3 Things You Should Know About Strong Employment Brands

Aurecon has C-suite buy-in

The term “employer brand” has been around for a while, but the branding game has changed radically in recent years.

It has been said many times on ERE that in days past, employer brand meant one-way messaging pushed out to the marketplace, while now it’s the highly social, public reverberation of what people think, feel, and share about a company as a place to work.

So who’s minding the “talent brand” store? The ongoing effort needed to communicate and shape that brand isn’t necessarily the job of HR alone. In fact, our “State of Employment Branding” report shows that 39 percent of talent acquisition teams co-own talent brand with another department, and play a bit part or no leadership role at all at 29 percent of organizations.

But no matter who “owns” the brand, it’s an important competitive factor: 83 percent of talent acquisition leaders agree that an employer brand significantly impacts their ability to hire top talent, and 69 percent consider it a top priority for their organization.

Unfortunately, understanding the importance of talent brand doesn’t always translate easily into action. While some companies dive in, others may hesitate, unsure where to start and how to get various stakeholders working together. We have found that companies with the strongest talent brands share several common factors, among them solid C-suite buy-in, bringing the right data to the table, and strong teamwork across functions and departments. Since that’s naturally easier said than done, we’ve identified a few tips and insights to help HR professionals make it happen.

Start at the Top

Success requires the commitment of both the CEO and the leadership team in endorsing and promoting talent brand. As Kara Yarnot knows firsthand, it can be difficult to secure this kind of buy-in from dubious executives. Yarnot is director of the Talent Acquisition Center of Expertise at SAIC, a large aerospace and defense company.

When Yarnot encouraged the executive team to participate more actively in social media and empower employees to help spread their brand message, she initially encountered resistance. By educating executives on digital options and sharing data on how competitors were approaching various social platforms, she was able to take small steps. As one or two executives warmed to the idea, she would approach them one on one and invite them to participate in a pilot, knowing that if it went well, her team had earned an evangelist.

Bring the Right Data to the Table

As Yarnot demonstrates, creating a business case backed up by solid data will help frame the situation for executive leadership. For example, a strong talent brand can reduce the cost of hire by 50 percent, and reduce turnover by 28 percent. What’s more, proactively managing talent brand means companies have the opportunity to influence the conversation. If they don’t, others will.

Bringing in-house recruiting metrics into the discussion can drive the point home. For instance, if a company struggles to attract strong candidates in certain areas, that data can help demonstrate how a powerful talent brand would improve results. And metrics on your company’s social footprint — such as the number of employees on social platforms, and the number of visits to, likes and follows of your company presence — will drive home the magnitude of the opportunity, since every interaction with an employee profile or a company page leaves an impression about your talent brand.

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“I probably delivered the same deck 40 times, sometimes to the same audience,” Yarnot says. “You will feel like a broken record, but it doesn’t sound like that on the other end until you start converting people.”

Bring Partners to the Table – or Get There Yourself

Even if the C-suite is committed to supporting talent brand, companies can struggle with who owns which parts, and how to best work together. At large organizations in particular, talent brand isn’t always the purview of the HR department. And when other departments have stepped up, busy talent acquisition teams may believe they can’t influence what’s already been created. The larger and more dispersed a company is, the greater the challenge.

It doesn’t have to be that way. A joint-ownership scenario is playing out successfully at Aurecon, a global engineering, advisory, and project delivery company with 7,500 employees and an office network in 28 countries. Marketing, HR, and the leadership team share responsibility for talent brand, according to Danielle Bond, chief marketing officer. Its human capital team manages employee experiences, and the marketing department works to communicate those experiences outwardly. To complete the package, it has the C-suite buy-in so vital to a successful effort: Aurecon’s leadership team is committed to helping manage and communicate the brand.

Talent acquisition teams who do own talent brand can start getting the help they need by identifying the departments who do (or should) play a part in developing and communicating the brand. Often it’s part marketing, part HR, part communications, with help from IT. Forming a talent brand task force with representatives from each team can help break down the silos and ensure the right people provide ongoing input.

