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Who is Responsible for Employee Communications: HR or Marketing?

Julie CooksonJulie Cookson·

It is an interesting question, isn’t it?  I admit my mind was solidly in the HR swim lane when I was an HR Executive, and it was solidly in Marketing when I worked with a Marketing team many years ago.

I crafted internal communications only with my department co-workers. However, in researching and writing this blog, I realized I missed a great opportunity, so I want to challenge and encourage you to solve problems in a creative way, too!  Many of you may work in progressive environments that have already figured this out; if you do, that’s fabulous! For the rest of the group, give it a try.

There are quite a few similarities to how HR and Marketing approach communications; but there are marked differences, too.  Let’s begin by discussing both.

HR and Marketing are similar in that:

  • Both brand and promote key messages (based on Corporate priorities) by grabbing, influencing and educating stakeholders
  • Both are subject matter experts in their technical area
  • Both must unlock creativity in meeting the needs of their stakeholders
  • Both differentiate their strategies and offerings from competitors, and
  • Both sometimes (ok, most of the time) work with finite resources and unrealistic (read: very tight) deadlines

Do the similarities end there?  Most definitely not! In a July 2018 Forbes article, the following four components were cited as critical to successful internal employee communications:

  1. Knowing your audience
  2. Tailoring the message
  3. Being consistent with the message
  4. Rewarding desired behaviors

What’s interesting about this list is that these same four components can also determine the effectiveness and success of external employee communications. How’s that for quickly having so similar communication strategies to build on?

Now to some key differences.  Marketing designs and brands promotions, creative concepts and communications geared toward a diverse group of external stakeholders: viewers, readers, consumers (and prospective consumers), advertisers, and sales.

Marketing’s strategies are designed to sell product, attract new clients, and generate buzz. Marketing may have a larger budget, and campaigns may be created by designers for a very high-quality look and feel.  

HR’s focus, on the other hand, is primarily internal stakeholders: executives, full-and part-time staff, temporary employees, contractors, interns, and even candidates.   HR’s strategies are designed to educate, motivate and engage employees.  HR budgets may be smaller, and the communications may be weighted more on content than on the look and feel of the documents.

Marketing’s traditional partners may include Sales, Business Development, and Content-generating teams. HR ‘s partners align more closely with other operational teams, including Legal and Finance.

Consider for a moment how employee communications is handled in your organization.   Who owns the message and its distribution to the employees?  Do you feel employee communication is effective, or does it need an overhaul?  Are your HR and Marketing teams working with similar approaches as mentioned above?  

This is a great opportunity where you as an HR professional can define your role as a true thought and collaborative leader!  Look at options that exist to play a strategic role in assessing and redefining how key messages are shared. Talk with mentors or your HR network to see what best practices exist that would enhance your company’s culture.

Now, back to our original question: Who is responsible for employee communications: HR or Marketing?

As I stated, I believe HR professionals may be best served to partner with their Marketing colleagues to position the message in the most creative and dynamic way.  This would ensure it is well-received by employees, too. And with recent statistics showing that less than 30% of employees believe in the brand they work for (so 70% are uninterested or disengaged), there is much opportunity to improve employee engagement with more creative messaging!

Here are some other wins in implementing a shared HR/Marketing approach:

Win #1:  Collaboration strengthens bonds, fosters teamwork and builds respect between HR and Marketing teams.

Win #2:  Sharing best-practices can identify more obstacles, opportunities, and solutions and can result in more effective promotions.

Win #3: Teaming up on such an approach can pave the way for other teams to watch, listen and learn, to try it with the teams they work most closely with!

Win #4: Partnering educates both teams on the responsibilities and skills of their co-workers.

Win #5: Idea-sharing shortens completion time, effort, and duplication while reducing error rates.

Win #6: Collaboration generates clarity, engagement and excitement from the workforce.

Sounds good, right?  What concerns do you identify?  What challenges do you anticipate having to deal with in your organization?  Would Marketing embrace the idea to work with HR? What would other HR decision-makers think of this approach?  Would our executives support a pilot-test? Would employees respond favorably to our collaboration? Those are all great questions to consider and explore with your teams.  Other suggested steps:

  1. Set up an initial conversation with HR and Marketing execs to confirm support and buy-in on this recommendation (cite other progressive companies’ success).  
  2. Establish a current baseline on how effective employee communication has been historically.  
    1. Do employees know the company’s priorities and challenges?  
    2. Have previous surveys uncovered communication issues and concerns (if so, are they widespread, do they begin at the executive level, or only in certain departments)?  
    3. Have those issues been addressed?  
  3. Assemble a working committee of both HR and Marketing employees.  
  4. Task them with collecting and reviewing pertinent data to suggest changes as needed.  
  5. Have a few trusted employees review the suggested materials before they’re distributed company-wide.
  6. After the campaign, follow back up with them (and all other employees) to gather feedback.
  7. Make recommendations for further tailoring the program, based on feedback received.
  8. Provide an update and thoughts for future communications to leaders.
  9. Revise as needed.
  10. Send thank you notes or emails to the Marketing team members who helped make it happen.

However and wherever your research and Marketing collaboration takes you, being open to sharing (and asking others for help and insights), is a smart way to build respect and encourage teamwork for individual and team success!


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