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Employees are not parrots


RICHARD THOMAS

Employees are not parrots

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WOULD YOU EXPECT you expect a human resources consultancy to provide you with marketing advice? Would you let it handle your company’s advertising? It’s highly unlikely; but then most HR folks wouldn’t presume to offer such services.

So what would you think about an advertising agency offering advice on how to transform your corporate culture? Sounds equally implausible? Well, the pitch may come sooner than you think.

Advertising and digital marketing agencies – which now refer to themselves as “brand agencies” or brand experts – are on the hunt for new revenue streams. Times are tough, competition is fierce, and every dollar of the corporate spend is now fair game.

No aspect of corporate management, or territory traditionally occupied by other professionals, is off limits. And since the field of public relations was “annexed” years ago (and marginalised in the process), the more aggressive of these brand experts are now scratching at the door of human resources.

And what is their pitch? Simply this: every aspect, function and activity of a company is now part of its brand. And this of course includes employee behaviour. So if you want new behaviours, and must therefore “rebrand” your employees, who is best suited to help? Why, a brand agency of course.

The danger lies in the new behaviours that brand agencies may promise to help companies achieve. Take the example of a United States based digital marketer recently touting his wares on LinkedIn (as we all do). His profile revealed a career spent entirely on the agency side, with no experience inside an organisation where he could have observed the culture and understood the internal issues and needs of employees. In essence, he was a consumer-focused career marketer.

His value proposition was this: he would come into your company and “coach” your employees in how to use their time on Facebook and other social media effectively on the company’s behalf. His firm would even help develop scripts.

One can see why this would appeal to top line (and bottom line) conscious senior executives: it promises to transform the entire workforce – not just sales and marketing people – into a virtual brand chorus, making sure the company’s music would be heard far and wide.

Is this a facet of employee engagement, you ask? Nope. It’s “employee brand engagement”. (There’s that word again.) Sounds great in theory, but there is a major flaw: it’s a bad idea to pressure (forget coach) employees into publicly endorsing their company or its products and services. This can lead to resentment and resistance.

To be worth anything, such endorsements must be made freely; and most importantly they must be warranted. You can’t train employees to talk like parrots.

Richard Thomas is the principal of Clarity Communication, a corporation communication practice based in Barbados. He is also a founding member of the Interational Association of Business Communicators Barbados chapter. Email: [email protected]

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