5 minutes with… Marisa Kacary, Managing Director – Brand, Marketing & Communications, AMS

This month I’m delighted to be speaking to Marisa Kacary, Managing Director – Brand, Marketing & Communications at our client AMS. Marisa is one of the most forward-thinking marketing leaders that I know and she has recently guided the company through a major company rebrand.

Here is my 5 minutes with…

What is your marketing background?

I started my marketing career on the graduate marketing programme at Mercury Communications, part of Cable & Wireless. It was the challenger brand to British Telecom (as was) in the days when the telecommunications industry was deregulating. It was a very ambitious, innovative company and a great place to start my career. I spent the first decade of my career in marketing roles in telecommunications and IT companies, before starting work in the sector that I’ve worked in since – all things talent.

What does your role at AMS involve?

I have accountability for our global Brand & Marketing and our Bid Management & Sales Support teams – we call it “Growth Acceleration”. I also oversee our Internal Communications. It’s a really varied role – which suits me; I get to work with such a variety of people right across our business and no day is ever the same. In one week I can find myself discussing brand implications of a potential acquisition, looking at website wireframes, drafting communications on our wellbeing strategy (recently, we’ve had Mr Motivator run some “flawsome” motivation sessions for us!) or helping to promote 90’s-style music videos on social media featuring 2 comedians and a pop-music legend…. (seriously! check out https://go.weareams.com/thisishourly)

We must start by saying congratulations on your new brand launch, it’s fantastic, you must be pleased it’s all live and into the market?

I am very conscious of the legacy of the organisation – Alexander Mann Solutions was a fantastically successful business with a decent brand, as AMS I want us to continue to be a great business but with a great brand to support it.

Thank you! Yes, we’re delighted by the reception we’ve had and we’re happy to have it “out of the door”. But it’s not a project that’s anywhere close to being “finished” in my mind – getting the brand launched is just the starting point of building even greater recognition and reputation for AMS than we had as Alexander Mann Solutions. I am very conscious of the legacy of the organisation – Alexander Mann Solutions was a fantastically successful business with a decent brand, as AMS I want us to continue to be a great business but with a great brand to support it.

What were some of your key learnings from the experience?

I’ve had the good fortune to work on several significant brand repositioning projects in my career and to a degree, expected this one to follow a pretty similar path, which was my first learning – it didn’t! We started the project over two years ago, anyone who knows me well knows that I am impatient and when we started work on the rebrand, I didn’t anticipate it wouldn’t get launched until quite so far in the future. But we had two unanticipated but entirely appropriate pauses, the first when our Founder and now Chair, Rosaleen Blair CBE transitioned from CEO to Chair and we appointed a new CEO David Leigh. Naturally, we paused at that point in order to get our new CEO’s input and support for the plans. And then of course, the Covid-19 pandemic struck. It wouldn’t have been appropriate to rebrand at that stage, nor would my team or I had the bandwidth to do it justice; like many of my peers, a large amount and time and thought in 2020 was focussed on employee and client communications.

As I said, I am impatient, but the longer than anticipated duration was actually a good thing. It allowed us time to really refine and hone our thinking on the new proposition, messaging, tone of voice and visual identity. I remember figuratively dusting off the work after a 6 month pause and being as excited and certain as I’d been about it prior. And from a proposition perspective, we’ve seen the acceleration of many aspects of the future world of work over the last 12 months ago – the need for workforces to be resilient and fluid, to pivot fast, to be more diverse, inclusive and differentiated -these trends made our new proposition, centred around “workforce dexterity” more resonant than ever.

One of other learnings – maybe more a liberation than a learning – was the career-first opportunity to think about visual identity from a digital-first perspective and utilise really exciting technologies within that. It allowed us to think differently about how we approached our visual identity in a way which we are really excited about, with a core component of our new visual identity being derived from an algorithm based generative motion tool we had built for us which represents the constant fluidity and shape-shifting of the working world.

If there were 3 pieces of advice you could offer up to any of our readers who are about to embark on a similar journey, what would they be?

