Why Has an Advertising Agency Gone Into the Employee Engagement Business?

March 28, 2018

By Hugh Kennedy

Corporate communications, marketing, and HR must work together to build brands

one line man/Shutterstock.com


In 2018 a living, breathing brand that doesn't engage employees probably doesn't engage customers and prospects, either.

It's time to shred some old stereotypes. Employee Communications is no longer the poor stepsibling to the more glamorous marketing function. It's more accurately called Employee Engagement, and at best is integrated with the heart and soul of the company brand.

The strategic benefits are clear: more effective recruitment, higher retention in a tight labor market, and a motivated work force all rise to the top. At a time when marketing is held accountable for business results, we now know that low morale and disengaged employees carry real economic costs.

How real? Gallup estimated that there are 22 million actively disengaged employees in the U.S., who together cost the economy as much as $350 billion dollars a year in lost productivity, including absenteeism, illness, and other low morale issues.

Why focus on employee engagement now? Blame the millennials. They want the workplace to be a cultural experience, and that extends to their perceptions of brands. Experiential brands, once the domain of companies like Apple, now extend into businesses like GE and Adobe. All of us, including employees, want and expect more from brands, from every click on the website to the most cursory exchange with a human being.

From a channel perspective, external and internal audiences are identical. Everyone sees how the company behaves on the same social platforms, so it's impossible to talk or engage customers without also engaging employees. Smart companies bring Marketing, Corporate Communications, and HR together to take advantage of this efficiency.

For all these reasons, we believe that employee engagement should be considered a top priority for the people responsible for building a company's brand. The payoff is strategic alignment and an army of brand ambassadors. And one more seldom acknowledged truth:

It's really hard to capture the top-level expression of a company's story in a memorable way without employee participation. They often help us crack the code on what makes a brand truly unique and ownable. And they can be the most honest judge of a brand's authenticity.

As an advertising agency with a distinct point of view about the power of brands to drive changes in perceptions, markets, buying behaviors, and maybe even culture, engaging employees is emerging as a centerpiece of much of our work (versus an afterthought if there is a sliver of budget left over from the external-facing work).

These days we find ourselves starting with questions like:

  • How can employees amplify the brand as part of their day-to-day activities?
  • How can we tap into the creativity of a workforce to create valuable content?
  • How do we energize employees, so they experience a deeper sense of belonging to a culture they care about?

The answer to these questions is not how we share information with employees but how we emotionally involve them with the brand. In short, we aim to build brands that are magnetic and attract employees — we call them the Crazies — to drive your company agenda. The ultimate value of this activity? It drives meaningful change. And that's engagement any company can get behind.


Hugh Kennedy is a partner and EVP of planning at PJA Advertising + Marketing.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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