I recently saw a recruiting advertisement in a magazine that I thought was one of the cleverest and most insightful I have ever seen. The main character is a non-majority female with a small infant in the foreground. The caption read (not a direct quote), “Before you have arrived at work you have already managed time, negotiated issues, planned projects and dealt with personnel issues. We respect that!” Multiple recruiting and branding messages are delivered in this simple and elegant message, touching on the following themes:
- Diversity, non-majority
- Diversity, female
- Family balance
- Transferable skills
- Workplace tolerance for life issues
Now, if only it were true! Over the last few years the concept of “branding” has replaced the age-old process of “recruitment advertising.” The basic difference, other than the hourly rate charged for creative consulting, is focus. Once upon a time the driving energy of the next recruiting ad was any random “good idea.” Style and format changed week to week and the only consistency was the general absence of consistency. It was not uncommon to see another company’s ad, call your agency, and declare, “I want something like that.” Branding is a more pronounced effort on the part of an employer to declare to themselves exactly who they are or what they are trying to be. This effort is combined with a concerted effort to make themselves appear as an attractive employment alternative to the audience they feel should be attracted to their brand. In essence:
- What sells?
- Who are we selling to?
- What do we think we are?
Where many companies fall short in their branding efforts is to actually make a concerted effort to confirm “what they are” to make sure that new employees can recognize the promise. For example, in the above ad to which I referred, how effective is the message if:
- Everybody in the executive photo in the lobby is a white male?
- The interviewer indicates that it is not the “fast track” to place family over office work?
- Day care is not offered?
- Flexible time is not offered?
Your ad branding efforts cannot overcome your reality. In the 1960s, the American auto industry decided to spend more money on marketing and advertising while it spent less money on research and development, quality assurance, and customer service. The end result was a false message that could not stand the test of reality. One-time customers were disappointed and forever “turned off” by the false promises of effective marketing and sales with no commitment to following up on the promise. Employees and candidates tend to place little faith in the recruiting promises of companies since so few actually test or verify the message. So if you want to really brand yourself, ask your employees:
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- What are the things we do best as an employer?
- What are the things we could do better?
- What are the things we do badly?
- What was your first image and impression of this company during the recruiting process?
- What was the first disappointment as an employee?
If you want to brand yourself, why not go to those you have “branded” as employees. Then, consider where you stand and where you wish to be — and consider a recruiting campaign promising change and not merely false promises of a reality that does not exist. What is the message you send in your advertising and what is the message people see on their interview and in the first 90 days of employment? There are other questions as well:
- Are your best employees reflective of your self-image and branding efforts?
- Are you choosing a “brand” based on what you want to be, should be, or need to be?
Branding is an investment in the long term; it is a commitment. Should it not reflect a concerted effort to do “it right” and not merely what appears hip, cool, or “totally retro”? HR/staffing usually errs when it is trying to make itself, or the company it represents, something other than what it truly is. Branding can be a dynamic part of your recruiting and retention campaign. It can forever alter the direction and prospects of your organization. Or it can be a collection of award-winning recruitment ads for creativity that, not unlike a 1966 American car, were full of promise but short on substance. Brands, not unlike tattoos, are hard to change. Choose wisely. Have a great day recruiting!