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Use PR to help build your employer brand

01 Jun, 2020 Business management, Internal communication, Marketing communication, PR planning, strategy, budgeting

Around the world, employers are finding it harder to attract good staff. One way to keep your organization ‘top of mind’ with potential job candidates is to develop an effective employer brand. Employer brand strategy is a good opportunity for corporate communicators to offer strong input.

Employer branding is a framework for defining, managing and communicating about the total employment relationship with current and prospective employees. Another definition: employer branding is the perception of the organization as a great place to work by both current and potential employees.

The employer brand says:

  • who we are and what we do
  • what kind of place this is to work
  • what the employer and employee both get out of working here
  • what kind of people fit in here.

A good employer branding strategy will attract high performers

Superior talent is up to 8 times more productive. A 2017 article by McKinsey consultants refers to a study of more than 600,000 researchers, entertainers, politicians, and athletes that found high performers are 400% more productive than average ones. Studies of businesses not only show similar results but also reveal that the gap rises with a job’s complexity. In highly complex occupations – the information – and interaction-intensive work of managers, software developers, and the like – high performers are an astounding 800% more productive, as shown in the image below.

Other benefits of an effective employer branding strategy

Quantifiable benefits result from making the commitment to an effective branding strategy:

  • 71% of middle market companies with a clear and effective employer brand reported improved company performance in 2017, compared to 45% of firms with less developed employer brands.
  • Organizations with strong employer brands saw revenues grow by 20% and workforce grow by more than 12% in 2017. Firms with weaker employer brands experienced just under 8% growth in revenues and only 4.4% employment growth.
  • 28% reduction in the organization’s staff turnover
  • 50% reduction in cost-per-hire
  • 50% more qualified applicants
  • 1-2 times faster to hire
  • 75% of job seekers consider an employer’s brand before even applying for a job
  • Proven link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction
  • Best-employer companies generate higher shareholder returns

But the workplace experience doesn’t match employer promises

A 2017 Weber Shandwick/KRC Research survey found that only 19% of employees globally perceive a strong match between how their employer represents itself and what they experience.This is a truly disappointing result at this time when the employee experience is a significant factor in organizational reputation:

“This match highlights a credibility gap that exposes employers to reputation risk. Closing the gap provides an opportunity for employers to more successfully drive recruitment, employee engagement and retention. An authentic employer brand is particularly critical in an age of extreme transparency where job candidates make reputational assessments with ease based on what an organization’s employees say online or through word of mouth.”

Employer brand strategy

Internal branding campaigns should bring the brand alive for employees, strengthening their emotional connection to the organization. Encouraging employees to deliver the brand values is described as ‘living the brand’, ‘brand enactment’ or the development of ‘brand ambassadors’. Internal campaigns should introduce and explain the brand messages in innovative ways and then reinforce those messages by weaving them into the fabric of the organization.

This kind of campaign requires a larger budget than the traditional small employee communication budget. The spending on internal communication in US companies has averaged around 10% of corporate PR budgets, which is a miserable figure.

Consistency is the essence of success with employer branding to employees. However, this can be difficult to achieve because stakeholder roles increasingly overlap – employees are simultaneously likely to be customers, shareholders and members of the local community. With information readily accessible to employees in all of these capacities, inconsistencies quickly become apparent. It is difficult to tell shareholders that costs will be tightened when a significant proportion of shareholders are also employees – cutting costs invariably means cutting staff numbers.

Aim to become an employer of choice

Align the organization’s image with the employee experience so that organizational communication is consistent with actions. The messages created in the values, systems, policies and behaviors of the organization should all be in alignment, or convergence. Successful employer branding is built on the employer’s ability to deliver on its promise and when this happens the organization becomes ‘an employer of choice.’ As with reputation, the brand will happen whether the organization acts to bolster it or not, so it is better to be proactive to shape the employer brand rather than let it just happen.

While 80% of organizations say an employer brand is very important or important, 43% of respondents to a 2014 Hudson RPO survey said they lacked a documented employer brand strategy. This is surprising, as the research shows that a brand must be authentic and consistent with company practices, which are both driven by strategy.

