/ 30 August 2013

HR can be a marketing tool

Sandy Mohonathan
Sandy Mohonathan, enterprise and HR lead at Accenture. (Tracy Burrows)

The lines between HR and marketing have become blurred — now, HR plays a critical role in the company’s brand management and even product sales, in addition to its role in the war for skills.

In an environment where high-end skills are in demand, HR needs to ensure that the company is an attractive prospect for potential employees, particularly the next generation workforce.

Sandy Mohonathan, enterprise and HR lead at Accenture, says HR plays a key role in ensuring that the company is seen as an employer of choice to attract top skills.

“Staff, particularly younger staff, want to be proud to say they work for a company that only recruits the best people,” she says. “To attract the best staff your brand must be out there as the best employer, you need to have smart offices, good perks and people must feel good about coming to work.”

Doing so means ensuring the company is highly visible as an employer of choice, as well as running ongoing initiatives in the company to engage staff and keep them motivated.

For example, SAP, hoping to be seen as an employer of choice, introduced a “People Strategy” in 2010 as an integral part of its corporate strategy.

It ensures that the company has the best people with the right skills, driving innovation and allowing the sustainable and profitable growth of the company.

SAP sees attracting and retaining talent as one of the greatest challenges for the future. Its strategy includes awareness campaigns among students, graduates and professionals, promoting SAP as a great place to work where employees can help the world operate better.

Creating brand embassadors
HR’s marketing efforts don’t end at attracting and retaining skills — they need to extend to securing staff buy-in to the company, its values and its products too.

Lara-Lee Magnus, managing director of Second Floor Social Business and Marketing, says: “Traditionally, marketing involved mass messages to external audience.

“But now, companies — especially large enterprises — are using the same mass marketing tools to communicate internally too. HR becomes the channel through which marketing reaches employees.”

Magnus says HR’s role in marketing the enterprise extends beyond showcasing the company as an employer of choice to attract and retain top talent. It is also important to turn all employees into brand ambassadors.

“If the staff members are passionate about the company and its products, the company benefits,” she says. “So HR has to collaborate closely with marketing to create staff buy-in to the company and its products. It has to be an ongoing process, using a variety of tools.

“You might have screens in the workplace, advertising, training and knowledge sharing via internal social media platforms to make staff fall in love with the product. It can be difficult and often requires a change in mindset within the organisation.”

Old Mutual is one enterprise putting this into practice.

Anisha Archary, HR director, Old Mutual Emerging Markets, says Old Mutual believes every team has a role to play in enabling people strategies.

“We have built a strong and collaborative relationship between HR and marketing. One of the most tangible ways we are doing this is treating our employees as customers, educating them about our products and often launching our products to staff first before we go to market.

“This ensures that staff remain our brand ambassadors by keeping the customer at the centre of everything we do.

“We also run an employee brand tracker survey every year on brand sentiment and product knowledge. The insights we gain from this help us shape the employee engagement plans.”

HR also has a role to play in ensuring that what staff communicate with the market is of a positive nature, says Magnus. In an always-connected environment, people share their lives on the internet.

“A large part of this includes their work. They share what’s on their desks, what happened during drinks after work, what they think of their boss. There is no limit to this sharing and enterprises can’t stop it.

“So HR has to keep it in mind and ensure that the workplace is a positive, transparent environment which, if shared online, is consistent with the company’s brand and supports a positive reputation.”

Positive communication
Monica Rubombora, managing director of the talent and organisational portfolio at Accenture, says up until a few years ago one’s payslip and offers of employment would be kept private, now people freely share this information with their social networks.

“You might make someone a written offer of employment and the next minute they scan it and post it online to ask their networks what they think of it,” she says. “In the social networking age nothing is private and companies need to be aware of this.”

HR’s role is important in communication across the entire enterprise, whether the HR department directory manages internal communications or works with a communications or marketing consultant.

This is according to Dawn Rowlands, chief executive of Aegis Media South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, inaugural Global Marketing Network South African president and BWASA Business Woman of the Year in the corporate category for 2012.

Rowlands says the internal marketing extends to communicating with staff about the company’s vision, values and value proposition.

If there is a transition underway, internal communication and marketing become even more important to getting staff buy-in.

Doing so effectively is about more than simply making the information available, she says.

“You need to communicate with staff about what the vision is, what changes are needed and weave a story into it. People need to buy into the story, so they see where you going.”

With the right communication, she says, change is managed effectively and all staff communicate the same brand message.

“The communication needs to be ongoing and consistent. Staff must be updated on all news. You don’t want a situation where staff are asking ‘why am I always the last person to know about this?’”

Rowlands believes that while HR’s role is key in communicating with staff, HR is not necessarily equipped to manage all the internal marketing alone.

“Ideally, the marketing managers should have a key performance index of internal communications, or there should be an internal communications team and they should work with HR, which determines the objectives of the campaign.”

Another role HR plays in marketing the organisation is to ensure that the message filtering into the market through staff reflects the company’s vision and values.

“80% of what people are saying in the public space is not controlled by the company. People speak out in a social context, and now — more than ever — on social media.

“You can’t have them saying negative things about the company and its clients. “HR plays a role in educating employees on their social media responsibilities and obligations to their company’s reputation.”

There is also the question of skilling and authorising staff members to speak to the media.

“HR needs to ensure that levels of responsibility are delegated and the appropriate people are trained and authorised to speak to the media, or on social media,” Rowlands says.

Whether HR takes charge of marketing to staff, or collaborates with an internal marketing division, it’s clear that HR’s role has extended far beyond recruitment and payroll.

Mohonathan says: “Now, HR supports everything a company does.”