How to build a marketing team from scratch
Published: 20 Oct 2016 By Jonathan Bacon
Managing a marketing team is one thing but creating one from the ground up in line with rapid business growth requires additional focus.
One of the many pressures facing fast-growing companies is how to grow a marketing team in a sustainable and effective way. Brands must increase their personnel as they seek to cater to an expanding customer base or capture new market opportunities. At the same time, marketing leaders must grapple with how to integrate new hires into the business at speed and ensure their recruits buy into the brand ethos.
Nuffield Health, which has increased its marketing team from two to 30 people over the past three years, recently completed an internal restructure to help it manage the influx. The not-for-profit business runs private hospitals, gyms and corporate healthcare centres and has grown rapidly through several acquisitions, including the purchase of 35 Virgin Active gyms in August.
Marketing director Sarah Lawrence explains that these deals and the company’s new strategic direction under CEO Steve Gray, who joined in December 2015, led to a restructure of the entire marketing department. This involved merging the different business areas in which Nuffield Health operates under a single marketing team.
“We have gone from a vertical structure that operated in silos and flipped it on its head so that all my team now works horizontally across the whole of Nuffield Health,” she says. “We started again with a blank sheet of paper at the end of last year. It’s taken most of this year to properly settle in.”
Lawrence says the restructure involved having to juggle the twin priorities of putting the customer first with a desire to protect internal talent. Rather than try to “squeeze people into roles”, she held an extensive consultation process with all marketing personnel to encourage them to play a part in reshaping the structure.
Nuffield Health has grown its marketing team from three to 30 people over the past three years.
Nuffield Health has grown its marketing team from two to 30 people over the past three years.
“That was probably quite a risky and lengthy way of doing it, but in the entire organisation we only lost one person – and that was for personal circumstances,” she says. “It has been quite a big change process getting the team to think differently, work differently and knock down the barriers they were used to having, but it has also created a lot of opportunities.”
In addition to repositioning existing staff, Lawrence has made several hires to support the restructure. This includes bringing on board customer experience channel managers charged with offering customers more tailored communications, rather than just “blast marketing”. The business has also strengthened its brand marketing capabilities, as it looks to raise awareness about its services and values.
“The Nuffield Health brand is the world’s best kept secret in terms of health and wellbeing,” says Lawrence. “People don’t know the breadth of what we do or that we are not-for-profit. Hiring people who are strong on brand has been another key objective so that we can start to build the brand piece going forward.”
Trusting your people
Food delivery company HelloFresh puts less emphasis on the experience of its marketing recruits and instead looks to hire specific types of skills. The company, which has grown its UK marketing team from two to 20 people over the past four years, sends recipe boxes to subscribers in the post and last year agreed a partnership with TV chef Jamie Oliver. It is also one of Marketing Week’s 100 Disruptive Brands for 2016.
Despite this growth, head of sales and marketing Freddy Ward says HelloFresh is “not a business that just throws people at a problem”. Instead, it aims to develop skills internally through training and by honing in on particular capabilities at the recruitment stage.
“Nowadays in marketing you have to be comfortable with data. When you’re growing a team quickly, you don’t have a massive back office of data analysts – you need to be able to move quickly and be comfortable with the data yourself,” he says. “Everyone in the team is expected to understand and be able to interpret data in an effective way.”
HelloFresh aims to uncover these data skills through numeracy-based questions during the interview process, while also looking for problem-solving abilities and a willingness to think independently. The business integrates new hires by sending them video material about the company before they start and by hosting presentations in which the senior management team explain the brand story and its values.
Ward notes that he has developed his own skills as the marketing team has grown, helping him to better manage people and delegate responsibilities. “When you’re working [on a startup], you do everything yourself and build it up – it becomes your baby,” he explains.
“But when people join, you have to start trusting them to do the job that you have done and that’s not always easy. I always try to hire people who know something different or are better [at something] than I am because if you surround yourself with good people, that makes the job of growing a team a lot easier.”
Biscuiteers used a PR agency when the company was starting out to help raise awareness of the brand.
Other growing businesses turn to agencies to support their marketing activities as they expand. Harriet Hastings founded biscuit company Biscuiteers in 2007 and now oversees a marketing team of six people. She used a PR agency when the company was starting out to help raise awareness of the Biscuiteers brand, and continues to call on agency support to fulfil certain aspects of its performance marketing operations.
“We use agencies in particular areas of specialism and work in partnership with them while doing quite a lot of implementation in-house,” says Hastings. “That’s quite an effective way of getting the skills of your team up because they are taught by the agencies to some extent.”
Biscuiteers makes over half its sales online but is also stocked in physical retailers such as John Lewis and has a corporate gifting business where it makes bespoke biscuits for brands like Cartier and Burberry. Earlier this month, the company launched a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube from which it plans to invest the proceeds in international expansion, manufacturing and marketing. This includes planned investments in direct mail, digital and mobile.
Hastings says that using crowdfunding as a growth mechanism is indicative of the extent to which the brand’s customers have supported the business since its launch. All brands seeking to grow their marketing teams should similarly strive to retain their focus on the customers that helped them expand in the first place.
“A business like ours is a real passion business,” says Hastings. “If you work in a small, entrepreneurial team like ours, you have to be passionate about the brand.”