• Transform magazine
  • July 21, 2017

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Crafting a strong employer brand strategy

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Employer brand management has been pushed up the corporate agenda in recent years. Communicate magazine, in collaboration with Emperor, has carried out research into the employer brand. Comparing the results from 2015 and 2017 shows there is a better understanding of employer brand management and companies now have more developed strategies. Brittany Golob analyses the research

“A strong employer brand means loyalty, advocacy and engagement from the workforce,” says one respondent of this year’s survey of employer brand managers in the UK. Another says, “High engagement with the business both internally and externally which will contribute to the success of the business” is the biggest value a strong employer brand will have on a company.

Two years ago, when asked which objective employer brand management was most responsible for, 37% of respondents said attraction of quality talent was the most important factor. In just two years, employer brand management has transformed the way corporate culture is approached. No longer is the end simply to attract great talent. Now, it is about attracting and retaining great talent, but recognising that those objectives need to be aligned with corporate objectives and reputation.

“It’s moved from a ‘nice to have’ to feature as a critical objective on leadership agendas because the benefits of a strong, effective employer brand are proven. It helps to identify, attract, engage and retain the right people,” says Emperor’s brand client director Zoë Tisdall. Emperor, alongside Communicate magazine, undertook the study into employer brand management in 2015 and again this spring.

Findings indicate a growing importance placed on employer brand strategy at the leadership level, an increased understanding of the strategic importance of a good employer brand and more resources being put toward its achievement. The employer brand is also growing closer to the external brand as employees are recognised as a resource for reputational development. With the push toward additional reporting on human capital, culture and the value of employees, the fact that CEOs and shareholders are prioritising culture calls for increased focus on improving the employer brand.

This year’s survey of 100 employer brand managers, internal communications professionals and corporate communications managers shows a shift in thinking around employer brand management. The employer brand has moved beyond recruitment marketing and has truly become a corporate priority. Half of respondents say the budget for employer brand management will increase next year. There has also been a 5% increase in commitment to employer brand management as a strategic objective on the part of the CEO or leadership team.

“A successful employer brand communicates a company's values and purpose, so it should be seen as a top priority across the business and, as such, be fully supported by the leadership team who should set the standard, clarify expectations and ensure democratic ownership,” says Tisdall. Respondents did cite a shift in the responsibility for the employer brand. In 2015, HR and corporate comms retained control over employer brand management. This year a plurality of 35% of respondents state that employer brand management sits with HR. However, the CEO/leadership team were recognised as having had the responsibility for setting the employer brand agenda in the past.

Supporting that, the Financial Reporting Council states in its guidance for UK’s publicly listed companies that the CEO or chairman should set the tone for corporate culture from the top, both in practice and in the annual report.

Most respondents said they report on human culture within the narrative of the annual report or that they account for human capital in their accounts section. Only 30% indicate that is apt to change this year, but in 2015, only 67% said they report on human capital, indicating an already increasing prominence of human capital reporting. However, 60% of respondents cited that they are unsure if investors even understand the value of human capital.

This indicates that employer brand management, while a corporate priority and a proven benefit to corporate reputation, culture and bottom line, is not well integrated into companies’ investor relations strategies. However, Tisdall says research confirms that investors are interested in culture. Almost half of respondents say a leadership statement on human capital would improve investors’ understanding of the annual report. Additionally, 32% say reporting on human capital in the annual report would help. A further 16% say communications from the investor relations team will do the job.

Tisdall says, “It reminds us that investors see the culture of an organisation as a principal reason to invest. Change is reflected in our research findings with almost 80% of companies now reporting specifically on human capital. Based on these findings this pattern of change is set to continue, as almost half of our respondents suggested publishing a leadership statement to define their company's human capital strategy.”

There has been progress in relation to the relevance of employer brand management in corporate reporting. But, employer brand management’s value is clear in relation to the external brand. One respondent writes that the value of the employer brand is that, “Both customers and employees want to work with our company and would consistently choose it over others.” The primary objective of the employer brand is still attracting quality talent. Retention is second in importance while communicating corporate values is third.

In a shift from 2015, employer brand strategy is now well defined, leadership driven and implemented by the HR and communications teams.

However, there are new challenges facing communications professionals in terms of managing the strategies and channels at their disposal. Social media was once the preferred method of communications for reaching the internal audience. An overwhelming 65% of respondents said that was the main channel for reaching prospective and existing employees. In 2017, social is still important when communicating internally, but the physical environment, induction programmes and the intranet are all top priorities. The prominence of physical or in-person methods of communications for the internal audience may point to a shift toward offline communications.

Additionally, video has become a primary means of communication with existing employees. That reflects a broader trend toward corporate video production for communications purposes.

When communicating with the external audience, 2017 respondents prefer social media still, but the careers website is the most prominent resource – 73% say it is a channel they use. Recruitment advertising and branding are also used, as in 2015.

What is clear is that the mixture of communications channels now in use by employer brand managers, as well as the increasing value placed on the employer brand from the leadership level requires the collaboration of all communications teams. Those responsible for overseeing brand, communications, internal comms, HR, recruitment, marketing and investor relations all have a part to play in achieving best practice in employer brand management.

“An effective employer brand starts with a well-researched and defined employee value proposition,” says Tisdall. This is most successfully achieved by real collaboration between HR and marketing teams and lays the foundation for all employee communications. It’s important to remember that continuing to manage, nurture and develop an internal brand is where value grows and greater consistency is achieved.”

Effective employer brand management requires communicating in all areas to a high standard. But, if done right, it can, as respondents say have a “positive impact to bottom line,” create “increased productivity,” and ensure that high levels of engagement always lead to “better, more motivated, switched-on employees and, by virtue, a better business.”

For a full copy of the results, contact Nada Zbirek.