KICKER: Executive Leadership
GMR Marketing strives for intentional leadership
HR department updates its approach to recruit, retain top talent

By Katherine Michalets - Special to The Freeman

Feb. 20, 2015

Tom Slaski, vice president of human resources at GMR Marketing, stands in the company’s New Berlin headquarters with a life-size sculpture of people bungee jumping. The company creates marketing materials for some of the largest events in the world and the office is full of quirky artworks.  
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

NEW BERLIN - A tour of GMR Marketing in New Berlin leads the visitor past conference rooms with The Beatles, NASCAR and Winterland Theatre themes, as well through a break room with a bar, arcade games and a ping-pong table.

For many employees accustomed to working in a drab, cubicle-filled office, having a Starbucks machine in the break room and a stage for bands would be significant reasons to stay with a company. But GMR Marketing is updating its human resources practices to attract and retain talented employees, as well as create an environment where workers are dedicated to imaging great marketing plans for clients such as MillerCoors, Nissan, the National Football League, HBO and the South by Southwest music festival.

GMR Marketing is headquartered in New Berlin, but has offices across North America and in South America, the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.


Changing approach to HR

Tom Slaski, vice president of human resources - recruiting and development for GMR, has been with the company for about a year and came to it with extensive experience in retail. He’s excited to update the international company’s HR policies.

One technique Slaski wants to implement is “everyday coaching,” which shifts the focus from the “death-defying scary meeting” that occurs with a supervisor once per year to an everyday practice.

Tom Slaski, vice president of human resources at GMR Marketing, in the company's
New Berlin headquarters.
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

Slaski said he wants to improve the relationship between employees and managers and an important part of that is having lots of communication.

When Slaski said he reviewed exit interviews from previous GMR employees, about three-quarters of those who left gave a reason that GMR management could have an effect on, such as an employee who didn’t know what her career path was.

Slaski said he has also launched a new training initiative for managers to “grow the best management in the world.”

By combining the best managers in the industry with the most talented employees, Slaski hopes no one will want to leave and that eventually people will come to them, which he acknowledges is a lofty goal, but he seeks excellence.

“Talent rules in this business,” he said. GMR has set itself apart from other marketing companies, and as such, its employees are often approached by recruiters. He also wants HR personnel to be seen as friendly and approachable so that any potential problems can be worked out.

“If we don’t have very talented people we are not successful,” Slaski said. “Truly without our people, we are not a company.”



For the past three years, Marketing Communications Supervisor Beth Janicek has worked for GMR’s New Berlin location with about 400 other employees. She said she appreciates the quality of people with whom she works, the company’s support and the benefits. While the work is hard, Janicek said she leaves each day not feeling drained, so she can invest time into other things she is passionate about.

“Leadership makes a point of knowing we are appreciated,” Janicek said. “It has to be intentional.”

Passion is a word that gets used a lot at GMR, from being engraved in the cribbage board in the “Barcade” to being used by Slaski and Janicek to describe the work they do.

Many of the clients GMR has are associated with things the company’s employees are passionate about, such as music.

“When you do passion-based work, it makes it not feel much like work,” Janicek said.

They also used the word “trust” several times to describe how the executive leadership views the employees - from use of the bar to leaving early on a slow day.

“You trust your people and ultimately it comes down to getting the job done,” Slaski said.

Janicek said she feels like GMR Marketing understands that they are “big girls and boys.”

With each department functioning differently at GMR, one approach to scheduling or managing won’t work, Slaski said.


Job market

In Slaski’s opinion, the job market is feast or famine. He said there have been more people looking for jobs in the past three to five years than he has seen during the previous 20 years of his career. With companies downsizing during the Great Recession, there are a lot of talented people looking for work, he said.

Hiring for open positions varies greatly by the job, Slaski said. There could be 100 applicants for an accounts payable position, but there may only be a few people in the whole country who are able to fill some of the more niche positions, such as 3-D design marketing structures.

Overall, the company puts more emphasis on culture fit than on the skill set.

And for those who get a job at GMR Marketing, they can expect meetings in the improvisation conference room and department outings.