HR isn’t Marketing, it is unique

“There are so many similarities between Marketing and HR” seems to be one of the hot phrases and concepts at the moment. For this I read, “HR can learn a lot from Marketing”. From this I read, “I want to play with the cool kids and the cool kids play in Marketing”.

Are there really a lot of similarities between HR and Marketing? Well only if you have a rather narrow and ill-defined concept of both HR and Marketing, then yes. Sure there are elements of cross over, it would be hard to think that on employer branding or indeed on some other areas of recruitment that there wasn’t something that the HR profession could take from Marketing. And if you look at employee engagement, then of course I there are definite synergies.

But to suggest that these elements are the only aspects of either Marketing or HR that exist seems slightly bizarre. I’m not going to dissect the Marketing profession; I’ll leave that to someone else with more time. HR professionals would be better off stopping chasing the perceived sexiness of one profession (there is NOTHING sexy about the dirty end of product marketing I can tell you) and instead look at the entire remit of an HR role

–          Compensation, benefits and remuneration strategy

–          Industrial relations, trade unions and collective negotiations

–          Employee relations, individual dispute resolution

–          Learning and development

–          Talent management and career planning

–          Health and Welfare

–          Organisational development

–          Organisational design and structure

–          Recruitment and selection

–          Coaching and facilitation

The list feels almost endless and of course highly variable depending on the industry and the organisation.  The thing is, HR has the potential to be one of the truly multi disciplinary roles within the business, with elements of Finance, Sales, Strategy, PR and yes Marketing to name but a few. We may be specialists in certain areas, but we are generalists in the true sense of the word.

Valuable HR teams work collaboratively with all functions and departments, not just on their HR needs, but also on the entire people offering – pulling in specialist skills that add to projects or initiatives or even simple thought processes and planning.

True HR professionals don’t just want to play with the sexy, they want to play with the valuable and sometimes that means being a geek or a nerd.  And that’s ok. Just ask your friends in the bowels of the Marketing department, they know all about that.


  1. Sukh Pabial · May 19, 2011

    Agreed. An old boss of mine instilled in the team this type of thinking, and it’s stuck with me since. I enjoy what other parts of the business do, and how they do what they do, but I enjoy my role far more, and can innovate and be creative with my offerings because I understand how to take elements from those disciplines. Similarly, I know when HR related topics need to be included in other business areas, we’re the ones they contact. Mutual respect for each others expertise goes a long way.

    • Neil · June 13, 2011

      “Mutual respect” now there is a concept……!

  2. Callum Saunders · May 19, 2011

    As a digital marketer who works predominantly in the social sphere, I too have seen the increasing number of people citing HR and marketing as blurring functions. I believe that whilst HR and marketing remain very unique practices, social media has been the catalyst in blurring some – not all – of their functions.

    For example, internal communications functions are now working with marketing to utilise many social comms tools and draw upon their learnings. Marketers are tapping into HR through ‘employee branding’, using switched on internal advocates to help market the company’s employer brand / market its expertise. These are just two examples.

    So yes, on the one hand, marketing and HR ARE starting to realise where many of their functions are overlapping and indeed, seeing the opportunities for beneficial cross-pollination. But both functions are indeed unique.

    The only bone of contention I have with your post is the assumption that marketing is a ‘sexy’ function… 😉

    • Neil · June 13, 2011

      Ahem Mr. Saunders….. “there is NOTHING sexy about the dirty end of product marketing I can tell you” ! I agree that there are areas of overlap, I guess my point is that there are lots and lots of areas where there is no overlap….

  3. dan barker · May 19, 2011

    I guess – at a level above all of the tactical elements, tasks, and activities that fill the day – there are 2 big differentiators:

    1) The customer group.
    2) The outcome.


    Marketing is about creating & growing external customers (ie. the market). And all that goes along with supporting that.

    HR is about creating & growing internal customers. And all that goes along with supporting that.

    Sometimes doing one of those helps you with the other, and you can do that on purpose if you like.


    The other big difference is the outcome. 94 times out of 100, the big marketing KPI is related to money. HR feels one step removed from that to me – or perhaps that’s me being naive.


    • Neil · June 13, 2011

      Dan – thanks for commenting and no I don’t think you’re being naive – I think the points you make are absolutely spot on. There may be tools that overlap or support, but that doesn’t mean they are one and the same.

  4. Julian Bradder · June 6, 2011

    Neil, really finding your blog very interesting.

    Speaking as someone who is coming into understanding the HR world from a distinctly hardcore marketing and communications oriented background, I would say is that I think that it would be fair to say that marketing offers a toolkit that is useful to HR.

    I find it difficult to compare the two on a like for like basis… When was the last time that marketing had to manage contentious issues such as union disputes, on boarding, off boarding difficult scenarios and so on.

    For me at least, Marketing is a set of processes that help in the derivation of a message and in facilitating that most modern of concepts, engagement. Message and engagement that has appeal within a segment. These skills are undoubtedly useful to elements of the HR community but I think that this is possibly where it ends.

    With the advent of social media, the skills or the toolkit of marketing now becomes useful to managers across business functions. From what I can determine, social media also gives HR the opportunity to push talent and sourcing out to line of business managers through asking them to build relevant online and offline community around their discipline?

  5. Neil · June 13, 2011

    Julian – thanks for commenting and for the kind comments and for your informed perspective. I think your use of the word “toolkit” is right. As for the social media point, that is a whole other blog post…..!

  6. Pingback: A different experience of pregnancy | Thinking About Learning
  7. awisersoul · May 10, 2016

    Hi Niel,

    How easy/difficult is it for someone to make a career transition from HR to Marketing (esp Content Marketing and/or Employer Branding) without taking a sizeable pay cut? I know I have left out many variables but I just wanted a general opinion on this from somebody knowledgeable about both.

  8. Pingback: Rethinking brand | change-effect

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s