Two words had been typed on the sheet and underlined three times:
'No Softies'. Ruth Spellman, Investors in People (IiP) CEO, put this on
the job description to leave her prospective director of communications
under no illusions. Sue Martin considered herself warned and now, with
her feet under the desk, leads a marcoms team of 12 and is tasked with
persuading firms they must attain the IiP standard.
The qualification, with its laurel wreath kitemark, is highly
recognisable. Partly funded by the Department for Education and Skills,
and partly by revenue generated from its own publications, IiP is a
workforce development organisation that has been around for eleven
To qualify for the IiP standard, businesses are exhaustively assessed to
ensure the workforce has an understanding of the business and its goals,
has access to sensible, structured training and appraisals, and
experiences good line management. Holders are reassessed every three
years. IiP liaises with local Business Links and the 47 Learning and
Skills Councils, and positions itself as an authoritative voice on a
variety of hot topics: the work/life balance, employee rights,
discrimination in the workplace, skills shortages, talent wars and so
Martin certainly knows the territory. As controller of corporate and
internal communications for BBC Worldwide, she was instrumental in
making it the first BBC division to attain IiP status. Keeping the
workforce informed of developments is crucial, she says. 'If you get
your internal comms right, instead of doing PR in isolation you find you
have two or three hundred ambassadors for the business. Some people
think IiP is a "nice to have", a bit soft and fluffy. But there are
And this is the basis on which Martin will sell IiP to the business
community. The organisation says it can demonstrate a clear correlation
between attaining the standard and retaining customers as well as
attracting and keeping staff. IiP is currently engaged on a research
project to quantify its appeal anew while high-profile converts such as
BT, Sainsbury's and transport group TNT queue up to explain how it has
helped their business in a series of case studies available to the
uninitiated and the unconvinced.
But introducing IiP and its procedures into a multinational is one
thing; how attractive is it to the firm with half a dozen people that
can hold entire staff meetings in a kitchen? 'I was a one-woman
consultancy,' Martin says. 'I know how difficult it is to get off the
treadmill and look at the bigger picture. The principles are the same
for any business: to survive and prosper.'
Spellman is clear about the communications challenge her new recruit
faces. 'She is direct and that is what businesses appreciate; they don't
want consultant-speak.' Firms do not appreciate being told what they
should do, particularly not by an organisation with strong government
links, she adds. 'We have a more subtle message: "we have got something
that might interest you". People don't do it for philanthropic
Neat, precise and businesslike, Martin appears an unlikely crusader. Yet
she has been passionate from an early age about the provision of good
public services, such as transport. Her working class upbringing in
London's East End may partly explain this, and certainly led to her to
join what was then British Rail as a marketing trainee. She arrived in
1982 after a bitter ASLEF strike, and cut her teeth in freight, the
least glamourous side of an unglamourous industry. From there her PR
path led to the British Council, promoting exhibitions from Washington
to India, and to the RSA examinations board.
Underlying all of Martin's job choices was the fact that she is, by her
own admission, 'fascinated by the way organisations work'. This tendency
manifested itself during a spell in freelance journalism as she found
time to write a piece on a behind the scenes view of a crematorium.
From 1992-97 Martin was at the BBC World Service with a patch stretching
from Iran to New Zealand. She set up her own consultancy after acting as
the BBC's on-the-spot PR person at the handover of Hong Kong to China in
1997, but was brought into BBC Worldwide on a freelance basis until
taking a full-time post in 1998.
IiP will be looking at specific sectors, such as finance and education -
a number of schools are aiming for the qualification - and construction.
Martin's three-year plan aims to target five new sectors a year.
'Editorial is an important way of reaching people,' Martin says. So,
too, is a presence at trade shows and the creation of regional events.
At the end of October there will be Investors in People Week.
Converting awareness into action, especially with smaller firms, will be
hard but Martin's language and approach marked her out from the start of
the interview process, Spellman says. 'Sue was much less hesitant than
other candidates but it was not a myopic view. Part of it is a
persuasion game. She is not one of these zealots.' Not a softie either,
1982: Marketing trainee, British Rail
1989: Marketing and PR manager, RSA exam board
1998: Controller of corp and internal comms, BBC Worldwide
2001: Director of comms, Investors in People