5 minutes with… Claire Southern, Senior Marketing Communications Executive, Hydrogen Group

This month I’m delighted to be speaking to one of the most talented marketers that I have had the pleasure to manage, Claire Southern, who is now Senior Marketing Communications Executive at the recruitment firm Hydrogen Group.

Here’s her 5 minutes with…

What is your marketing background?

Like a lot of people I know, I sort of fell into the world of marketing. I never had a clear idea of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go (and I still don’t, to be honest!) But when I started out, I was aware of my natural strengths and what I enjoyed: communicating, writing, being super organised. I didn’t know a huge amount about what ‘Marketing’ involved and how varied the function truly is, but it seemed like a good fit or, at the very least, a good way to get some relevant experience under my belt.

I spent my first year in a Comms role in the NHS, then wanted to move to the Private Sector to fast-track my career development. Also because I was the youngest person in our office by about 20 years! That’s when I moved to Hay Group (now Korn Ferry), a global HR Consultancy firm, where I had the absolute pleasure of working with Michael for a few years! And now I’ve just celebrated my three-year anniversary here at Hydrogen Group.

Most of my roles have been fairly generalist marketing roles, which I’ve loved as it’s given me the broad experience from which to grow. But since being at Hydrogen, I’ve specialised more in comms and content, as I much prefer working with words than numbers!

What does your role at Hydrogen Group involve?

As the Senior Marketing Comms Exec at Hydrogen Group, I manage most of our content. A very small part of my role is around internal comms, but I spend most of my time working with our different businesses to create content and campaigns that work in their markets. We’re a multi-brand group, so an average week for me means juggling lots of different projects with each area of the business.

Ultimately, I couldn’t do what I do without the rest of our amazing Marketing Team! I’m lucky to work alongside extremely talented digital, automation and design specialists who help me to deliver our campaigns and report on our impact and effectiveness. Our skill sets compliment each other really well, and I think we do our best work when we’re collaborating on a project as a team.

What are the fundamentals to you of a good integrated marketing campaign?

The key is in establishing clear goals and targets. Understanding exactly what you want to get out of your campaign is crucial. It seems so obvious, but without this, you’re doomed from the start (believe me, I’ve learnt this the hard way!)

How do you measure the impact of the campaigns you run?

We always refer back to our goals, and measure accordingly. For example, we use different metrics to measure brand awareness campaigns compared to lead generation campaigns.

We’ve recently implemented a new CRM across the whole Group, so it’s been a big learning curve for all of us in the company to make sure we’re tracking everything in the right way! Our process isn’t perfect yet, but we’re making progress.

At Hydrogen Group, you have a footprint in a number of different international markets – how do you ensure brand consistency at the local level?

It’s not always easy! But having regional teams on the ground makes a big difference – since we acquired Argyll Scott in 2017, we’ve had a dedicated APAC Marketing team, who are the first point of contact for our businesses in that region. They still work closely with our global marketing team, but they’re able to be nearer to the business and maintain that two-way communication.

For you, what’s the key to marketing internationally in professional services?

Understanding the nuances between different markets and tailoring your approach accordingly. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ campaign (unfortunately!) that will deliver the right impact in every market. That’s why the vast majority of content we produce is very targeted to our niche business areas.

What are the challenges for marketers in the recruitment sector and how are you and your colleagues overcoming them?

We work in a very saturated industry – we have a lot of competitors and making sure we stand out is a constant challenge. The way we deal with this is to continuously develop our knowledge of all the different markets we operate in, working closely with our businesses to understand what’s happening and finding new ways of approaching things. One of Hydrogen’s company values is all around being ‘Restless Explorers’ – it’s ingrained into our culture to be questioning what we’re doing, trying to improve and challenge each other to be better all the time. So, I love that it’s not just our marketing team who’re coming up with new ideas – everyone gets involved.

What do you think marketers in other professional services sectors can learn from the recruitment sector?

The recruitment sector doesn’t always have a great rep, but one thing we do well at Hydrogen is align our Sales and Marketing teams. ‘Marketing vs. Sales’ has been a long-fought-battle in many businesses, but when I first joined Hydrogen, I was surprised by how involved and integrated Sales & Marketing were. I think this is partly due to the fact we’re a very Sales-led business, so in order for our Marketing to make any impact, we know we need to be closely aligned. But I also think a lot of it is because our senior leadership teams understand the value of marketing – I’m incredibly proud that our team is highly regarded throughout the Group (we were voted ‘Best Ops Team’ in 2018!)

Having those strong relationships with Sales means that we deliver more tailored campaigns for their different markets. It’s meant I’ve had to push myself out of my comfort zone to make sure we get more involved, ask more questions and challenge our approaches. But it’s made me a whole lot better at my job!

What are some of the emerging marketing trends that you are seeing?

Whilst marketing automation has been around for a while now, I still think most B2B firms haven’t quite realised its full potential. Particularly when it integrates with sales processes. So, whilst the concept of automation isn’t a new one, learning how to use it effectively is still one of the main priorities for many marketing teams I speak to (including us!)

Also, being in the recruitment industry, we’ve seen a big trend in more and more marketing professionals wanting to move into contracting or freelance work. This is for many different reasons, but businesses in a wide variety of industries are bringing in more marketing contractors or agencies to plug their expertise or resource gaps.