Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Food for Thought: Trade Union Strategies for Marketing

Historically, it is not very often, if at all, that the words – or principles – of trade unionism and marketing are used or seen together.  Trade unionists often blanch at the thought of marketing, sometimes seeing it as linked to the corporate world only.
Marketing isn’t necessarily always a full-page advertisement in a newspaper, a TV commercial, or a sports team sponsorship that costs a fortune.  In its basic sense, it’s about ‘selling’ or ‘persuading someone to buy’ something.  In the case of trade unionism, the product is not usually something concrete in the first instance.  However, there are many aspects which make it highly valuable, and therefore, extremely marketable.
Unions offer members and workers the opportunity to have better terms and conditions, increased access to learning, a safer work environment – to name but a few.  In the case of union learning, for example, unions are ‘selling’ workers the basis for a better life, better skills, better career prospects, increased confidence and the potential for a healthier wage-packet. 
Some people instinctively feel that trade unions can only make negative contributions in the workplace, while others instinctively appreciate that trade unions are there seeking to add value.  Marketing and communications are key functions, requiring specific skills, which help to address this lack of understanding and get our messages out to our publics.  By employing marketing and communication skills, the roles of union reps and activists can be enhanced and become more effective.  Marketing - and increasingly, Social Marketing through Twitter and Facebook – are of integral part to the success of any campaign.
Across the country, budgets are being squeezed, poked and slashed from every angle.  Money allocated to marketing is sometimes the first to go.  Indeed, the April 2011 IPA/BDO Bellwether Report* reveals that marketing budgets were “revised down” (or in other words, cut!) for the second consecutive quarter in response to public sector spending cuts and rapidly rising cost pressures.
Competing pressures for trade unions means we need to work together to reduce the costs of marketing and communications. Members can reap the benefits through our hard work, time and effort in negotiating on their behalf to bring the many facets of marketing together creatively and strategically for all of our campaigns.  In the future, they will remember that “the union did this for us” which will, in turn, raise the profile of individual union brands and the trade union movement as a whole. 
An article that appeared in the Journal of Marketing Communication** in 2009 said, “Once, we thought that comparing advertising and public relations was a bit like comparing apples and oranges.  While they both belonged to the broad general category of communications, they looked and sounded different and were even very different in practice.  Then in the 1980s, someone suggested fruit salad...The educational approach to date has largely focussed on changing what already exists.  That is, what is the best way to combine the apples and oranges we already have, rather than what is the best way to make fruit salad (Kerr, 2009).”   
This insight can also be applied to marketing and trade unions.  To ensure maximum effect and achievement of our aims, trade unions must use a combination of many different methods of marketing: careful branding, press releases, case studies, public relations, integrated social media, etc.  We need to pinpoint measures of our successes and think of integrated, long-term strategies as a better way forward to meet our objectives.  By thinking strategically, and in combining individual union campaigns with the aims and objectives of the STUC’s Better Way campaign, we can get our messages out – and have them be heard.  The key to achieving maximum impact is maintaining a positive, consistent and highly visible profile – and to proactively add value at every opportunity.
Jennifer Payne, STUC
*The Bellwether Report is researched and published by Markit Economics on behalf of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA). First published in July 2000, it features original data drawn from a panel of around 300 UK marketing professionals and provides a key indicator of the health of the economy.
** Kerr, G., (2009) Apples, oranges and fruit salad: A Delphi study of the IMC educational mix, Journal of Marketing Communication, vol. 15, nos. 2-3, April-July 2009

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