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The world of workplace and facilities management has much to learn from the digital marketing profession, reports Martin Read.

Daniel Rowles

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04 February 2019 | Martin Read

When Daniel Rowles appears at this year’s IWFM conference he’ll be drawing parallels between the digital marketing profession’s development over the past decade or more, and what workplace and facilities managers can learn from its experience. Both types of professional, it seems, share an often unheralded breadth of influence, and organisations often unappreciative of how their work can influence overall outcomes.

Fortunately, says Rowles, “people’s expectations of marketing have changed – and I think it’s the same now with the workplace.”

If there is one issue that most clearly links the development of both professions, says Rowles, it’s data; the acquisition, analysis and contextual deployment of it for the benefit of the wider business. It’s by becoming more data-centric that digital marketing has broadened its role and, says Rowles, it’s how those who manage the workplace can broaden their roles too.

Expectations of the workplace, and of work itself, are fundamentally changing, says Rowles. 

“We’re getting more and more data about our workplaces; buildings tell us how people are using them, thereby educating employers about how the workplace affects workers, and how it can make them more efficient and happier,” he explains.

Creating narratives

It is important to ‘cut through the noise’ that the sheer quantity and varying quality of data introduces. Initially, the marketing profession found the growth in digital tools next to overwhelming, says Rowles – and he sees FM struggling with the same issue.

“What happens is that analysis of data – turning it into actionable insight – is what becomes important; using data to tell a story, to develop a narrative, becomes really important.” 

Just as in marketing, “if you just pick up on some cold statistics, nobody really cares; but if you use it to paint a picture of what’s going on, that becomes important. The challenge is learning to take actions on particular data that allow you to justify your places in the world a little bit.”

Marketing, says Rowles, used to suffer from being seen as the ‘pretty pictures’ department. He appreciates how FM struggles with its own stereotypes, often seen as merely maintenance or  caretaking.

“The reality is that once you’ve got data you can justify your existence with an awful lot more to say; ‘here’s what we’re doing; here’s why we’re here; here’s why we have a fundamental place in this business because. We’re are making it more efficient, reducing sick days, improving people’s efficiencies’.”

Ultimately, a focus on data delivers an unarguable case for responding to changing conditions. And it could also be the route to ensuring that other critical component in raising FM to a position of influence: leader buy-in.

“Everything is fixable as long as you have leadership buy-in,” says Rowles. “If you don’t have that, everything else will fall apart.”

“It’s a bit chicken and egg here,” accepts Rowles. “We need the data to prove how useful we are, but we quite often can’t get the data because we haven’t the systems to get it, or the time to analyse it. We need leadership buy-in. That is the problem we have at the moment and it’s why some businesses are failing. The average lifespan of an organisation is getting shorter and shorter, and that’s basically because the business environment is changing ever more quickly and businesses aren’t adapting to the environment they’re operating in.”

“I wrote a book called Building Digital Culture, which looked at digital transformation in businesses; where they are now and where they need to be to embrace digital change. What we realised was that there are 10 things you need to do to succeed or fail at digital transformation, with number one being leadership buy-in; leadership that understands the importance of all this stuff, – and isn’t just paying lip service to it, because that’s the other problem.”

Dash on delivery

OK, so data equals evidence, and evidence can act as the bedrock for change. But whatever the performance metrics you aspire to deliver on, what first steps should time-poor facilities managers take to deal with their data?

“I think the problem is you can look at it through some tools and feel overwhelmed by it,” says Rowles. “We get too tied down with the tools themselves. What we need to do is take a step back and say, ‘Right; what is it I want to achieve?’ What we (in marketing) realised was that dashboarding is really important.”

Whether managed through a spreadsheet or any other format, dashboarding can help to highlight what you and your organisation really care about, identifying the data streams that most align with key corporate objectives. This is how FM gets to justify its place in the world, says Rowles. Because then, with the right stakeholders in place, you can report on key variables on a regular basis, thus providing a basis for decisions on change projects that can be evaluated on a before-and-after basis. “What’s always required is a link towards a required business outcome,” says Rowles.