A business plan can make a real difference: Twice as many Top Brand companies have a defined and documented strategy as the Other Brands, 32% vs. 16%, respectively. High-level executive support is essential, and is significantly greater for Top Brands than Other Brands for members of the executive team, (80% vs. 61%, respectively) and the CEO/President (75% and 55% respectively, according to the Hudson RPO survey. Respondents in this survey were divided between “Top Employer Brands” and “Other Brands.”

Respondents were asked to rate their respective brands on a Likert Scale of 1-5, with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent. Top Employer Brands were considered to be those rated 4 or 5, whereas Other Brands were those rated between 1 and 3. In total, there were 148 Top Brands and 176 Other Brands.

Focus tightly on the roles that matter most

The McKinsey consultants observe in their 2017 article that “A typical human-resources department spends months determining what employees want—a great job, in a great company, with great leaders, and great rewards. HR then says the value proposition should deliver all this, so the
EVP resembles that of every business that’s gone through the same process. It’s better for companies to stand out on one dimension while not ignoring the others. For instance, work for Google if you want to face complex challenges, for Virgin if Richard Branson’s leadership stirs you.”

Although it’s fine to have an overall EVP, what matters most is a winning EVP for the 5% of roles that matter most. If data scientists are hugely important, for example, you’ll want an EVP that lets them invent things; offers a clear, rapid career progression; and helps them have a big impact.

Planning preparation

The findings of a 2016 academic study led to the following recommendations for employers at the planning stage of employer branding. Employers should:

  • Communicate ethics in a culturally relevant way through employee testimonials and historical anecdotes.
  • Review core values to identify any inconsistencies with their policies and reward systems and then make necessary revisions.
  • Review recruitment and orientation materials for inclusion of core values and consistency with their employer brand.
  • Evaluate existing ethics programs and determine if any additional resources should be added.
  • Conduct routine surveys to determine how employees rate the company/organization’s performance in regards to their core values.
  • Evaluate and reward employees who model ethical behavior through annual performance reviews and awards programs.
Forget the trinkets

Employer branding is about a total approach to the employee experience, and doesn’t focus merely on the trinkets and token activities. It is not about slogans, logos, motivational mugs, t-shirts, products, recruitment advertising campaigns or training programs on the external brand. This ‘collateral’ is often used in employer branding campaigns, but is usually greeted with cynicism by employees unless it is apt and relevant. Nevertheless, many prominent organizations use a slogan as the flag bearer of their employer brand. Some examples in recent years include:

  • connectedthinking (PricewaterhouseCoopers in Australia)
  • Think, innovate and work with technology leaders (Intel)
  • eXpress yourself (Xerox)
  • How far will you go? (Microsoft)
  • Run with the best (John Deere – agricultural machinery) – the theme ties in with their marketing brand, ‘Nothing runs like a Deere’.
  • The power to excel (ConEd – power generation)
  • What will you build today? (Fluor – engineering construction)
  • Build communities. Build relationships. Build dreams. Build something (Home Depot – retail hardware)
  • Turn on your future at First Energy (power generation)
  • You’ll be making tomorrow better (Boeing)
  • You never stop growing at CSC [Computer Sciences Corporation]
  • Catch our spirit (3M – a ‘global diversified technology company’)
  • Careers with a passion for life (Medtronic)
  • Innovation has a face: our people (Eli Lilly – pharmaceuticals)
  • Inspired to achieve. Make a difference in your world (Abbott Laboratories – pharmaceuticals)
  • Success so big you can taste it (Kellogg)
  • Why join one great company when you can join many? (GE – General Electric manufacturing conglomerate)

How to promote your employer brand

HubSpot offers recommendations on developing a branding strategy and a free download comprising a ‘Company Culture Guide + Templates  in a 2019 article, observing that:

You need to implement the same branding strategy when it comes to communicating your company’s leadership, values, and culture. If a job seeker asks an employee at your company, “What’s it like to work there?” the employee isn’t going to say, “We’ve built some awesome merchandise.” Instead, he’s going to lay into the day-to-day of people management, company values, and workplace culture. To ensure a good employer brand, then, you need to tell a compelling story.

