In the latest installment of our Ask a CMO series, we were fortunate to spend time with Tina Beaty, the Chief Marketing & Experience Officer of one of the most respected associations in the country, the SHRM, the trusted authority for all things work. With nearly 325,000 members, SHRM impacts the lives of more than 235 million workers and families globally by empowering HR professionals, business executives, and people managers to lead as strategic business partners and effective stewards of workplace culture, business productivity, and employee engagement.
Every association leader is focused on helping members be more successful in their professional lives. For CMOs like Tina, this means having audience-centric principles and a talented, curious, and driven team to execute the organization’s strategic marketing plans.
Here are a few highlights from our discussion with Tina:
CT: What experience from your previous marketing roles informs what you’re doing as a CMO?
TB: It’s the understanding of what an audience persona is. I started my career in PR where the focus is always putting your audience first. It was with that ethos that I embarked on every job since. It may not have been called “audience-centricity” back then, but the same principles apply: put the audience first and build a story of influence around them.
I have always been interested in and driven by the idea that if you know who your audience is, you can change the way they think, feel, or behave. Recognizing the power in that means you can really wield the marketing and communications toolkit for good or bad. I’ve been thankful throughout my career to have worked at places with passionate missions that believe in audience-focused channels.
CT: What innovative membership recruitment and engagement strategies have you implemented?
TB: We pilot and test many different tactics – when they work, we take them forward to our marketing mix. Our strategy of audience-centricity has allowed us to not only see our business metrics move forward but, more importantly, it has moved our member engagement metrics forward.
Doing right by the audience is a win-win. They get what they need, and we get the business impact from their continued satisfaction. It sounds simple, but really does apply in so many cases. We have grown membership numbers across all our different categories because we engage at a personal and customized level. And that allows us to grow our business.
Beyond our broad categories of members, the magic really began to happen we started looking at our sub-segmentation strategy. For SHRM, one of our main audiences is HR professionals, obviously, but that’s a huge group thus there is no way that their needs could be the same across the audience. So, we had to understand the different groups within that larger category. Once we figured out what they needed from us and how we could partner with them, that is when we could really design our best messaging, the right touchpoints, and our best products to serve them.
CT: What do you say to job seekers who are considering jobs at different types of companies – B2B, B2C, B2G and associations?
TB: I would say it’s really about the similarities, not differences. I would even advocate that job seekers – should look beyond the label of the business. Marketing is a transferable skill. Whether you’re doing it at a government agency, a PR firm, in-house at a consumer-packaged goods company, or an association, it’s more about who the end audience is and what the organization has to deliver to them.
Rather than assuming that marketing is different because of the type or tax status of the organization and letting that be what keeps you in or out of consideration, think about a company’s USP (unique selling proposition). Think about why that company should be reaching their audience and whether you think your skill set can help bring it to market. That’s a much more powerful way to look at working for a company than just looking at company types.
Legally, SHRM is a 501c6, a non-profit. But our culture operates like a business, a startup even. We see ourselves as an innovative think tank, always evolving. We probably don’t resemble what people think of as a non-profit or an association. So, I think labels are almost misnomers, especially for organizations like ours.
CT: So, if you’re a good marketer, you can market anything?
TB: Yes – and that can be a scary thing. A colleague once told me I could market oceanfront property in Oklahoma. I decided to take it as a compliment.
I also think people overlook career opportunities because they assume a certain type of organization is going to be limiting for them. In marketing, communications, PR, and creative – there is a lot of blending that can be fantastic for a career because it means you get to wear different hats. You get to ping pong around the different thought processes in understanding your audience and look through different lenses. A lot of times trade associations have the funding and a clear mission that allow you to do some great career-defining marketing activities.
CT: What is the one skill that you want every marketer on your team to have?
TB: The ability to ask the ‘what if?’ question. It is somewhere between a hard skill and a soft skill. What’s required to ask this is the understanding of your business – from the business strategy, down to marketing strategy, and especially understanding tactical execution. A person needs to understand the whole picture and then be able to take a step back and say ‘what if we did this’? And the right-placed ‘what if’ question can sometimes be the absolute thing that you were missing. And finding that means you can set the team on a beautiful path forward where both the member and your revenue stream win.
CT: Can you think of a ‘what if’ question that someone on your staff asked that turned into the kind of magic you’re talking about?
TB: A great what-if-turned-success-story for us was when we created a physical brand manifestation for SHRM. That’s not something associations traditionally do. And we thought, why not? Our whole mission is to change the way people think about the workplace. And we all go to work. So, let’s insert ourselves physically in front of people commuting to work and get them to think differently. Based on that quick conversation, some rapid planning happened, and we executed SHRM’s first brand activation in fall of 2019.
