Marketing is the new HR: No it’s not…

barking up the wrong treeDrawing parallels between HR and Marketing is not new. David Fairhurst recognised this when he ran resourcing for GlaxoSmithKline back in the late 90’s and was one of the first people in the HR profession to acknowledge and put into practice the beneifts of learning from your marketing colleagues when developing the employer value proposition.

In reality, little has changed in those 15 years since although the focus on talent and the emergence of social media especially, since the late 00’s has pushed the subject back onto the features list of journalist and bloggers alike.

One of the more recent examples comes from Jason Averbook, consultant, commentator and future thinker on HR and technology. I like Jason, he is an entertaining speaker and he is on the money in terms of the future of HR. Alongside Josh Bersin, he is one of the few industry spokespeople I follow and respect.

Like me, In his latest piece on the subject, he thinks it’s a bit radical to say that the role of the HR Director will disappear by 2015! It needs to change for sure, but given where we are still with people strategies in organisations, HRD’s can rest easy in their beds for a while 😉

I also agree when he says that the role definitely needs to change, because it does. However, what needs to change and how, is where we differ. In my view, whilst I fully agree that the way we market a business needs to be consistent across customers and employees, I see the current proposals around how it should be done as fundamentally flawed.

There is no doubt that the roles and skills that Jason talks about are needed within the HR function. However, to embed roles and skills into the function to address the issues around the employer brand and value proposition by ‘upskilling’ the HR function is simply adopting an approach that has its roots 90’s marketing. “New initiative, new channel, add a person to do it.”

This approach ignores the one key driver that is forcing this change from the outside – the reality of social business. The bottom line is that the HR function (or the marketing function for that matter) doesn’t need a social media manager. It needs an HR team that is social. It needs a leadership team that is social. And it needs an organisation that is social.

The employer brand can no longer be credibly crafted by “branding experts” either inside or outside the organisation and unleashed on an unsuspecting population. Organisations need to be social because every employee is a potential recruiter. Every employee is a potential brand ambassador and evangelist (or not). Employees are already crafting your EVP, you just don’t know it yet. It is enabling the social organisation that will revolutionise talent management, not hot swapping skills around the organisation which we have been doing for decades.

This piece from December last year from the Wall Street Journal blog hits the nail on the head, albeit when talking about managing customer expectations via social channels. Whilst the author calls for socially skilled customer service teams to avoid the reputational damage on social channels, he goes further and says that the best strategy is to make sure that every employee is socially customer aware. Organisations need to encourage and empower everyone in the organisation to champion customer care.

In my view it is no different for any other corporate functional activity, including HR.

Grafting marketing skills – even new areas like social and data/analytics – onto the HR function will not work long term. It’s a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem. It’s faster horses, not a new form of transport altogether.


  1. I’m sort of with you Mr Jones with your utopian solution but as a career pragmatist I’m pinning my hoopoes in late adopter stage for many organisations in the creation of roles (that standard bearer of defining responsibilities) to help oil the creation of the social business. I’m waiting for HR teams to self-ignite online applications yet in some places I need too show them the way. Until that catches fire and provides proof points I guess the social business will have to wait 🙂


    1. Hello Sir! your analysis is indeed correct. I talk of a somewhat utopian solution for sure (One can live in hope!). My issue is that Jason and others suggest that their solution is the end game, not a step in the journey. I am constantly amazed at how short term our thinking and view is. the challenge is, that if you dont see the ultimate solution, the interim step may also be wrong. In the meantime of course, we do, at least, have plenty to keep us busy 😉 Congrats on the new role btw!


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