Not sure about giving advice but some things that made a big difference to me would be:

A rebrand isn’t just a marketing project. It will touch virtually every aspect of your business and the sooner you engage with the teams who you will need to work with you on the project the better.

1) It takes a village. A rebrand isn’t just a marketing project. It will touch virtually every aspect of your business and the sooner you engage with the teams who you will need to work with you on the project the better. I was lucky to have a fantastic working group with people from our IT team (migrating a 4,500 population to a new email address and associated infrastructure is no small task!), HR, legal, finance, global facilities, client and candidate management teams, etc.

2) Get lots of input. At the research phase of the work we took on board extensive feedback from clients, market analysts and others. I also established a fabulous internal advisory group who reviewed and input to our thinking along the way to ensure we were including perspectives from across our business. They helped enormously with things like localisation and cultural nuancing as well as now being active brand advocates for us!

Be bold. Bold is one of the AMS values and it’s one we committed to demonstrating in every aspect of our rebrand. Someone once said to me that if a rebrand feels too comfortable, you’ll quickly outgrow it.

3) Be bold. Bold is one of the AMS values and it’s one we committed to demonstrating in every aspect of our rebrand. Someone once said to me that if a rebrand feels too comfortable, you’ll quickly outgrow it. I think that’s very true. We wanted to challenge ourselves to develop a brand that we could grow with and into. Our industry is changing fast and so are we as a business and we needed to ensure we had a brand platform that we could extend from. Changing our name, defining the new concept of workforce dexterity in the lexicon of talent acquisition and HR terminology, significantly changing our tone of voice and visual identity are all quite big things to do in isolation, let alone collectively. Sometimes it’s felt a little scary and challenging, but again, if it felt easy, you probably aren’t pushing hard enough.

AMS has operations throughout the world, how will/do you ensure brand consistency across each of your markets?

We’ve got a fabulous small team of in-house visual designers who do a lot of our creative and presentation work. They have been integral to rolling out the brand and are brilliant brand guardians, and they’re not afraid to call me out when I inadvertently use an incorrect colour pairing for example!
We’ve tried to make it easy for our people to use the brand themselves – we have a brand portal on our new ‘MyAMS” intranet with lots of guides (eg updating your LinkedIn profile) , tips, templates and tools in – including things like a custom PowerPoint ribbon to make it easier for the many people in our business who create presentations to do them “on brand”. We’ve created an interactive “brand basics” training programme that almost a quarter of the AMS population took in the first week of it being available. Finally, we use a SaaS brand asset management platform which helps us quickly create and customise branded materials, I am neither a creative or that brilliant with tech – and we joke that even I can use it!

The marketing function at AMS has a close relationship with your growth team and client relationship managers; what advice could you offer marketing functions that are struggling to get those close relationships?

I think understanding what people’s motivators and drivers are is enormously helpful – it allows you to be more proactive and when your business partners see that you are attempting to solve their business problems with marketing answers, that helps build more of a partnership relationship.

I’ve personally always invested a lot of time and care to build relationships with stakeholders across the business – both in AMS and elsewhere. I think understanding what people’s motivators and drivers are is enormously helpful – it allows you to be more proactive and when your business partners see that you are attempting to solve their business problems with marketing answers, that helps build more of a partnership relationship.

I also try hard to bring the external in to AMS as well as promote AMS outside of the organisation. Yes, it’s our primary job to help the business engage with our target markets – but at the same time I see it as important that we act as a conduit so that the business knows what thought leaders, analysts and competitors are saying and doing in the market. As marketers we pay very close attention to what’s going on “outside”, I think the business values marketing’s role in bringing that external perspective in, especially if you are able to add a qualified opinion to the opportunities and challenges those perspectives bring.

You’ve got a seat at the table with the leadership team at AMS, how important is that for marketing leaders?

Marketing has come a long way in the professional services world; it used to be the “department of pretty pictures and events”. These days, I think any organisation, especially a services-based organisation, that doesn’t recognise the value of brand and marketing to their business won’t be around for long!

