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Use PR to help build your employer brand

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

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 a good employer brand.

Employer branding is a framework for defining, managing and communicating about the total employment relationship with current and prospective employees. Also known as employment branding, it is a strategy to align the organization’s image with the employee experience so that organizational messages are 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.

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

Employer branding makes good business sense:

  • There is a proven link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.

  • Best-employer companies generate higher shareholder returns.

  • Strong employer brands are associated with low turnover of staff.

  • A good employer brand attracts top talent to the organization.

A holistic approach

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 recent examples are:

  • Clear thinking (Allens Arthur Robinson – Australian law firm)

  • 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)

  • Experience (Apple computers)

  • 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)

  • Picture yourself at Kodak

  • Success so big you can taste it (Kellogg)

  • Why join one great company when you can join many? (GE – General Electric manufacturing conglomerate)

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 in the past five years 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.

Promoting the employer brand

There are various low-cost ways to promote your employer brand in the marketplace:

  • 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.

  • Learn all you can about the way other successful organizations have handled their employer brand, including organizations in other countries.

  • 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.

  • Using surveys and focus groups, assess your current employment image among employees, applicants and other stakeholders.

  • Calculate the potential ROI for branding, and sell the idea to management.

  • Summarize your organization’s best HR practices and use the list in your internal and external communication programs.

  • Identify your products and programs that involve innovation, help people to live better or protect the environment. Refer to these in your recruiting activities.

  • Rename some of your successful people programs with catchy names that grab people’s attention.

  • Compare your benefits and people programs against your direct talent competitors and identify the areas in which you are superior.

  • Assess your direct talent competitors’ employer brands against yours. Develop a communication strategy that highlights the difference between you and each competitor.

  • Write 1-2 paragraph profiles of individual employee success stories for use in articles and in your website.

  • 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.

  • Promote your good people practices at sponsored events, trade shows and other public activities.

  • Quantify the enlightened ‘work/life balance’ at your organization with specific figures, which can be quoted widely.

  • 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.

  • Profile employee success stories and best-management practices on your intranet and website to remind employees of the good things you do.

  • Participate in career workshops, displays and exhibitions in schools and universities to keep the corporate name in front of potential recruits.

Be aware of the PR 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.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.

 

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