It was in The Oculus at the World Trade Center in New York which was a great environment to get in front of ‘the worker.’ Through SHRM’s research, we had proprietary statistics that showed the U.S. economy was losing $223 billion every five years simply because work environments can be toxic. The things we learned in kindergarten – like ‘be nice to each other’ and ‘share’ – can be forgotten in the corporate world.
We built a coffee shop with an interactive floor and conversation starter cards to change toxic managers into great managers over a cup of joe. As visitors stepped onto the floor, stats about the impact of workplace toxicity popped up on a screen. The whole idea was to grab your coffee and within the first few sips, we could engage you in how to start the conversation about changing toxicity in the workplace. It was neat to see people stop and watch the screens and read the message. We later heard powerful stories of people setting up coffee meetings at their offices and using the “SHRM Workplace Convos & Coffee” cards to start productive and positive convos at work.
CT: When you are interviewing candidates for your team, what is your go-to interview question?
TB: I ask them about the culture they seek, usually by asking them to paint me a picture of their ideal team, environment, and pace.
It’s not that an environment is good or bad, but clarity is important. At SHRM we have our guiding principles that aren’t just posters on the wall – it is the embodiment of how we operate. In the SHRM marketing & experience division – we know our culture. We are unapologetic about it. It’s fast-paced and it’s intense, but it’s perfect for us, so we want to share that with others so they can make an informed decision if that’s the environment they are seeking. We want people to be where they can thrive. So, asking candidates to build me a picture of their ideal team environment helps everyone understand if there’s a match.
CT: What’s your best “one day we’ll laugh about this” story from a conference or an event or a member experience?
TB: If you can’t laugh about the things that aren’t going well, what are you going to do? We had an entertainer who was set to perform at our annual conference. His private jet did not take off on time, so he was running late. Each minute he was late felt like it was an hour! The team quickly came up with a potential plan B and C, depending on how late he was going to end up being. But he made it – he literally went from jet to car to backstage to onstage within mere moments. To his credit he was sprinting once he was on-site.
In that moment, it felt like there was no way we could get out of the situation alive, but now it’s a favorite backstage moment.
CT: What’s the best advice you ever received from a member?
TB: We were working on a campaign around getting talent back to work, the focus of which was to help HR professionals hire the formerly incarcerated. Our messaging acknowledged that building a robust pipeline of talent means looking at untapped talent pools. We believe that formerly incarcerated individuals who have served their debt to society deserve the dignity of work. A job with an income stream cuts down on recidivism rates. We had statistics and tools to help HR professionals to change minds.
A thank-you note we received from a member stands out for me. In the note, she said that she had always believed that employing formerly incarcerated individuals was the right thing to do for her organization. After experiencing our campaign and the SHRM Foundation tools, it was the first time that she was able to have a conversation with her CEO to unlock the funding to pursue this talent pool.
The member’s words were impactful for me. I’ll probably never get the chance to meet the formerly incarcerated person who was hired. Or the person in a wheelchair who was able to use a newly installed ramp to get into the building when SHRM promotes and supports HR actions to make workplaces inclusive and compliant. I’ll never meet those individuals, but to know that our members, HR professionals and business leaders, are making change at the grassroots level is really cool. Hearing from that member was an important, connective moment because we could step out of marketing and look at the actual impact on an individual’s life- and we know that is happening in workplaces all around the globe.
CT: What business/corporate buzz word would you like to eliminate forever?
TB: ‘Double-click.’ I would put that on the chopping block and vote to never say it again.
CT: If you weren’t in marketing, what would be your dream job?
TB: An architect. I got my first internship in high school at my local radio station, and I always knew I was going to be on the marketing and communications track. But architecture and design has always been a passion.
The story goes when I was about five, my mother got called into school by the teacher and the principal who said, ‘there might be something wrong with your daughter.’ In class, the teacher had asked us to draw a house. She was expecting a triangular roof, square bottom, and front door. Instead, I drew a floor plan. It had different rooms with egress windows and doors. They didn’t get it. Thankfully, my mom knew exactly what I had done and explained it to them. Since then, I have always had a secret passion for architecture, and for the flow of how a house supports a family and their living and work styles.
Growing up, I would often walk through construction sites with my family. I thought everybody did that on Sunday mornings. Turns out that’s not normal – haha.
Now I mainly channel that passion into a Zillow and Redfin obsession and watching HGTV.
Sincere thanks to Tina Beaty for this fun and insightful conversation. To learn more about SHRM, click here.
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