Putting it All Together

Given the impact on recruiting results, talent acquisition teams cannot afford to remain on the sidelines of their talent brand. With the shift toward connectedness, sharing, and amplification made possible by the social sphere, candidates are already experiencing it. But with buy-in from the highest levels, solid data, and real cross-functional collaboration, talent acquisition teams can seize the opportunity to join — and influence — the conversation.

Leela Srinivasan is chief marketing officer at Lever, the San Francisco-based applicant tracking system that facilitates a more collaborative, candidate-centric and data-driven hiring process. Prior to joining Lever, she spent four and a half years at LinkedIn, where she was responsible for various initiatives including the LinkedIn 100 and Talent Connect. She holds an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and an undergraduate degree from the University of Edinburgh in her native Scotland.


8 Comments on “3 Things You Should Know About Strong Employment Brands

  1. I had the good fortune to be at LinkedIn’s Talent Connect 2012 conference when LinkedIn announced how it was tracking and reporting the new employer brand data. There was a real buzz amongst attendees. What was really cool was to hear how many attendees knew that brand was important but previously had no feasible way to quantify that for senior management.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Howard!

    Steven, you touch on an important issue (and probably a worthy topic for a future post). You can’t manage what you can’t measure – and our State of Employer Branding research (http://lnkd.in/stateofeb) shows that despite proclaiming the importance of employer brand in attracting top talent, only one-third of companies measure their branding efforts consistently. To my mind, employer branding is about to have its own watershed moment as we go deeper into this golden age of ‘data-driven recruiting’.

  3. Thanks Leela. “Employer Branding is to “Recruiting” what “Marketing” is to “Sales”. Irrespective of whether my company has a good, bad, indifferent, or unknown brand, my responsibility is to get quality butts in chairs quickly and affordably. Let the Marketing people handle employer branding.


    Keith “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” Halperin

  4. Thanks for the comment, Keith. While there’s no doubting the priorities of the recruiting team, most corporate acquisition leaders I meet with are increasingly inserting themselves into the branding conversation, realizing it has such significant impact on their recruiting outcomes. Stepping up to the branding plate is helping the likes of Jeremy Langhans (http://talent.linkedin.com/blog/index.php/2013/02/why-i-love-talent-acquisition/) rise to prominence in the industry and get that coveted ‘seat at the table’ (pardon the hackneyed term).

    Also, at small-to-midsize firms, the Marketing team has other fish to fry. That’s why someone like Ed Nathanson at Rapid7 will talk your ear off on how talent brand is an integral part of his approach to aggressively scooping up great hires. Will folks like Ed riff on themes consistent with the overall, marketing/comms driven brand? Sure. But consumer/company brand and talent brand can be two very distinct things. And since Talent Acquisition is surely better placed than Marketing to understand and reflect what candidates care about, why shouldn’t TA be in the mix?

    Ultimately, you can leave it to Marketing to ‘handle’… but you miss an opportunity to shape your talent acquisition strategy in the process…. and it may come back to bite you one day when talent you’d like to hire or retain won’t give you the time of day.

  5. Thanks Leela,
    Having shaped a global employment brand in my last role, our story was similar to Aurecon. Getting leadership buy-in, collaborating with Marketing on the alignment with the Consumer/Master brand and using data/metrics to measure benefits and ROI with stats such as time to hire and quality of hire. My biggest takeaway from your note though is your closing comment on “connectedness” and the “social sphere”. I beleive therein lies the opportunity to look at real-time feedback and engagement with target candidates around culture, process, etc… or whatever the candidates want to talk about as against a `push out branding messages’ traditional strategy.

  6. Thanks Anand, and kudos to you for your work in this area. Sounds like you nailed it. You’re absolutely right: the new twist in the employer branding tale is how organic dialogue and real-time opinions of your talent brand are forming in the social realm. As you say, the agenda is ultimately ‘whatever the candidates want to talk about’. You can seed the topics and shape the discussion, but flexibility and authenticity will help you leave the right impression.

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