AGENDA: Are you marketing to your staff? - Marketers in the customer service industry are putting their staff at the heart of their marketing messages. But Jane Bainbridge says it is vital that employees can understand the campaign

Internal marketing has become the industry’s latest buzzword as it finally accepts that, in customer service businesses, if the staff don’t believe and deliver on the brand promise, then all the TV ads in the world won’t build market share.

Internal marketing has become the industry’s latest buzzword as it

finally accepts that, in customer service businesses, if the staff don’t

believe and deliver on the brand promise, then all the TV ads in the

world won’t build market share.

Last week two leading companies at the forefront of customer service

marketing illustrated, albeit in slightly different ways, how crucial it

is to have the staff on your side when shifting marketing strategy.

They have to understand the marketing message as well as, if not better

than, the consumer.

Sainsbury’s appears to have seriously missed the mark with its John

Cleese ads, in that it put its latest ads on air before it had fully

explained the shift in message to its store staff.

The ads showed Cleese encouraging staff, played by actors, to be more

positive about what Sainsbury’s had to offer. But the ads seem to have

gone down badly with the retailer’s real staff. Getting employees to

really believe in its shift in marketing message seems to be where

Sainsbury’s fell short.

The new ad campaign, created by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, heralds a

significant shift in its TV advertising. The ads promoting Sainsbury’s

price offering - traditionally the domain of supermarket rivals Tesco

and Asda - needed to be sold to those on the shop floor before it

reached the customers.

Sainsbury’s was unwilling to comment further on the issue but some

credit is due in that it was prepared to re-edit the ad, in response to

staff complaints.

British Airways has looked at how it can motivate its staff at the same

time as it delivers its new softer image to the public at large.

The first phase of BA’s new corporate branding TV campaign shows a group

of school children, one of whom is shown to have the right kind of

sympathetic characteristics eventually to become a member of BA’s cabin


Staffing roles

BA has learnt from mistakes made over the past year. Although it insists

that the ad focusing on its staff is just one of several executions in

its new campaign, the fact that there is even one playing up the role of

staff is a significant development.

Insiders admit that despite the huge investment it made in relaunching

its global corporate image in June 1997 - which did involve extensive

internal marketing activity - it failed to get the staff on its


One factor in this is that the relaunch occurred at the same time as BA

started a major cost-cutting exercise and it failed to explain to staff

how these two things fitted together and where it was heading.

One month later BA was in the middle of a costly and highly damaging

industrial dispute with its cabin staff. With fewer strikes happening,

the public seems to increasingly side with the strikers rather than the

company, and BA’s arrogant stance cost them dearly in the public

relations stakes. The latest BA campaign affords the company the chance

to do two things. One is stress the quality of its customer service,

while at the same time make clear that its staff are one of its most

powerful marketing tools.

The new campaign shows BA has acted quickly in placing more emphasis on

communicating with its employees. A spokeswoman said all the ads had

been researched among both staff and consumers before hitting the


While the new campaign by M&C Saatchi talks to consumers about its

service, it also talks to its employees - whether BA admits it or not -

and they are in many ways the most critical viewers.

’Companies have begun to recognise their staff as part of their

audience; before it was a bit of a blind spot. Unfortunately while they

are part of the audience they are a very different audience because they

are so involved,’ says Richard Mosley, managing director of Avicom, an

internal marketing agency and part of The Added Value Group.

He thinks momentum is being gained in the internal marketing arena and

that companies recognise there is competitive advantage to be gained

from investing in it. ’To move service forward you can use a big stick

and implement service standards but it only goes so far. Companies are

realising they have to change tack and get employees to really believe

in what they are doing - it’s not just (about producing) a handbook,’

adds Mosley.

Inside track

Darren Williams is head of marketing at Banner McBride, the internal

communication division of WPP. He also sees that the fact Sainsbury’s

was prepared to alter an execution as evidence that it recognises the

value of its staff as marketing ambassadors.

’It’s a good thing because at the end of the day it’s the staff that

deliver the promise. In hindsight they should have shown the commercial

to the staff before it went on air but at least it did eventually listen

to them,’ he says.

Clearly marketers are becoming more aware of the importance of their

on-the-job brand advocates, and as BA has shown, it is possible to send

a message to your staff at the same time as your customers.