dave stratton, sky
Dave Stratton, Marketing Director, Sky Sports and Cinema, speaking at the Festival of Marketing 2023, London. Image: ASV Photography

Broadcaster Sky is a major British brand with a lot of clout and a strong reputation – the kind of organisation you would expect to have its pick of job applicants and up-and-comers. Yet returning from Covid-19 lockdowns, Marketing Director Dave Stratton recalled that Sky found itself in “a huge war for talent”.

“Throughout COVID, the streaming services had grown exponentially; we’d also seen social media providers growing exponentially. And what that meant for a business like Sky was that [we were] competing for talent… alongside those businesses,” he told Econsultancy’s Paul Davies.

Stratton was speaking at the Festival of Marketing 2023 about why Sky set out to implement an intensive training programme for marketing excellence, how they succeeded in getting the entire marketing function on board, and how they measured success.

“Coming out of Covid, we needed to do something…”

As Sky returned to the office following Covid-19 lockdowns, the organisation was aware of a need to revive morale and interaction among its staff. “We recognised, coming out of Covid, that we needed to do something – for a few reasons,” said Stratton. “The teams had spent 18 months, two years, behind screens; and whilst we proved that you could make a business work remotely … it hadn’t built the collective camaraderie of the team.

“We needed to reignite the business and the marketing function again.”

Tackling this meant creating a face-to-face training programme – “we wanted to use this, as a team, to start getting people back into the office again”. With these goals in mind, Sky set about creating the Sky Academy of Marketing: a mandatory three-day foundational marketing training course created in partnership with Econsultancy.

We made the training fantastic and engaging – we made it something that people wanted to come to.

“A lot of it was about the enduring fundamentals of marketing, but it’s also a little bit of our secret sauce in terms of how we would do things in Sky,” Stratton explained. “We had buy-in [for the programme] all the way up to the CEO, which was super, super important, because these things are not cheap – so you need the buy-in from your senior leadership, and you need the funding to be able to do something like this.”

In order to get the right outcomes from a learning programme, it’s crucial for everyone who takes part in it to be invested. Making the training a requirement for all marketers and getting buy-in from the senior leadership down were two key steps towards this, but Sky also made sure that the programme was something marketers would be excited to take part in.

“We made the training fantastic and engaging – we made it something that people wanted to come to. … It was so impressive that other functions wanted to be part of the training as well! So, when we had people like Rory Sutherland and Mark Ritson [speaking], we opened it up to the whole organisation to dial in. That made it famous outside of the marketing community as well – and now we’ve got our Propositions team looking to do a very similar thing.”

Speaking the same language

With a marketing team the size of Sky’s – some four or five hundred people – making sure that everyone is aligned around the same values and approach is important, but challenging. Sky decided to build this into the training by condensing the Sky approach to marketing into three behaviours: ‘Bold’, ‘Restless’, and ‘Together’.

“We wanted to make sure that everybody across the organisation was on the same page, including senior leadership from CEO down,” said Stratton. ‘Bold’ represented the company’s approach to marketing; ‘restless’ represented the growth mindset that Sky wanted to instil in its organisation; and ‘together’ denoted the alignment the team were aiming to achieve.

“It was important that through this programme, we could bring this all together. So, what we did was we had our CEO kick things off with his commitments around these behaviours – that when we were taking work through the chain, he was going to judge the work against those criteria.”

As a result of putting the entire department through the same focused training, “we’re all on a level playing field, speaking the same language,” Stratton said. Going forward, any new joiners to the marketing team will complete an online version of the same training, with face-to-face sessions held annually.

“We can already see it starting to have an impact”

Just as a marketing campaign needs to be able to show return on investment, it’s important to be able to demonstrate the value of a training programme in order to justify putting budget against it. Davies asked how Sky accomplished this, and what the results have been so far from the Academy of Marketing training.

“We had a clear set of KPIs that we wanted to shift; front and centre was the happiness and engagement of our teams,” said Stratton. Sky also monitored the effectiveness of its marketing to understand whether those metrics were improving, for example, looking at the change in System1 scoring, which predicts the impact of advertising.

“What we’ve seen … is that our marketing teams are happier; our marketing teams believe that they are now better trained, that they’re doing better work. They feel that they’re more empowered,” Stratton reported. “So, we’re already moving well on that journey – and we’ve seen, year-on-year, that our System1 scores are improving as well.

“We’re early days on this; we’re still in the first year, but we can already see it starting to have an impact in the organisation.”

“Your competitive advantage is your people”

Taking time out from ‘business as usual’ to devote purely to training can seem like a risk, even when the results will hopefully be positive. Salesforce-owned Slack recently took the step of directing employees to pause their day-to-day work for a week to progress with training on its internal Trailhead platform.

At Sky, the business mitigated the impact of the time away from day-to-day tasks by spacing out the third day of its training programme, “because the view was that taking people out of the business for three days straight was probably a step too far”. However, Stratton detailed that marketers were expected to “switch off” for the days that they spent training – “no emails, no telephone conversations”.

“And people really fed back on how they enjoyed that, because they were just immersed in the training – and that was all they were thinking about for that space of time,” he said. “It’s very important that the business supports that, and gives people the permission.

“I think it did work really, really well, with this format,” he reflected.

“You have to prioritise [taking time to learn]. You have to train the people – your competitive advantage is your people.”

Need training?

Explore Econsultancy’s elearning and live learning programs.