Barb Agostini on Crafting Your Employer Brand Message
“Companies invest heavily in recruitment, but few truly understand how to convert prospective candidates into engaged and interested fans.”
That’s Barb Agostini, recruitment marketing veteran and brand-new Recruiting Social team member, talking about one of the key challenges employers face in the war for talent.
“Top talent navigate their careers carefully. You and your recruiters need a compelling message to get them engaged and willing to make a change, yet most companies struggle to do this,” she adds.
For more than 15 years, Barb has been helping companies in a variety of sectors – “from high tech to manufacturing, universities to retail, oil and gas to customer service” – find the talent they need to meet their business objectives. “I thrive on connecting people with great companies and their stories, and delivering the compelling truth about roles to get them excited about joining,” says Barb.
But how do you turn that ideal prospective candidate into an eager fan? Give them an accurate picture of what you offer – that’s unique and compelling, too? Persuade them to leave their current company and sign up with yours?
Barb kindly agreed to a little Q&A …
“It’s surprising to hear that so few [employers] actually have an elevator pitch that is truly their own.”
Why did you get into recruitment marketing?
In ’94 I was interviewing with different ad agencies and firms including what was then Nationwide Advertising, now NAS. Of the offers I received, this was definitely the one that appealed to me the most; I liked the idea of being able to understand the story of a company, crafting that communication and connecting with the right candidates. As soon as I got in I knew it was the place for me. I loved – and still love – uncovering what makes companies great and what makes what they offer unique, compared to others they compete with for talent.
What mistakes do you see employers making as they market themselves and their roles to talent?
I often ask senior HR people and recruiters: “Why should someone choose your company over the one down the street?” It’s surprising to hear that so few actually have an elevator pitch that is truly their own. I typically get a very similar answer: “We have a great culture, great people, flexible schedule and opportunities for growth.” Don’t get me wrong, these are all really great things. To them, internally, it could mean something – maybe they bought into it – but externally it’s just making them look and sound generic.
Especially in competitive labour markets, companies have to differentiate or they won’t stand out – won’t get the attention from the candidates they need and want to drive their business forward. And the candidates they really want are the passive or ‘window-shopper’ candidates: the ones that are currently employed. That’s where that differentiator is so key, because someone who is employed might be open to the opportunity if you can present something that stands out over what they’re getting in their current role. Share a compelling message with them, and when they are ready to make a move you’re going to be the first company they come to.
But many companies have their assumptions and are comfortable working around them. They’re comfortable with the status-quo: “We’ve got job board packages, we’ve got standard job descriptions, I can just open something up and put it out there and people will apply”. It’s already in place, it’s not a priority for them.
“Companies have to differentiate or they won’t stand out – won’t get the attention from the candidates they need and want …”
Why do you think employers struggle to communicate “why choose us”?
Because they don’t know themselves. Few companies actually take the time to really understand their workforce, why they joined and why they stay. And they might not realize the impact this makes on attracting right-fit candidates.
Let me give you an example of a company that did their homework:
A high tech company in Seattle was mapping out their business goals and the talent they needed to achieve them. It was clear to the company leaders that they weren’t doing enough to attract the next generation of great talent and there would soon be gaps. To solve the problem, they started by understanding why recent grads chose them. Asking why employees they hired right out of university, and had now been with them for a few years, joined and stayed. From this discovery process, they uncovered and created the strong messaging to connect with that audience: “Be What’s Next”.
Think about that for a second.
You’re in school, you’re thinking about where to grow your career, and a company presents you with the opportunity to “Be What’s Next”. You talk to that company’s recruiter at a campus event and hear messaging that is perfectly on point with what drives you.
The messaging succeeded. The company achieved their goals of attracting the best new talent and met their business objectives by truly understanding their audience and knowing what would resonate: the truth well told.
“Few companies actually take the time to really understand their workforce, why they joined and why they stay.”
What can employers do to learn more about their audience of prospective candidates?
Survey your current employees and understand the market perception of your employer brand.
Discovery will often find disconnects between what you’re offering candidates and what the actual employment experience is. Once you know who you need, what that audience wants, how what you offer aligns with those wants, then you can create powerful messaging for your recruiters and employees to share.
Can employers figure this out on their own, or do they need the help of someone from outside their organization?
In some companies, HR can work with Marketing to help craft an employer brand message – as long as the right expertise exists within the company and you invest the time into doing it properly.
In many cases it’s preferable to outsource, because doing so brings you an outside perspective: what’s going on in the marketplace, what competitors are doing. It also ensures that someone will invest the time needed to learn about your organization, what makes it a great place to work, why talent would want to drive their career there. That investment will return a message that’s on point, really stands out and differentiates your offering.
“Discovery will often find disconnects between what you’re offering candidates and what the actual employment experience is.”
How can companies get employees involved in promoting their employer brand?
When you include your employees in your employer brand discovery process, they are already invested in the outcome. They had a voice in the messaging.
So the first step is to roll it out internally, get everyone excited about what this story they are a part of, and give people the tools to promote it to their networks online and offline. Invite your employees to share the messaging socially, and become advocates for showing what it’s like to work at your organization. You could provide a hashtag for all to use when promoting via social networks – photos of events on Instagram, jobs via LinkedIn or Twitter, etc. The opportunities are endless. Don’t forget to have someone assigned internally to track the activities.
Once you’ve rolled out internally, then you can roll out externally. The synergy between internal and external messaging will create brand consistency and build confidence with candidates.
What you’ve described sounds like a big investment – in time, resources, and getting buy-in from stakeholders who might not want to give up the status quo. Why should an employer make this investment?
Companies already invest so much in their corporate marketing, but when it comes to employer brands, you’re not asking people to change from Pepsi to Coke, you’re asking them to change their lives. And that’s a really big moment for people. Because you really think about what you’re asking people to do: you’re asking them to change where they work, where they’re going to navigate their career. Maybe to change the communities they’re going to live in, where they’re going to raise their families.
It goes beyond engaging the right candidate. The right message helps make sure the candidate comes in and feels good about the decision they’ve made to join you. It helps with retention, because they’ve come in with a good understanding of what their employee experience is going to be like.
That’s why telling that truth well told – delivering a compelling message – is key.
“It goes beyond engaging the right candidate … It helps with retention, because [hires] come in with a good understanding of what their employee experience is going to be like.”
9 Steps to a Compelling Employer Brand Message
Looking to craft an attractive, accurate and well-targeted employer brand message?
Barb reveals the nine step process she uses to help companies do just that in this super-quick to read PDF:
(Nope, no sign up necessary!)
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