Why marketing and HR are two sides of the same coin! A conversation with Alanna Warwick-Smith.

The intersection between marketing and HR lies in the fact that, ultimately, both HR and marketing have the same goal– that of engaging people.

“Oh, by the way. I’m in marketing now!” Those eight words, delivered with a huge smile of satisfaction, convinced me that I needed to have a deeper conversation with Alanna Warwick-Smith. Alanna is a self-described “right-brained”, overly excited member of Generation Z who lives in the Cayman Islands. Alanna says that she wakes up every morning and tries to find the goodness in every day. Of course, when you live in the Cayman Islands, with its white-sand beaches, crystal-clear waters and friendly “Caymankind” people, you probably have a head start on finding the goodness in each day.

On one hand, I was caught off-guard by Alanna’s shift from HR to Marketing. From my previous interactions with Alanna, I could tell that she was very passionate about her previous job as a Human Resources Coordinator for Dart, the Cayman Islands’ largest private-sector employer and investor. On the other hand, I could easily see her settling into a role as a marketer, coming up with clever marketing campaigns, writing engaging content for social media posts and being involved in other creative branding initiatives to help her organization build a stronger brand and a stronger business.

When Alanna mentioned the change in her career journey, I happened to be on my third trip to Grand Cayman, where I would be conducting a workshop for the Cayman Islands Society of Human Resources Professionals (CISHRP). During my workshop, I planned on introducing a new business framework I had developed called “The Bhranding Equation” (Branding + HR = Bhranding”). The framework was developed to help organizations tear down the silos between their branding and HR teams and replace those silos with powerful synergies. The framework was developed because I, and my co-founders at Blueprint Creative, strongly believe that branding starts on the inside of the organization – not the outside, and that if branding starts on the inside of the organization, then HR professionals should be considered to be part of their organization’s branding teams.

During my workshop, I planned to share some of my predictions for the future of branding – including my belief that, over time, the delineations between marketing and HR roles would become more fluid – and that, by extension, this would lead to the remarkable rise of a new category of “Bhranding” professionals who observed the principles of both branding and HR.

Now that I knew that Alanna had experience in both HR and marketing, I realized that she was a real-life, honest-to-goodness Bhranding professional! As I asked her about her experience transitioning from HR to marketing, I felt like an explorer for National Geographic observing a new species in its natural habitat. Exciting stuff!

What I found out through my conversations with Alanna was eye-opening. While her responsibilities working in marketing were certainly markedly different from her responsibilities as an HR professional, Alanna’s approach to both jobs were strikingly similar.

The intersection between branding and HR

I first met Alanna a year earlier, during my first trip to Grand Cayman. Alanna had attended a workshop that I was delivering to a group of business professionals. The workshop explored why business leaders should encourage “The F-word” (fun) in the workplace. Not that Alanna needed much convincing. It was clear from her bubbly personality, enthusiastic nature and passion for her work that she believed that all employers should cultivate working environments where hard work, fun and productivity could happily co-exist. Alanna enthusiastically took part in the session’s interactive activities of blowing up balloons and flying paper airplanes. She was, indeed, a natural at having fun – a trait which she incorporated into her role as a Human Resources Coordinator specializing in recruitment. In that role, Alanna was in a perfect position to help develop an enjoyable working environment that would attract Cayman’s best and brightest individuals to want to work at the organization.

But now, as Senior Marketing Communications Coordinator, theoretically, her focus must have changed – dramatically! After all, in most cases, HR professionals tend to focus on activities that have an impact on employees while marketers tend to focus mainly on customer-oriented activities. But, after interviewing Alanna on how her responsibilities had changed after moving to her organization’s marketing department, it was clear that Alanna had found some crucial areas where the interests of marketing and HR teams were perfectly aligned.

According to Alanna, the intersection between marketing and HR lies in the fact that, ultimately, both HR and marketing have the same goal– that of engaging people. It’s just that they go about it from different perspectives. One of modern HR professionals’ most important roles is to create and maintain organizational cultures where employees are fully engaged and excited about helping the organization achieve its branding and business goals. Marketing’s role, on the other hand, is to leverage initiatives such as marketing, advertising and social media campaigns to engage customers to the point where they consistently choose the organization’s products and services and where they also act as enthusiastic brand ambassadors. But, at the end of the day, says Alanna, it’s all about engaging people.

The two sides of the engagement coin

Progressive business professionals understand that it is equally important to engage both customers and employees. Some even believe that it is even more important to engage employees first before even trying to engage customers. Simon Sinek, author of the best-selling book Start With Why, points out that “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” And billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is often quoted as having said “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

It would seem, then, that the roles of marketing and HR professionals are simply two sides of the same engagement coin. It’s no wonder then, that Alanna, a former HR professional, took to her new role as a marketer like a fish to water!