Appliance of science

As a profession, marketing has changed profoundly as the result of a huge shift towards digital tools. 

“Suddenly we found ourselves front and centre, with people talking more about marketing and becoming more aware of how important it is,” says Rowles.

Those managing the workplace are in a similar place, he believes, with the various facets of well-being providing significant impetus.

“It’s not about being heard by the board, it’s about being able to justify your proposals to the board scientifically. In marketing, data has changed all of that. It had to become a more data-led profession, and one that could justify itself a lot more.”

The skill sets of marketers have had to change, with individuals’ personal commitment to ongoing education ever more valuable.

“We’re realising that, actually, we have to constantly evolve and change because the environment we’re working in is constantly evolving and changing,” says Rowles. “That speed of change is only going to accelerate, so we need new ways of learning and educating ourselves more efficiently.”

Skill behaviour

“In marketing we now have a lot more self-paced learning via podcasts, videos and e-learning, and actually a lot of people’s quarterly reviews have an element of personal upskilling built in. From a recruitment point of view, most large organisations we work with want to see people taking ownership of their e-learning.”


In this, Rowles sees further parallels with FM.“Marketing wasn’t really valued. It was always one of the first things to be cut, alongside training. But people now see that doing so can have a massive impact on the long-term health of a business. With FM it’s similar; people are saying, ‘We have these resources, perhaps we’re not using them efficiently and that’s affecting all sorts of things we never previously recognised’.”

And then there’s the importance of wider societal shifts.“People and organisations are realising the importance the well-being and  retention of staff – issues you realise are linked to facilities.”

To help with these wider issues, having well-placed ‘friends’ is important. Digital marketing and social media is awash with terms such as ‘influencers’ – people in high-profile positions whose audience can help promote a product or message. But in the case of FM, says Rowles, “what you want are advocates – people within your organisation saying nice stuff about you”.

This links neatly to stakeholder management. “Stakeholder management has been around for a long time, although we were never actually taught it in marketing,” says Rowles. “But if you don’t know / use stakeholder mapping / management, you’re going to really struggle to get the right people on your side.”

Soft focus

If the value of data is a key piece of learning from the digital marketing experience, the value of soft skills is another, and one that – because of its role in productive stakeholder management – is arguably even more important. The ability to communicate up, down and across hierarchies, adapting to each audience, is something marketers are increasingly concerned with.

“It’s likely that FM people are better at this stuff than marketing people,” suggests Rowles, “and they may have been for a long time because they’re constantly having to engage with so many people on a day to day basis.”

Moreover, “as the business environment changes ever more quickly, it’s all about change management with all those barriers and challenges. Those soft skills become more important the faster things change”.  

New tools of the trade

Google Data Studio

“For dashboarding (see article), this tool allows you to bring in data from a huge variety of inputs and build your own bespoke dashboards. We use it in marketing, comms, HR, sales; it’s great for bringing data into one place so that you can present the right bits of it to the right people in the right way.

“It used to be part of the (expensive) Google Analytics 360 package, but it’s now available for free. It comes with various templates, but essentially if you can download data into a spreadsheet you can have it up and running in Data Studio in a few hours. If you can use Excel or Word, you’ll be able to use Data Studio.”


(Daniel Rowles is one of voices on the Digital Marketing Podcast, a worldwide top-10 business podcast.)

“People who listen to podcasts are a lot more engaged than when they visit a website or social media. They’re listening to someone’s voice, so it’s a more personal connection. I use them personally to educate myself, and many people listen to them on their commutes.

“From an internal point of view, organisations and departments can use podcasts to reach staff and communicate key messaging. It’s a channel that’s growing phenomenally. And because you can now listen to podcasts through streaming services such as Spotify, more people are listening to them in the workplace as well.”