You can promote your brand in various low-cost ways:

  1. Identify the target market (the ideal candidate you are trying to attract) for your branding efforts. Develop a demographic profile of them and communicate to them by targeting the media they are likely to access.
  2. Learn all you can about the way other successful organizations have handled their employer brand, including organizations in other countries.
  3. Assess your organization’s current management practices, benefits, culture, etc, to identify the current characteristics of your employer brand – what you have to ‘sell’ and what you have to improve.
  4. Using surveys and focus groups, assess your current employment image among employees, applicants and other stakeholders.
  5. Calculate the potential ROI for branding, and sell the idea to management.
  6. Summarize your organization’s best HR practices and use the list in your internal and external communication programs.
  7. Identify your products and programs that involve innovation, help people to live better or protect the environment. Refer to these in your recruiting activities.
  8. Rename some of your successful people programs with catchy names that grab people’s attention.
  9. Compare your benefits and people programs against your direct talent competitors and identify the areas in which you are superior.
  10. Assess your direct talent competitors’ employer brands against yours. Develop a communication strategy that highlights the difference between you and each competitor.
  11. Write 1-2 paragraph profiles of individual employee success stories for use in articles and in your website.
  12. Work with your CEO’s office to get senior managers to mention your organization’s great people practices in their internal and external communication. If you get the opportunity, write that section, if not all speech notes.
  13. Promote your good people practices at sponsored events, trade shows and other public activities.
  14. Quantify the enlightened ‘work/life balance’ at your organization with specific figures, which can be quoted widely.
  15. Invite family and friends of employees on-site to see what is like to work at your organization and the importance placed on satisfied employees so they will help to increase the number of employee referrals.
  16. Profile employee success stories and best-management practices on your intranet and website to remind employees of the good things you do.
  17. Participate in career workshops, displays and exhibitions in schools and universities to keep the corporate name in front of potential recruits.
Internal media

According to the findings of the Hudson RPO survey, all employers used the standard internal communication channels – intranet, company website, employee conferences and signage – to much the same extent. Social media are also important for employer branding. These included LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, forums and Pinterest. These were also used to much the same extent. Other channels included industry associations, online social networking, campus recruitment and online forums.

Top 5 initiatives used to promote the employer brand internally were employee events, intranet, presentations by senior leaders, emails and CEO communication. Interestingly, both Top Brands and Other Brands used the intranet and emails to the same degree, but where a personal presence or commitment from senior management was involved, Top Brands had a much higher presence, eg employee events (81% vs 53%), presentations by senior leaders (69% vs. 51%), and CEO communication (57% vs. 44%).

Measuring results

Tracking true ROI on employer brand activities is difficult because other variables beyond employer brand programs affect retention and hiring data. Nevertheless, measuring certain hiring data before and after an employer brand campaign can provide indicators of success, assuming all other variables remain relatively constant. These include: employee surveys, time-to-hire metrics, retention rates, cost-per-hire metrics, and the number of completed applications per position. The measurements most valuable to the business are higher retention rates and the ease of securing top talent.  Common indicators include:

  • Time-to-fill
  • Cost-per-hire
  • Retention rates
  • Job application rates
  • Changes in advertising spend
  • Cost of turnover and associated onboarding programs
  • Surveying people about employer value proposition (EVP) awareness

Some disadvantages of being a sought-after employer

  • Your organization’s reputation must be defended frequently because minor errors may be blown out of proportion by media and stakeholders.
  • Executive recruiters often target your management and employees as potential recruits.
  • As your organization becomes better known, some employees may tend to become over-confident.
  • Employees may become reluctant to accept performance management due to over-confidence in their own abilities.
  • New recruits may have unrealistic expectations when they start, which could turn into disillusionment if workplace realities don’t match their expectations.
  • Being an organization with a outstanding reputation can cause fast growth, which may make the corporate culture difficult to maintain over time.

Further worthwhile sources for ideas and information on employer branding

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About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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