Marketing’s got talent

Ditch the corporate recruitment rulebook and find new ways to attract and keep the best people, say Britain’s top brands.

As auditions for this year’s series of The X Factor get under way, people are lining up across the country hoping to be shortlisted.

But it is not only the show that is searching for exceptional aptitude – businesses too are looking for new ways to attract the best staff, and keep them committed once they are on board.

Companies including Heineken, Diageo, Mars UK and Live Nation are moving towards a more considered approach to finding talent by taking the interview process out of the office and not asking the usual questions that can often elicit similar answers.

Heineken, for example, added a video on YouTube called The Candidate, which shows the unorthodox interview practices it used to hire an intern, including the interviewer fainting and members of the brand team holding hands with the interviewee. The process was filmed and the results were put to the internal marketing team so it could decide on the winning candidate (see case study).

Diageo, which sends out offer letters with a bottle of the successful candidate’s favourite drink, believes that Heineken’s recruitment project is an extreme example of the trend for going beyond the normal interview process, but that it shows the need to get to know people on a personal level.

Diageo global innovation director Syl Saller says: “I loved it because it was very thought-provoking in terms of how we interview people. I don’t know whether you need to be that extreme but I think this idea of meeting people in bars and getting to know them personally can be important.

“Why should we be meeting people in an office building?” adds Saller. “Why not in their favourite bar and have them tell us why it is their favourite? We work in a terrific industry and we should be bringing some of the excitement of working in this industry into the interview process.”

The successful search for talent certainly lies in good recruitment techniques because people who seem perfect on paper might not perform well in interview circumstances and vice versa.

Having a poor recruitment process can also have a major effect on the business in the long term. For the past three years, local commercial radio broadcaster UKRD has topped The Times list of the best companies to work for. Chief executive William Rogers warns managers to be clear on their expectations of potential employees.

“Recruitment is fundamentally important: every time you get one of those decisions wrong it causes an issue within the business. If you get the right person and they fit in well, their contribution will be significant, the business will be all the more successful and the staff churn rate will be lower. It is worth making a far greater effort up front.”

Rogers advises companies to correct any recruitment mistakes immediately by removing that person and starting again, particularly in terms of the behaviour and personality of the individual. He says it is not worth keeping on the wrong person because of the damage that will be done to the business.

Recruiting talent is not always about filling an available position in a traditional way. For example, a ‘talent network’ enables businesses to get to know the best people in their industry, but it is not an interview for a job.

“Buying them a drink or dinner and talking about their career and aspirations, that’s a great approach,” says Saller, whose ‘end game’ is having a pipeline and network of the most talented people in every country.

Diageo uses a ‘talent network’ to find future employees

Saller has met people in this way and hired them when relevant openings arose. She has also interviewed an unsuccessful applicant for a particular job but hired them for another more suitable role in the company. This requires insight into what skills a company already has on board and which ones it lacks.

When Live Nation, which runs events such as Hard Rock Calling and the Wireless festival, hired its director of marketing Jasmine Skee in 2012, the existing team underwent a restructure.

Skee says: “When I started, I had a couple of people resign, so rather than replace like for like I spent some time getting to understand the company a bit more, looking at what resources we had and what we needed.

“What came out of it was the belief that we need to have marketing specialists, I don’t think the general marketer can get away with it anymore. So where previously there were marketing managers and content editors, I now have a digital team, a creative team, campaign team and a PR team.”

Google has also seen the need for marketing specialists and in response has launched a training scheme in February to address a digital skills gap in the agency sector. Google partnered with the IPA and 35 advertising agencies in a UK internship programme dubbed Squared, which had its first intake in March.

The training programme, which is funded by Google, involves a six-week “immersion in digital technology” for entrants into its agency partners’ respective graduate schemes. Digital marketing experts from agencies will be offering advice on digital marketing disciplines to the graduates.

Bringing in various skill sets to make up a whole rather than hire marketing managers who have to look after many disciplines can work in a brand’s favour.

Recruitment is fundamentally important. If you get it wrong, it can cause issues within the business

As part of a restructure at Live Nation, six people moved on and 11 new roles were created. Skee says that when recruiting for those jobs, she was looking for specialists. “I have a head of creative that has come from a brand, bringing in his skills set, and a junior planner from an agency, so I was very specific about certain roles, whether they come from agencies or big brands.”

Saller takes the same approach to hiring at Diageo. For example, Garbhan O’Bric, the global brand director for Baileys, who previously worked at advertising agency Mother, is a planner by nature who has brought a terrific skill set to Diageo.”

The drinks manufacturer also hires people from FMCG backgrounds, who Saller claims are “tired of the slow moving process and want to live in Diageo’s more entrepreneurial world.” She says: “It’s a very diverse pool of talent that we are looking for. We don’t expect any one person to have all the characteristics, it’s the total web of talent that we are weaving.”

However, Diageo found that in Africa it needed to have a graduate programme to fill its pipeline of future talent because of the rate of growth in its business on the Continent.

Mondelez International and Mars UK have said that they are increasing the number of places they offer business studies graduates and are looking to hire more from non-marketing backgrounds. The idea is that those with a strong commercial sense will increase the number of graduates who go on to become senior managers.