I think it’s probably more important for the company than the leader themselves! Marketing has come a long way in the professional services world; it used to be the “department of pretty pictures and events”. These days, I think any organisation, especially a services-based organisation, that doesn’t recognise the value of brand and marketing to their business won’t be around for long! We’re a function that drives growth, increasingly from the front seat not the back seat. I feel that we are well respected and valued at AMS – but we also work hard to earn and keep that respect.

Throughout your career you have launched some extremely successful campaigns, when you look back which was your favourite and why?

That’s like choosing between your children! Not sure I could do that. My least favourite was maybe in the early days of my career when I launched a pan-European campaign for a call centre product. I was very junior and despite all the materials having been through many layers of approvals, somehow I’d managed to use a visual of a competitor product in the campaign. Having to recall and reprint thousands of copies of direct mailshots, posters and other items was very embarrassing and expensive. Taught me a lesson I will never forget though; check, check and check again.

On a very personal level, there was one campaign in which I got a self-proclaimed “dinosaur” engaged on social media as the thought leader for the campaign. He was taken aback with the engagement he got from it and is now a convert. Every time I see one of his thoughtful posts, which always generate a lot of response, it makes me smile.

Measurement is obviously so important how do you measure the impact of your campaigns?

We have a pretty extensive reporting dashboard that covers all the “usual” metrics –views, downloads, click-to-open rates, as well as more sophisticated metrics such as conversion rates, channel engagement and lead stages.

Having one of our Client Relationship Directors tell me that their client had described our flagship thought leadership publication, Catalyst, as the Harvard Business Review of the TA world was a great indication of achieving intended impact.

I love all the data we’re able to derive from our digital marketing and marketing automation platform! It helps us know what’s working and is a great way for us to demonstrate quantifiable value to the business. But I think it’s important to know what the “impact” is you’re looking for. Awareness and reputation is hugely important but its really difficult to “measure” that with anything quantifiable so sometime the anecdotal is all you have. Having one of our Client Relationship Directors tell me that their client had described our flagship thought leadership publication, Catalyst, as the Harvard Business Review of the TA world was a great indication of achieving intended impact – although I think that might have been somewhat unfairly flattering! I also know of a consulting client who came to us after seeing a colleague’s social media post for example – that’s difficult to track but I keep my ears open for such anecdotes.

If you were told you could only report on 3 key metrics, what would they be?

Again – like picking your favourite child! (I have 4, the favourite changes daily depending on whose bedroom is the tidiest….!). Obviously, we track things like inbound leads, MQL’s and SQL’s etc like a hawk, they give us so much insight into what is working and what needs tweaking. I think perhaps my personal favourite is downloads though, we spend a lot of time on creating good quality content, knowing it is being downloaded (and hopefully read) is very heartening. It’s not a formal metric, but when we get inbound emails from people referencing that a colleague has sent them a copy of Catalyst Magazine, or one of our white papers or reports, and requesting to be added to our database to receive future content – that makes me very happy.

Finally, for readers who are walking into a marketing leadership role for the first time, particularly in professional services, what advice would you offer them?

Build a great team around you – and – the clue is in the descriptor of “marketing leadership role” – focus on leading them not micro-managing. Your role is to inspire, and align and help get obstacles out of their way, not do their jobs. I think many marketers find it difficult to let go and learn to delegate when they step into leadership roles for the first time. It doesn’t matter how good you are as an individual marketer, your team is your reputation. I am fortunate to have a fabulous team and nothing makes me happier than hearing one of our many stakeholders in the business complimenting them on good work.

In professional services, you don’t have a tangible product to market, your clients’ experience of your brand is through the people who deliver those services. As such, be a good partner to your HR team on all things relating to employee communications, culture and values – they are an intrinsic and essential part of the success of your brand strategy.

In professional services, you don’t have a tangible product to market, your clients’ experience of your brand is through the people who deliver those services. As such, be a good partner to your HR team on all things relating to employee communications, culture and values – they are an intrinsic and essential part of the success of your brand strategy.

Finally, I would also encourage any new marketing leader to remember to think like a marketer and remember their audience when they engage with their business stakeholders. Try and understand people’s motivations and speak to them about topics and in a language that will resonate with them. And listen!