How to build a visionary company

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Marketing’s influence in creating an organisation’s vision has arguably never been stronger but the task of attracting and retaining the visionary marketers of the future, building the right structure and team balance has never been more challenging.

Q: In the battle for great marketing talent how should brands recruit to ensure their organisation remains visionary?

Simon Michaelides: The marketing industry has changed. You used to recruit in your own image and replace like for like. Now you need to find people who will enrich your organisation and provide fresh thinking. You need people with great ideas who can spark off big ideas in others.

We are seeing a radical change when it comes to recruitment because we do not know what the industry will look like in the future. It is changing so fast. I am writing job descriptions I have never had to write before.

Hilary Cross: Roles used to be quite defined. Now they are blurred. In today’s competitive world your retention strategy is as important as your recruitment plan. We also want people who have transferable skills.

John Watton: You are almost telling the most talented candidates with the skills you need as a brand to write their own job specification for very technical posts. You also want candidates from diverse backgrounds to fill varied roles and ideally people who are curious. You do need to accept that talented people will want to move on quite quickly, so brands must be prepared to take risks with who they recruit, but in a controlled way.

Robert Bridge: When recruiting for marketing positions we ideally want people with experience in start-ups and at big corporates but these are difficult to find in the UK compared to the US. We are hiring and attracting millennials by giving them good projects to work on and paying them well. We value our interns.

Sally Abbott: Years ago, FMCG brands could tempt the best talent because they were the places graduates wanted to be and where they could earn their marketing stripes.

Today, FMCG brands are not perceived as being as sexy as they once were. We have to work harder to build excitement around our brands so that we do appeal to those being lured by technology or TV brands. We need to remind people of the career progression opportunities and the rewards and benefits available in FMCG.

Gary Bramall: One third of my team would probably fail within the marketing team of an FMCG brand. They are not traditional marketers. Their world is all ones and zeros and the average age is around 26. We have a wealth of analytic programmers and data analysts in our marketing team. These are the digital natives.

Jonathan Rigby: Good recruitment is a continuous pressure. Often money is not the main motivator for young people. They are more interested in the opportunities they will get to progress and how they will be challenged.

Catherine Cherry: The young are not thinking about structured marketing careers and where they might be in 10 years’ time. For many it is about what they get to do. So a brand must be good at communicating its vision to them.

Q: In this competitive recruitment environment, who is competing with whom?

Simon Michaelides: TV is losing out on talent to technology companies because young people want to make a difference quickly. TV is highly creative but it can be a while before you see your ideas on the screen.

Gary Bramall: People at Hailo can be a big fish in a small pond, compared with going to work for a company such as Google or Apple. But it’s tough. When hiring talent we don’t just need a fishing strategy to net the best people, we need a conveyor belt of talent so there are always great people coming to work for us.

Catherine Cherry: If you are a great place to work, it will help to attract talent. People talk to each other both in this industry and outside.

Q: How difficult is it to retain good people?

John Watton: There has had to be a move to more flexible workplace structures. With a more fluid structure you can bring in people with the skills you require when you need them, so they have the desired impact. Today, it is less about keeping fixed staff working for you for as long as you can.

Hilary Cross: You can certainly waste money keeping people who are not contributing or who want to move on.

Sally Abbott: We make good use of interim marketers. Some are even with us for a couple of years. It allows us to invest in the short term in an experienced marketer who can come in and get the job done.

Robert Bridge: We have moved to a flatter structure so younger employees get to work on projects and learn. We ensure they have more responsibility and this helps to retain them. Marketing is arguably more accountable than most business functions and no longer regarded as ‘fluffy’.

Catherine Cherry: Employees need responsibility and to know that you trust them and believe in them to do a good job, while still supporting them. We require people with the right attitude because we can never know what members of our team are doing all of the time.

Gary Bramall: There has to be transparency. If you are a data-driven organisation, you can see what people are doing and when. You can see who is committed and how you might need to improve things to retain talent.

Q: How do you optimise your structure so it is visionary and fit for the future? What should the balance be between specialist and generalist marketers?

