Why marketing and HR roles are becoming more fluid every single day! A conversation with HR professional, Paula Walcott

“Marketing will bring a perspective to a particular activity that HR may not necessarily be able to achieve on its own – and vice versa!” – Paula Walcott

“Brands are built from the inside – not the outside!” That is the clear and unapologetic mantra being adopted by modern businesses all across the globe. These businesses understand that several factors other than marketing, advertising and social media campaigns can have an impact on their brands. They understand that even the most clever campaigns can be completely derailed by disengaged employees delivering poor customer service – especially in today’s hyper-connected digital world where customers can skewer brands online using posts, tweets, snaps, tik toks and ‘grams to broadcast their displeasure to their thousands (or, in some cases, millions) of followers whenever they have a poor experience with a brand.

It’s no wonder that business executive, Brian Whipple notes, “We don’t believe brands are built from advertising anymore. They are built from an amalgamation of customer experiences, so that is what we are focused on.” Whipple’s words, though insightful, aren’t exactly revolutionary. For years, customer experience professionals have pointed out that companies need to invest more time and money in their customer experience programs – even if that means investing less in paid advertising campaigns. But Whipple isn’t a customer experience professional. Whipple is actually a career ad man, having spent time at Omnicom and IPG, two of the industry’s most respected advertising agencies. He is currently Senior Managing Director at Accenture Interactive, one of the world’s largest digital agencies by revenue.

That’s right. A career ad exec believes that brands “aren’t built from advertising anymore”! What gives?! Whipple, like many modern ad guys, recognizes that just one customer experience misstep can lead to tarnished reputations – and, in worst-case scenarios, to crises which companies can spend years trying to recover from.

That’s why modern-day marketing professionals owe a great debt of gratitude to their organizations’ HR professionals – the guys and gals most likely to be responsible for their organizations’ company culture, employee brand engagement and employee experience.

While many business leaders of previous generations viewed the role of their HR professionals as being strictly employee-focused (and, in some worst-case scenarios as being the organization’s “policy police”), modern businesses see HR professionals as being absolutely critical to their efforts to build brands that are known, liked and trusted by their employees, customers and the wider business communities in which they operate.

Paula Walcott is one of these business professionals who sees HR as being central to organizations’ brand-building efforts. During her 17+ year career, Paula has worked at some of Barbados’ most well-known organizations including Columbus Telecommunications, Cable & Wireless and now, Sagicor General Insurance where she serves as Assistant Vice President, Human Resources.

Like many modern human resources professionals, Paula sees herself as an important defender and stakeholder of her organization’s brand. Considering Paula’s views on HR professionals being stakeholders of their organizations’ brands, it’s no surprise, then, that many of Paula’s colleagues believe that she should be in marketing. Paula’s response to her co-workers’ good-natured ribbing? “I don’t think that I should necessarily be in marketing, as much as I probably identify with a lot of the things that would matter to marketing.”  

Paula, in fact, has a long history of working with marketing teams at the companies where she has worked. Over the years, Paula has worked with her marketing colleagues to plan and execute annual kick-off meetings, annual awards, staff parties, internal communications projects, brand launches, mission-driven and culture-building weeks, and corporate social responsibility and public relations initiatives.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic reaching Barbados’ shores, Paula transformed two of her organization’s company’s spaces into collaboration zones by leveraging the principles of consumer-centric marketing and by having a laser-sharp focus on the users of the space – particularly the feelings she needed users to have while working in these spaces. To achieve her objective, she crafted a strategy that included using colour theory to determine the wall colors selected based on the feeling she needed team members to have when in the space and once they have left the space. She also developed a specific messaging strategy for the wall graphics to inspire creativity, collaboration, and accountability for actions. Even the names of the two spaces were deliberately selected to ensure that the users’ mindsets were impacted upon arrival. “The Zone” was the name selected for the learning and development space to encourage persons to be mentally and emotionally present and participate actively in their development while in the space. “The Huddle” was the name selected for the space dedicated to creative brainstorming and informal energy-boosting team sessions. 

Commenting on why she deliberately chooses to work closely with her marketing team on projects that have a clear HR focus, Paula makes a simple, but powerful observation: “Marketing will bring a perspective to a particular activity that HR may not necessarily be able to achieve on its own – and vice versa!” In other words, the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. 

