HR and Marketing: A Natural Partnership

By Marilyn Melia

At some banks, one executive may have responsibility for both marketing and human resources, making the natural relationship between the two obvious.

Otherwise, the link—more crucial now than ever—isn’t readily apparent.

“Culture and branding are pretty synonymous these days, and because every individual within a bank is a representative of that brand, marketing and HR need a very close and intentional relationship,” observes Melina Palmer, founder of The Brainy Business.

Marketing and HR officers who cultivate a relationship should find it mutually beneficial. For one thing, staffers who are hired and trained with the bank’s brand in mind add the crucial link between strategic positioning and product and service delivery. Plus, HR needs marketing to reflect the strategic positioning through the bank’s website and other messaging in order to attract the right job candidates, and provide effective training.

“Think of someone telling you they are going to work [at a particular]bank,” explains Sam Kilmer of Cornerstone Advisors, “he should find it easy to articulate the bank’s identity.” Moreover, neither marketing nor HR provides a separate, distinct function, but both have influence bank wide, Kilmer adds.

Given the scope of both disciplines, coupled with the differences in banks’ sizes, collaboration can take many forms.

Here are some of the lessons bankers have learned while forming and fostering favorable HR-marketing ties.

Keeping on message.

“We are not a normal bank; we do very little product-based marketing,” says Jennifer Sobotta, assistant vice president and marketing director at Forward Bank.

Instead, the Marshfield, Wisc.-based bank concentrates its messaging—everything from job fair literature and onboarding materials for new hires to marketing campaigns—on its mission statement: Moving Our Communities Forward.”

About two years ago, the bank formally adopted that statement because it embodied its decade-long effort to move into the rural central Wisconsin communities that other banks were leaving.

“We do storytelling about why we matter in our communities, first to our employees and then the public,” says Sobotto. “If our employees understand the stories, that puts them in the best position to share the message [with customers]over and over.”

Sobotto notes that once a year, all the bank’s roughly 130 employees meet in one location, so the bank can re-emphasize its local focus.  One point that’s emphasized is the opportunity for any staffer to volunteer for local nonprofits during work hours.

Several time a year, Sobotta says she and her counterpart in HR meet to brainstorm about their mutual interests—and how they might collaborate.

One recent initiative, in which the bank sponsored a “touchdown throw” at eight area high school football games, illustrates how one promotion serves both HR and marketing aims.

A fan is selected to throw at a target for a monetary prize. Whether or not the fan is successful, the bank donates to the high school.

“From a marketing standpoint, it is a way to show ongoing support to our schools,” says Sobotta. Moreover, students who worked at the bank in the summer help with the event, boosting the exposure of the bank’s summer job programs. Once high school students graduate, Forward wants them to think of working at the bank.

“Just as in many rural areas, students graduate high school, go to college—and don’t think about coming back,” says Sobotta. “We offer summer internships for college students, and one or two of them have even changed majors to be able to work [after graduation].”

Treating applicants like customers.

M&T Bank, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based regional with offices in eight states and the District of Columbia, is a 2018 winner of the candidate experience award issued by the Talent Board—the CandE Award.

It’s an especially gratifying award, says Stephanie Williams, VP of talent acquisition strategy and reporting, because it highlights the success of the bank’s recent redesign of its web page guiding the application process.

To be considered for the CandE, M&T had to survey 30,000 recent candidates for their opinions on the M&T application process. For the site redesign, Williams and her staff collaborated with marketing, as they do with many other efforts.  “They help guide us to make sure we’re reflecting the employee brand,” she says.

The M&T vision, as stated on its site is: “We strive to be the best company our employees ever work for, the best bank our customers ever do business with, and the best investment our shareholders ever make.”

The line between customers and employees is thin—if it’s there at all—and that illustrates why marketing and HR so often go hand in hand, notes Williams.

This notion is back up by a 2015 CandE study that found that candidates who have a good experience are inclined to increase their relationship with a brand’s products and services. They’re also more likely to apply again or refer others.

For the web portal redesign, marketing weighed in on particulars like whether various prepared email responses for applicants reflected the brand.

In many other HR and recruiting efforts, says Williams, marketing is instrumental, whether it’s helping produce videos or conducting focus groups of new hires, or monitoring comments job candidates may leave on social media.

Making a team effort.

Five years ago, when Traci Blair Strickland started at Memphis-based Triumph Bank, it was a seven-year-old institution that aspired to grow to $1 billion in assets by the end of 2020. And it was Strickland’s task to rebrand it.

She interviewed each member of senior management, querying them on their own specific aims for meeting that objective. After that, says Strickland, SVP of marketing, a three word positioning statement became the obvious choice: “Let’s talk growth.”

With more than two decades of marketing experience under her belt, Strickland says she knew growth would result from “not only how customers perceive you, buy how internal employees perceive you [the bank], too.”

She maintains that “a team that knows we are 100 percent behind their own career growth” goes hand-in-hand with increasing customer relationships and shareholder value. She quickly advocated for displaying a head shot of each employee on the website, and business cards for each staffer. Another early order of business: “Developing a close working relationship with head of our HR,” she says.

Any marketing officer lacking ties with HR should simply do as she did: “Schedule a meeting.”

A training manual that will help customer-facing employees answer typical but often complex questions posed by customers—like IRA withdrawal rules—is the next cooperative initiative that’s currently underway.

Marilyn Kennedy Melia is a banking and personal finance writer based in Chicago. Email: [email protected].