When you walk into your office every day, you're probably not thinking about rock 'n' roll. But if you're really after success, maybe you should be. That's according to Heather Stern of Lippincott, which has offered guidance to major brands like Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Samsung since 1943. Stern is in a unique position with Lippincott in that she serves as both the chief marketing officer and chief human resource officer (chief talent officer). To push her two departments to their best, she takes inspiration from two of the greatest music legends of all time--The Beatles' John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The spark of insight
"When I started wearing both hats," Stern explains, "I was at first struck by the inherent differences between the two departments--the activities, the way we approach things, the way we communicate, etc. [But...] then I stumbled across an article on Joshua Wolf Shenk's book, The Power of Two, about the partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It really hit home. The subtitle says it all: 'Despite the mythology around the idea of the lone genius, the famous partnership John Lennon and Paul McCartney demonstrates the brilliance of creative pairs.' I really liked the idea of leveraging the strengths of the two departments versus focusing on the inherent differences and I thought the John / Paul metaphor worked really well. It became a bit of a metaphorical north star for me."
Lennon is marketing...
Stern describes Lennon as spontaneous, emotional and wildly creative. He was always radical, she says, and had an intense desire to be doing new things nobody else was doing.
"CMOs are often brought in to be a change agent, to question the status quo, to infuse experimentation into the organization and to connect with audiences in new ways," says Stern. "For me, John Lennon provides inspiration for that and I see a lot of similarities in how he approached his role. He was a non-conformist. Not only did he push the envelope and help evolve Beatles' music, but he also devoted much of his life to driving change in the world and architecting his own 'activations' like Bed-In for Peace protests. [...] His transparency and willingness to push the envelope, like with his 'The Beatles are more popular than Jesus' remark, reminds me of a marketer's mindset."
...and McCartney is HR
And McCartney? Well, he wanted to push new things, too, but he was a bit more grounded. Songs like Love Me Do and Let It Be were straightforward and less ambiguous, which actually helped people connect with them.
"CHROs are looked upon to help maintain balance, order and continual engagement," Stern asserts. "They have the trust and respect of the organization and the ear of the CEO. They, too, are forward looking, but I've found them, overall, to be more inclusive in their thinking. Paul was always polite to the press, especially in comparison to John. He famously told Rolling Stone that he was always the Beatle who would offer reporters a drink and make sure they were comfortable. Even today, McCartney is all about finding new common ground. At 73 years old, he became a collaborator of Kanye West, which is a reminder of how great things can come from partnering with unlikely sources."
Working better together
In the end, Stern says, Lennon and McCartney, although each an incredible force to reckon with in their own right, complemented each other. By working together well, they built a voice for the band that was altogether different and appealed to a significantly wider audience. And just like Lennon and McCartney needed each other and offered each other balance, company departments are synergistic, too.
"I don't think of marketing and HR as mutually exclusive personalities. I've learned that any marketing effort I am focusing on actually does have implications for our talent, and vice versa. At the end of the day, both talent and marketing are trying to create a movement that people want to become a part of. Marketing is trying to create this connection with customers, while HR is trying to create it with employees. The goal for both these efforts is to create a harmonious cycle that feeds into itself. This is where marketing and talent need to come together: to identify not just what the brand stands for, but what you do as a company because of what the brand stands for. How it shows up in the day-to-day, how it manifests itself across the customer and employee experience, and how it stays true to a central idea but evolves over time to be relevant and dynamic. To succeed at that task, you need both mindsets."
Stern's message isn't exclusive to big companies, either. Even if you're in a business of one, the basic idea that it takes more than one set of skills or assets to thrive, or that you shouldn't view different tasks as being within specific, isolated silos, still holds. Yes, Stern admits, it can be messy and full of surprises to rebel, take the rock and roll route and erase role boundaries. But it's rewarding, too. And in an environment of increasing competition and noise, that very well might be just the music your ears need to hear.