Mars Chocolate UK human resources director Amanda Davies says: “If you look at the approach we take with graduates, we do invest in a rigorous selection process. You have to attract those candidates who want to apply in the first place, we then do the first round with online screening, followed by a face-to-face interview and an assessment centre, with group discussions and tasks, which are facilitated by human resources as well as senior managers.

“I think the harder you work at recruitment, the better chance you will have of finding a fit for both sides and an associate (employee) that will really succeed in your business.”

Rogers at UKRD believes that replacing good people who have left is a real problem for most businesses. However, his company has noticed that the more care that is taken in recruiting and looking after staff once they join the company, the lower the level of staff churn rate.

Mars UK is increasing the number of graduate places to applicants with business studies degrees

“It’s a long haul but if you get it right, it is the most tremendously valuable thing for a business not to have churn,” says Rogers. “It just damages the success of your company. It doesn’t matter what your business is, the more instability you have, the more damage to relationships externally and internally and as a result of that your business is not as successful as it can be.

It’s really worth working hard to make sure you reduce your churn rate and get your recruitment right in the first place.”

The work environment can also have a huge effect on whether the person you hire flourishes within the business. In the case of telecommunications company Plantronics, changing the work environment meant breaking down the barriers of the 9 to 5 desk job.

The company adopted an approach dubbed ‘smarter working’ where employees choose how they work in terms of location and hours. Workers who have to liaise with teams based in the US can choose to start their day later as many US teams sign on around 4pm UK time. Working parents do not have to worry about being late because of the school run or taking time off for children’s appointments as they can work around commitments in the office. The company also pays for gym membership and allows employees to take time out during the day to work out and avoid the morning and evening rush. Employees can also choose to work from home or combine working from home and the office.

Plantronics allows this way of working through a results-based goal system, which is monitored by line managers. Smarter working is an option; those who prefer the 9 to 5 can continue to work that way.

Plantronics EMEA human resources director Norma Pearce says: “It’s empowerment, you are in charge of your own work-life balance. The biggest benefit is to working parents who can take on a full-time job and fit their personal commitments around work commitments, and it doesn’t restrict them to a part-time job.”

Plantronics is working with technology agency Volume to further drive high employee retention and develop a 24/7 business model and has seen results with smarter working. Voluntary headcount turnover decreased from 15 per cent in January 2012 to 3.2 per cent in December 2012, and in an engagement survey conducted in December 2012, 98 per cent expressed an intent to stay with the company.

When Plantronics refurbished its offices and turned to this style of working, job satisfaction increased from 61 per cent to 85 per cent between September 2010 and the same month in 2011. Overall employee engagement results were 86 per cent whereas the industry norm is 62 per cent and it also saw a reduction in absenteeism, from 12.7 per cent in January 2012 to 3.5 per cent in December 2012.

After all, businesses have to keep the talent once they are on board, which can be aligned with the working environment. Rogers at UKRD says: “The important link is that if you get the people and the culture right, the commercial success follows. If you drive your business by the numbers, you will end up under-performing in the sector because you are ignoring your most important asset and that is your people.”

Saller at Diageo advises companies to think more deeply about how precious talent is and the employee’s experience. “People spend more time in their work life than they do with their family, that is precious and we have to honour that in thinking what it means to them in every step of the journey,” she says. “So if I was to urge companies to do anything differently it’s not just the front end of their recruitment process, it’s thinking deeply about what kind of environment we need to create in order for them to flourish.”

Spotlight: Talent

  • Permanent marketing vacancies rose by 2.5 per cent in March, a drop of 14.2 per cent year on year (YOY).
  • CRM professionals saw the highest monthly demand, up 17.4 per cent in March. Significantly, it was the only role, with the exception of consultants, showing an increase in demand YOY at 22.29 per cent.
  • Consultants were in the highest demand YOY, up 45 per cent. There is a drop of 7 per cent for March on February. This rise may indicate an employer’s solution to a lack of confidence in the hiring market.
  • Marketing managers are in less demand (-28 per cent), and directors (-35 per cent).
  • Channel managers saw the highest rise in salary, up 33 per cent YOY and 9.1 per cent month on month.

Source: Badenoch and Clark

Top 3: The Sunday Times best companies to work for 2013


Average age: 35

Staff turnover: 22%

Earning £35,000+: 11%

For the third consecutive year the commercial radio operator has topped The Times best company to work for. Staff take part in annual culture and value days, are given training, have links with the local community and get recognition for work in the form of thank yous ranging from a bottle of wine to concert tickets as well as cakes and presents on birthdays.

2. Save Britain Money Group

Average age: 28

Staff turnover: 33%

Earning £35,000+: 3%

Sales staff at this money-saving service work on a bonus scheme that rewards sales volume and call quality. There are incentive days, a hall of fame that showcases employees and teams with high sales and an employee of the month scheme. High-performing teams are also rewarded with nights out.

3. TGI Friday’s

Average age: 29

Staff turnover: 25%

Earning £35,000+: 2%

The restaurant failed to make the top 100 in 2010 but is now third on the list. Every year, the company holds competitions, including an international bar tending championship and a team challenge to find the best performing restaurant. Rewards range from trips abroad to pins (which all have a meaning) that the staff wear on their braces. The business grew by 27 per cent last year and the company plans to open six restaurants this year.

Source: The Sunday Times Top 100




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