Continuing her train of thought, Paula also zoomed in on brand storytelling as one of the prime areas where marketing and HR professionals should be working closely together – especially during times when the organization is going through cultural transformations, which often happen during brand repositioning campaigns, mergers and acquisitions and periods of intense competition from other industry players. As Paula notes, marketing professionals can use their storytelling expertise to work collaboratively with their HR peers to ensure that inspiring brand stories are crafted in attractive ways. According to Paula, one of the greatest benefits of marketing and HR working together is being able to embed the culture through an internal branding strategy built around the values, behaviors, and attitudes of the organization. This internal brand storytelling strategy should embrace employee recognition by highlighting and recognizing employees whose on-the-job behaviors are aligned with their organization’s purpose, vision and core values.

Paula’s marketing-inspired approach to HR and her willingness to embrace her role as a defender of her company’s brand is very much in line with the global trend of companies pairing their branding and HR teams to work more closely together, in a relationship that Blueprint Creative refers to as “Bhranding” (Branding + HR = “Bhranding”). Paula sums up the growing collaboration between HR and marketing departments as a shared focus on people. While marketing professionals tend to focus on getting external stakeholders (such as customers, the media and other related stakeholders) to fall in love with the brand, HR professionals tend to focus on getting internal individual stakeholders (primarily full-time employees and, increasingly, freelancers, gig workers, digital nomads and contract workers) to fall in love with the brand. “So, naturally”, says Paula, “there is a shared alignment and harmony between the two.”

However, Paula is quick to point out that while there should be a harmonious relationship between marketing and HR, the organization’s first responsibility is to its employees. An organization’s first community, she says, should be its internal community. Whatever employees feel on the inside will be felt on the outside. “If you are doing everything or most things right on the inside, then that translates externally, and people outside of the organization will love your brand because the people inside love your brand”.  

The recognition and acceptance of what Paula describes as a “shared alignment and harmony” between HR and marketing is at least partially responsible for the growing fluidity between the HR and marketing roles in many companies across the globe. In our research on the remarkable rise of the “Bhranding” professional, Blueprint Creative has come across examples of HR professionals transferring into marketing roles at their organizations, and marketing professionals taking up HR responsibilities. We have also come across examples of organizations that have hired trained marketing professionals to work in their HR departments and examples where one individual is responsible for both the HR and marketing functions at their companies. Clearly, the strict lines that typically separate organizations’ marketing and HR professionals are increasingly being replaced by a synergetic fluidity between the two functions. And job expectations that were previously either marketing or HR are gradually being replaced by many organizations’ growing need for “Bhranding Superheroes” – individuals who, like Paula, have embraced the principles of both branding and HR.

There are (at least) two main turbines behind the remarkable rise of the “Bhranding” professional. The first turbine is what Rajeev Bhardwaj, an HR professional from India describes as the transformation of HR “from an administrative overhead to the fountainhead of innovative solutions to cultivate and nurture talent”. This move towards being the fountainhead of innovative solutions frequently includes HR professionals ‘owning’ at least part of the responsibility for their organizations’ marketing process. As author Michelle Smith notes: “Enduring brands are built by people – not ads, clicks or views. Marketing has traditionally taken the lead in communicating the corporate brand promise, but when it comes to delivering on those promises, its [sic] people from all around the organization who have to do the meticulous work of successfully bringing the brand promise to life.” And, as writer Chris Wakely adds: “Branding is no longer solely the job of the marketing department. HR professionals must now embrace their roles as internal branders.”

The second turbine is that branding professionals are taking a more holistic approach to branding – one that focuses on marketing their organizations to customers as well as to employees! The constantly increasing strength of these two turbines has created a scenario that requires (if not demands) modern marketing and HR professionals to work more closely together than at any other time in history.

Which brings us back to Paula, her marketing-inspired approach to HR and her willingness to embrace her role as a “Bhranding Superhero”. During her 17+ years in the HR field, Paula has seen the impact of these two turbines grow in strength and, through her roles as a culture strategist, an employee engagement architect and a “Bhranding Superhero”, is demonstrating how modern HR professionals can embrace their roles as internal brand champions.

As long as these two turbines continue to operate, the increasing fluidity between marketing and HR functions is likely to continue – drastically changing the business landscape as we know it. And in this new landscape, “Bhranding Superheroes” like Paula who see themselves as defenders and protectors of their organizations’ brand will certainly thrive!

By Ron Johnson

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