The hard sell

first_imgHRis failing to get the message of its crucial role over to the board. We askedthree  advertising agencies how theywould tackle the issue. By Philip Boucher and Liz SimpsonWe’ve heard it all before but HR is a profession that is frequentlyoverlooked, sidelined dismissed and downsized. Clearly, such complacency callsfor radical tactics to change this mindset. What if the profession were to callin an advertising agency to come up with an advertising/marketing campaign togive the board that much-needed wake-up call and convince them of the vitalcontribution HR makes to an organisation? Advertising is all about selling the lifestyle of a particular product orservice. With companies increasingly striving to become employers of choice, HRhas an integral part to play in promoting a company’s culture and, byassociation, its brand. Therefore a higher profile for HR within anorganisation will start to establish this. To devise the campaigns we approached three agencies located in the UK andUS and gave them a brief (see agency brief left) as to how HR wants to be seen.The campaign wouldn’t have a fixed budget so would not be constricted by costs,but it would be up to the agencies to maximise the effectiveness of theirmessage through clever choice of media. Each of the three agencies came up with very different interpretations ofthe brief, solutions, methods of delivery and rationales for their approach. The campaigns Agency: Ward Diamond Advertising WDA, based in Clerkenwell, London, was established more than seven years agoand has an annual turnover of £4m. It has a team of recruitment advertisingspecialists and its client base includes British Film Institute, BritishAirways Travel Shops, Thomas Cook, Rail Europe and Macmillan Cancer Relief. The campaign To brand HR as ‘HRMY’, a pun on army, and use a seriesof events leading up to an ‘HRMY’ delivering a dossier with evidence of HR’ssuccesses in other organisations to the board. The rationale for the pun, explains WDA managing director Samantha Diamond,is that an army is powerful and able to achieve ambitious and complexobjectives as a result of leadership, planning and strategy and HR should beperceived in the same way. To avoid seeming overly militaristic, WDA decided that its campaign wouldcontain no inappropriate reference to conflict, weapons, attacks or anythingsimilar – it wouldn’t even mention the war for talent. The tagline to the campaign would be performance-enhancing force – againpromoting HR’s ability to influence the bottom line. To match the army theme, the campaign would be run in phases like thebuild-up to a military operation. Each phase would begin on a Monday, leadingup to the final brief to the board. The first stage would be a giant inflatablebillboard to announce to the board that something big was coming. The second would add intrigue. Every day of week two an envelope marked ‘ForYour Eyes Only’ would be pushed under each director’s door. Envelopes wouldcontain a task and a method by which to achieve it. The tasks would all relateto improving business performance. The methods would demonstrate proven ways inwhich HR can achieve this. In week three, directors would receive a package – the HRMY operations kit. Mockedup to resemble a survival kit, it would contain the following items, each witha label attached with one word printed which refer to key ways in which HR canaid business: – Compass – direction (ensuring workers understand board goals and work towardsthem) – Radio – communication (promoting effective communication throughout thecompany) – Flare – attraction (attracting and retaining people who can help the boardachieve its goals) – Chocolate – energy and motivation (motivating staff to raise productivity)– Antiseptic – problem prevention (providing the flexibility to counterexternal threats and problems within the organisation The final stage is a directors’ meeting where the uniformed HRMY team wouldburst in. The dossier would be distributed to each director and the most seniorHRMY member would begin the briefing. Key message The best way to get through to the board is todemonstrate how HR can affect the bottom line Media The campaign would run in several phases – billboardadvertising, direct mail and publications Soundbite “We should portray HR as a confident, credible andcapable force.” Agency: Wilding McArdle Wilson (WMW) WMW is an employer marketing agency based in Clerkenwell, London. Set upfive years ago 80 per cent of its work is consultancy (in both print andmulti-media) and ranges from employer branding programmes to online orderingsystems. The remaining 20 per cent of its work is from recruitment advertising.Clients include: Arcadia, B&Q, Deloitte & Touche, Dyson and KraftFoods. The campaign WMW chose to internally promote the central businessrole that a business-focused client and commercially driven HR function shouldplay – in order to win the confidence of both senior management and board leveldirectors. The campaign seeks to convey how HR makes a difference to the bottom linevia the mixed media of posters, teasers, faux heritage plaques