Alanna says that her stint working on the HR side of the engagement coin has helped her to become a better marketer – where she currently works on the other side of the coin. She says that working in HR taught her to think of others first. Whether she is developing newsletters, working on content for social media, analyzing social media marketing trends or tracking analytics to plan, developing and executing digital marketing strategy, it is now in her DNA to consider how the customers on the receiving end of her marketing initiatives will engage with those activities.

Working on both sides of the engagement coin has also helped her to identify some prime areas for marketing/HR synergies. For Alanna, at the top of that list is employer branding and recruitment. She remembers an instance when she was working in HR and was tasked with writing copy for a recruitment ad. Alluva sudden, a light bulb went off in her head. Perhaps, she thought, she should be working with a communications specialist or a marketer to develop the recruitment ad. Her thought process was that a comms specialist or a marketer who had experience in selling the company’s products and services to consumers could bring valuable insights on how to sell the benefits of working at the company to potential employees.

Alanna isn’t alone in her thinking that marketers and HR professionals should work closely together on recruitment projects to attract viable candidates to want to work at their organizations. In fact, one of the most often referenced opportunities for marketing /HR collaborations is that of employer branding and recruitment. Instead of putting out vacancy ads and hoping that they reach the intended audience, an increasing number of organizations are being more purposeful and pro-active about pairing their marketing and HR teams to work on their recruitment programs. As Lori Almeida and Margaret Molloy note: “HR isn’t able to attract the top talent if marketing fails to develop great content and promote the brand purpose. Creating better synergy between the two teams will ultimately produce greater results in strengthening the company brand.”

One example of the synergies that can occur when marketing and HR work together occurred when GE partnered with agency BBDO to develop a recruitment campaign entitled ‘What’s the matter with Owen’. The campaign comprised a series of humorous 30-second video spots that followed a character called Owen as he announces to his friends and family that he has just gotten a new job working as a programmer for GE. As he shares the good news, his friends and family are clearly confused – they still see GE as a staid manufacturing company rather than the dynamic, multi-industry digital goliath that it had evolved to become. The campaign was a success! According to Linda Boff, Chief Marketing Officer at GE, after the commercial aired, recruitment leapt up eight-fold!

Apart from having their HR teams work with an external marketing agency, companies are also ‘importing’ marketing muscle into their HR departments. For instance, as noted in an article entitled Why marketing and HR should join forces to drive advocacy among employees, companies are increasingly embedding marketers within the HR department. For instance, Charlotte Matthews, a classically trained marketer, left a marketing gig at Red Bull to join AB InBev (the brewing company that owns Stella Artois and Budweiser) and take up a role as Employer Brand Manager in the company’s HR department. 

Clearly, just as The Bhranding Equation framework had predicted, the lines of demarcation between marketing and HR are becoming fluid. On one side of the engagement coin, HR professionals are no longer seen as their organizations’ “policy police”. Instead, as HR professional Rajeev Bhardwaj notes, HR has transformed “from an administrative overhead to the fountainhead of innovative solutions to cultivate and nurture talent”. This fountainhead of innovative solutions now owns at least part of the responsibility for their organizations’ employer branding activities. And, on the other side of the engagement coin, marketers are increasingly being called on to apply their creativity and skillsets to HR-related projects. 

Which leads us back to Alanna, our HR Coordinator turned marketer, and certainly a pioneer in the growing field of Bhranding. Commenting on the similarities between marketing and HR professionals, she says emphatically that “We’re all the same!”, and pointed out that people who work in HR can be just as creative as persons who work in marketing, and that people who work in marketing can be just as analytical as persons who work in HR. “Imagine if you could put all those minds together,” she says. “You’re essentially accessing a whole brain – left brain and right brain!”

Alanna is confident that her experience as an HR professional has made her a better marketer, as she was able to import some of her HR skillsets and apply them to her marketing responsibilities. As we closed out our interview with Alanna, we asked her if she were ever to return to an HR role, what marketing skillsets or attitudes she would import back into HR. Her response was unsurprising.

“Make things fun, man!”, she said. “Work doesn’t need to be work. If I could do anything in this world, I would change the name of work, I would call it something else. Because work doesn’t need to be work. [Work] can be fun. And it can be engaging and inspiring. It doesn’t just need to be that you’re pushing paper every day. It can be that you’re being fun and creative and innovative and cool. [We should be saying] ‘What can we create today?’ rather than coming to work and being like, ‘what fires are we going to put out?’ That’s been like my biggest takeaway from changing departments. When you’re in a creative field, possibilities are endless!”

Well said, Alanna! Well said!

By Ron Johnson

Author | Speaker | Storyteller (Co-founder, Blueprint Creative)
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