THE SCOTSMAN: Your message needs to be inspiring if you want the right people on your team

The Marketing Society has just announced the shortlists for Employer Brand of the Year, the winners to be announced at the annual St Andrews Day Dinner on 30 November.

Employer Brand of the Year Shortlist – Client: RBS, Scottish Government, Whyte and Mackay 

Employer Brand of the Year Shortlist – Agency: Multiply, Republic of Media, Wire

An “Employer Brand” is simply the awareness and image of your company that existing and potential employees carry in their heads. Companies like Nike, Apple, Coca-Cola, Heineken, and, closer to home, Tennent’s Lager and Irn Bru, invest millions on persuading customers to choose their brands, but until recently many organisations haven’t given the same attention to their hiring process.

During the last recession a mentality of “it’s a buyer’s market” and “you’re lucky to get an interview here” were the unspoken attitudes of some recruitment departments. But to everyone’s surprise, employment has risen at the same rate as talent shortages. Complacency is giving way to a realisation that a company needs to compete for talent to ensure its very survival.

This is vital for Scotland. We’ve long been seen as a small, cold outpost in the North Atlantic by top talent with options of working in the London, Paris, New York or countless other tech/digital hotspots. True, our national “Employer Brand” has had a boost recently by the vibrant tech startup sector, particularly in Edinburgh. But this undoubted good news does have a downside – worsening talent shortages prompting huge pressure on companies to promote themselves as great places to work. It’s no coincidence that Skyscanner, the winner of the inaugural Employer Brand of the Year, has made a huge and very successful effort to project an attractive face to homegrown and overseas talent. This goes way beyond table football and soft furnishings. It pervades their whole way of doing business.

Another Scottish success story with a downside is our vibrant Food and Drink sector, where our exporting clients are enjoying favourable exchange rates which boost their own highly skilled consumer marketing activities. This is fuelling the demand for skilled sales and marketing people, some of which can be homegrown, but for experienced people with specific skills like digital, demand far exceeds supply, and companies with a poor Employer Brand image are falling behind.

Even Financial Services companies are facing shortages as they struggle to adapt to the digital revolution, and in Professional Services some of the small to mid-size firms have only recently emerged blinking into the light of modern marketing, so to have to start thinking now about their Employer Brands must feel like a whole new challenge, but it’s one they need to grasp quickly.

A quick Google on “careers with EY” shows what they’re up against – a global competitor promoting a great Employer Brand. Of course, proper marketing principles must underpin a good Employer Brand strategy. You need to know your customer, in this case, the talented candidate with career choices. And you need a very good product or service to promote.

There’s an old adage in marketing that the best way to kill off a bad product is to advertise it widely. The same applies to your Employer Brand. You need to get your house in order first. Poor personal development and training, dodgy culture and values, and just a dull uninspiring environment will be exposed in five minutes by an employee with a grudge and a Twitter account.

It’s vital to target the talent with the right message. Honesty about your culture and values, for example, is essential. The only thing worse than not being able to hire the best talent is to hire the wrong talent. So make sure that your message is inspiring to the right people and honest with the wrong people.

Whether it’s a myth or reality, Ernest Shackleton’s famous 1913 press advertisement seeking volunteers for his polar expedition is a wonderful example of Employer Branding.

Honesty about the challenge, combined with an irresistible call to those who are up for it. It’s time for every CEO, HR and Marketing Director to make sure they’re answering the question – “why should I join you?”

Originally published in The Scotsman November 2017

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