Sally Abbott: It helps that marketers are involved in other areas such as new product development and profit and loss discussions. It is a very different job than it used to be and this is attractive to people who want to be stretched. You need to attract and train people to understand the business and not just to be marketers.

John Watton: We struggle with getting the balance right between hiring generalists and specialists. You want specialists but you do not want to create silos.

Hilary Cross: To have specialists does not mean you need a large team. We had two social media specialists before they became digital specialists. Sometimes you just require a few specialists who can then empower others, for example, to tweet about your brand. It is often all about giving people the tools they need to be visionary.

Simon Morris: We created a centre of excellence in search and other areas at Adobe and we move our specialists around the organisation. In this way they become committed to the business strategy and vision.

Gary Bramall: I expand my marketing tech team as the business grows and technology changes. It is a relatively small team with technical specialists and engineers who sit within marketing. What is clear is that marketing tech is a meaty area to be involved in at the moment.

Robert Bridge: You need both specialists and generalists who can really make a difference to your brand. Product marketers with deep industry knowledge are difficult to find in the UK though.

Catherine Cherry: If you have a good mix of specialists and generalists, then knowledge and vision can be shared throughout the organisation. It also helps everyone to understand their role within the wider business.

Simon Michaelides: I heard the term ‘multi-specialist’ recently as an alternative to generalist, and this is a good term to show how marketing roles are changing. But there will still be a position for true marketing pioneers.

Q: What is the role of digital in a visionary organisation?

Hilary Cross: Digital has allowed us to implement agile processes across Macmillan and to introduce different and more flexible ways of working. Before, we all worked to a 12-month marketing plan but now if campaign is not delivering the results, we can change it quickly.

Gary Bramall: The emergence of tech companies has challenged the role of marketing. Many of the large tech brands have grown without using traditional marketing disciplines. As they move to the next stage of growth, however, they are turning to more mainstream marketing routes such as TV advertising.

Jonathan Rigby: Digital has helped marketers remind themselves of marketing’s purpose and why it exists. Digital has demystified marketing for others in the organisation. At Manchester United, for instance, we put on football matches, but why we exist is to entertain. That won’t change.

Sally Abbott: Digital has made it more important that companies are seen to be doing the right thing because their customers are commenting about their brand experiences on social media.

Q: How do you create a learning culture within marketing and within the wider organisation?

Robert Bridge: There has to be transparency within the organisation. Yahoo employees can ask questions of the management every week. It has created a much clearer culture with fewer leaks. This transparency has to come from the top down.

Catherine Cherry: Each person must be responsible for their own personal development, but know that their choices and needs will be supported.

People react more positively to this approach than having a formal personal development plan. It can be frustrating that often people say personal development is important to them but they do not do anything about it themselves.

John Watton: Younger people will expect their personal development to be thorough and will want to know what will happen to them as they progress. However, they need to take ownership of what learning and development they require, especially around some of the new roles being created.

Hilary Cross: There can be value from unstructured learning and development and bringing in specialists to share new ideas with your marketing team and organisation.

Q: What are the responsibilities of marketing in creating a visionary organisation?

Simon Michaelides: Marketing and communications can lead in terms of a business’s purpose. Marketers have the broadest overview because we talk to every other part of the business at some time. The challenge is how to continue to come up with brand ideas that get buy-in from everyone else within the organisation. The tide is turning in favour of marketing as we see more CEOs who have come from a marketing rather than a finance background.

Gary Bramall: Leaders need to be creative. Visionary companies need marketers to be visionary and to take employees with them.

Jonathan Rigby: Everyone needs to listen to and understand the organisation’s vision. If you have cross-functional teams, you get brand champions who will go out within the organisation and close any gaps in the communication or implementation of that vision. Marketing can empower and influence.

Robert Bridge: As a marketer I need to understand every part of our business so that my team can be a vital cog in the machine.

Sally Abbott: We are the brand guardians and cannot just worry about short-term sales targets. We have to take a long-term view.

Hilary Cross: Marketing should be able to shape a visionary culture because we know our customers better than anyone in the organisation. Marketing definitely progresses the organisation. Ultimately, marketing makes the money rather than spending it.

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