and an onlineboard game, in what director Sue McArdle, describes as a “witty, playfuland innovative way”. “The crucial issue of this campaign is to promote the vital role thatHR plays and to convey how HR makes its contribution to the bottom line. Ifthis is successfully accomplished, it’s a simple and inevitable progression tohaving a voice at board level,” she explains. The campaign is intended to be versatile and can be paced over anytimescale. Media Teasers – delivered directly to senior management, internalposters, fake commemorative plaques, a playable game called (Get on) The BoardGame and an intranet version of the board game Key message HR is an essential function for the wellbeing of thebusiness because it does following things for the business. Soundbite “HR functions tend to promote their programmes asindividual, distinct strategies rather than as a single expression of awide-ranging, key business enabler. Strong HR strategy is integral to everyaspect of a business, not just a ‘people-thing’.” To play the online version of (Get on) The Board Game go to www.wmwuk.net/ontheboardAgency: The Cherenson Group Cherenson is a full-service PR and advertising agency with a recruitment armbased in New Jersey, US. Vice-president Mike Cherenson has worked for thedemocratic national convention committee in 1992 and as a consultant for localand state-wide politicians. Clients include: Coca-Cola, Avis, PrudentialFinancial and Bank of New York. The campaign The Cherenson Group approached the task as a politicalcampaign that must win support throughout the organisation. “In corporatelife no-one is going to get anywhere until they accept that business lifeinvolves political fights including the ability to show why you’re importantand need to be listened to,” explains Cherenson. Step one, he says, consists of HR touring the company to find out what theemployee issues are. “Like any good political candidate you can only solvepeople’s problems if you know what these are in the first place.” This internal qualitative research can be translated into a series of casestudies outlining all the ways in which HR has actually helped employees withtheir concerns. Real life examples could be used as a series of messages to employeesconveyed through large wall posters, inserted into employee mailings, posted onthe corporate intranet and even screensavers. Cherenson believes attracting the‘voters’ in this way builds a network of advocates throughout the company whowill help disseminate the message to line managers (whose support is vital inpersuading the board) that HR is an effective and essential business partner. “Today’s companies are always looking to slash overheads and increaserevenue. HR is the one department that has ties to all employees and it needsto develop and utilise those relationships, and the tools at its disposal, tosolve the company’s problems,” he explains. Key message When people have a problem and want to know who can helpthem, the answer is, human resources. HR needs to present evidence to the boardthat what it does is not an expense but an investment and that such investmentshave demonstrable returns. Media Wall posters, inserts into employee mailings, the corporateintranet, screensavers backed up by short executive briefings. Soundbite “There is no magic dust and putting up some posterswill not fix the problem overnight. This must be a long-term sustainedprogramme, where HR is seen as an advocate for the workers” he HR in a bad light: how it is frequently seen – HR professionals lack foresight, influence and credibility and play a marginalrole in many companies – The board is (often) mystified about what HR does and is ignorant of therelationship between good people management and financial performance – Even when companies put people issues at the heart of their policies, HRdoes not get the recognition for putting these in place – HR’s role is primarily stuck at the lower end of the scale hampered bymanagers’ failure to understand what it can offer and also by HR professionalsnot being assertive enough and not having enough authority (see below) – However talented an HR director is, if the board does not want to listenit won’t..*Equally, if line managers don’t buy into HR strategy, gettinganything done may prove nigh on impossible. How HR wants to be seen: convincing the board – Be a dynamic, credible force with business acumen that makes a positivecontribution to organisational performance and the bottom line – To be considered a priority – involved right at the beginning of anystrategic agenda or business planning and able to draw people strategies fromthe business objectives And be seen as a ‘value-adder’ to any commercialdecision – For business leaders to recognise the value of good people management andhigh-performance HR policies – Considered as an effective business partner with a seat on the board orfailing that to at least have a strong relationship with the top team – To be seen as accessible and effective by the workforce, shedding thehuman remains image Comments are closed. 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