The hard sell

is failing to get the message of its crucial role over to the board. We asked
three  advertising agencies how they
would tackle the issue. By Philip Boucher and Liz Simpson

We’ve heard it all before but HR is a profession that is frequently
overlooked, sidelined dismissed and downsized. Clearly, such complacency calls
for radical tactics to change this mindset. What if the profession were to call
in an advertising agency to come up with an advertising/marketing campaign to
give the board that much-needed wake-up call and convince them of the vital
contribution HR makes to an organisation?

Advertising is all about selling the lifestyle of a particular product or
service. With companies increasingly striving to become employers of choice, HR
has an integral part to play in promoting a company’s culture and, by
association, its brand. Therefore a higher profile for HR within an
organisation will start to establish this.

To devise the campaigns we approached three agencies located in the UK and
US 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 their
message through clever choice of media.

Each of the three agencies came up with very different interpretations of
the 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 ago
and has an annual turnover of £4m. It has a team of recruitment advertising
specialists and its client base includes British Film Institute, British
Airways Travel Shops, Thomas Cook, Rail Europe and Macmillan Cancer Relief.

The campaign To brand HR as ‘HRMY’, a pun on army, and use a series
of events leading up to an ‘HRMY’ delivering a dossier with evidence of HR’s
successes 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 complex
objectives as a result of leadership, planning and strategy and HR should be
perceived in the same way.

To avoid seeming overly militaristic, WDA decided that its campaign would
contain no inappropriate reference to conflict, weapons, attacks or anything
similar – it wouldn’t even mention the war for talent.

The tagline to the campaign would be performance-enhancing force – again
promoting HR’s ability to influence the bottom line.

To match the army theme, the campaign would be run in phases like the
build-up to a military operation. Each phase would begin on a Monday, leading
up to the final brief to the board. The first stage would be a giant inflatable
billboard to announce to the board that something big was coming.

The second would add intrigue. Every day of week two an envelope marked ‘For
Your Eyes Only’ would be pushed under each director’s door. Envelopes would
contain a task and a method by which to achieve it. The tasks would all relate
to improving business performance. The methods would demonstrate proven ways in
which HR can achieve this.

In week three, directors would receive a package – the HRMY operations kit. Mocked
up to resemble a survival kit, it would contain the following items, each with
a label attached with one word printed which refer to key ways in which HR can
aid business:

– Compass – direction (ensuring workers understand board goals and work towards

– Radio – communication (promoting effective communication throughout the

– Flare – attraction (attracting and retaining people who can help the board
achieve its goals)

– Chocolate – energy and motivation (motivating staff to raise productivity)

– Antiseptic – problem prevention (providing the flexibility to counter
external threats and problems within the organisation

The final stage is a directors’ meeting where the uniformed HRMY team would
burst in. The dossier would be distributed to each director and the most senior
HRMY member would begin the briefing.

Key message The best way to get through to the board is to
demonstrate how HR can affect the bottom line

Media The campaign would run in several phases – billboard
advertising, direct mail and publications

Soundbite "We should portray HR as a confident, credible and
capable force."

Agency: Wilding McArdle Wilson (WMW)

WMW is an employer marketing agency based in Clerkenwell, London. Set up
five years ago 80 per cent of its work is consultancy (in both print and
multi-media) and ranges from employer branding programmes to online ordering

The remaining 20 per cent of its work is from recruitment advertising.
Clients include: Arcadia, B&Q, Deloitte & Touche, Dyson and Kraft

The campaign WMW chose to internally promote the central business
role that a business-focused client and commercially driven HR function should
play – in order to win the confidence of both senior management and board level

The campaign seeks to convey how HR makes a difference to the bottom line
via the mixed media of posters, teasers, faux heritage plaques and an online
board game, in what director Sue McArdle, describes as a "witty, playful
and innovative way".

"The crucial issue of this campaign is to promote the vital role that
HR plays and to convey how HR makes its contribution to the bottom line. If
this is successfully accomplished, it’s a simple and inevitable progression to
having a voice at board level," she explains.

The campaign is intended to be versatile and can be paced over any

Media Teasers – delivered directly to senior management, internal
posters, fake commemorative plaques, a playable game called (Get on) The Board
Game and an intranet version of the board game

Key message HR is an essential function for the wellbeing of the
business because it does following things for the business.

Soundbite "HR functions tend to promote their programmes as
individual, distinct strategies rather than as a single expression of a
wide-ranging, key business enabler. Strong HR strategy is integral to every
aspect of a business, not just a ‘people-thing’."

To play the online version of (Get on) The Board Game go to

Agency: The Cherenson Group

Cherenson is a full-service PR and advertising agency with a recruitment arm
based in New Jersey, US. Vice-president Mike Cherenson has worked for the
democratic national convention committee in 1992 and as a consultant for local
and state-wide politicians. Clients include: Coca-Cola, Avis, Prudential
Financial and Bank of New York.

The campaign The Cherenson Group approached the task as a political
campaign that must win support throughout the organisation. "In corporate
life no-one is going to get anywhere until they accept that business life
involves political fights including the ability to show why you’re important
and need to be listened to," explains Cherenson.

Step one, he says, consists of HR touring the company to find out what the
employee issues are. "Like any good political candidate you can only solve
people’s problems if you know what these are in the first place."

This internal qualitative research can be translated into a series of case
studies outlining all the ways in which HR has actually helped employees with
their concerns.

Real life examples could be used as a series of messages to employees
conveyed through large wall posters, inserted into employee mailings, posted on
the corporate intranet and even screensavers. Cherenson believes attracting the
‘voters’ in this way builds a network of advocates throughout the company who
will help disseminate the message to line managers (whose support is vital in
persuading the board) that HR is an effective and essential business partner.

"Today’s companies are always looking to slash overheads and increase
revenue. HR is the one department that has ties to all employees and it needs
to develop and utilise those relationships, and the tools at its disposal, to
solve the company’s problems," he explains.

Key message When people have a problem and want to know who can help
them, the answer is, human resources. HR needs to present evidence to the board
that what it does is not an expense but an investment and that such investments
have demonstrable returns.

Media Wall posters, inserts into employee mailings, the corporate
intranet, screensavers backed up by short executive briefings.

Soundbite "There is no magic dust and putting up some posters
will not fix the problem overnight. This must be a long-term sustained
programme, 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 marginal
role in many companies

– The board is (often) mystified about what HR does and is ignorant of the
relationship between good people management and financial performance

– Even when companies put people issues at the heart of their policies, HR
does not get the recognition for putting these in place

– HR’s role is primarily stuck at the lower end of the scale hampered by
managers’ failure to understand what it can offer and also by HR professionals
not being assertive enough and not having enough authority (see below)

– However talented an HR director is, if the board does not want to listen
it won’t..*Equally, if line managers don’t buy into HR strategy, getting
anything 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 positive
contribution to organisational performance and the bottom line

– To be considered a priority – involved right at the beginning of any
strategic agenda or business planning and able to draw people strategies from
the business objectives And be seen as a ‘value-adder’ to any commercial

– For business leaders to recognise the value of good people management and
high-performance HR policies

– Considered as an effective business partner with a seat on the board or
failing that to at least have a strong relationship with the top team

– To be seen as accessible and effective by the workforce, shedding the
human remains image

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