithKline, where the close collaboration between marketing and HR is helping attract and retain future leaders. The teams work together on the early talent programme, which spans 40 apprentices, placement students and graduates across four countries.

“At GSK, we want to attract top marketers to the business and support them with tailored development programmes, so we collaborate [with HR] on structured learning and mentoring, which means a lot of interaction and daily working,” explains Karina Pyne, area respiratory category marketing director for consumer healthcare, Northern Europe.

“People and performance are an absolute priority for GSK from the top down, so we’re united behind delivering that and if we didn’t do it together, we wouldn’t achieve it.”

Pyne works closely with Chloe Sharples, Northern Europe area capability manager, to ensure that new recruits in the early talent programme have tailored development plans, as well as developing succession plans to move them into the right permanent role.

Sharples, a former marketer, explains that GSK’s collaborative culture helps the HR and talent teams better understand what the marketing department requires from new recruits.

“Our culture of working together means we can understand the roles better in marketing and put people in the right roles, stretching them in the right way that’s also the right fit for our teams,” she says.

“It is so important that we are working together as a team in HR and marketing, so that I can really understand the roles and opportunities that marketing has, and the individual parts of marketing, because there are so many different areas.”

READ MORE: Why marketers are opting for upskilling

Culturally, a lot can be said for HR working collaboratively across all functions, says Rowe at Seasalt, who credits the close relationship between marketing and HR for helping recruit a junior member of the marketing team from within the retail division.

“I hadn’t recruited anyone from retail before and certainly never recruited anyone with no formal marketing training at all, so it was a bit of a leap. But it helps soften that when your colleagues in HR are really great at spotting natural talent,” she says.

“They can see that somebody is really enthused and already displaying the mindset that you need to make that shift across. Certainly there was a conversation between HR and marketing to make sure that it wasn’t a leap and it was a nice, natural move.”

From bringing marketers into the employer brand space to uncovering and retaining the best new talent, close collaboration between marketers and HR teams is likely to be a feature of future marketing teams for years to come.

Marketing Week interviewed GSK’s Karina Pyne and Chloe Sharples for the first in a our new series called A Marketer’s Best Friend. Watch the video here.


‘Collaboration not control’ – how sales and marketing can work together

Sarah Vizard

Despite the fact that 80% of businesses recognise the benefits of greater alignment between sales and marketing, most (60%) aren’t unifying their divisions. So says a new report from recruiter Ranstad. However, unification doesn’t mean a full shake-up of departments or a new sales and marketing boss, instead marketers need to find ways to collaborate more closely with their sales colleagues, much as they do with the rest of the business.