Employer Brand Challenges & Solutions

Employer branding has been a hot topic for some time. The perception of what a business would be like to work for is built from a number of interactions and sources, some within the organisation’s control and some outside of it. The issues around it are debated long and hard in the blogosphere, at conferences and on webinars and podcasts. Certain words always arise – e.g. authenticity, culture, talent, differentiation – almost to the point of becoming cliches and losing their meaning.

So what are the real challenges that businesses face?

I have recently worked in partnership with regular co-collaborator Matt Alder, and in conjunction with employer brand solution provider Papirfly, to research what’s really going on in the market. We conducted in-depth interviews with a number of talent acquisition leaders. We wanted to understand the issues that practitioners face on a daily basis, how they handle them, what content they turn to and which conversations they join.

Our research found that they all face a number of similar challenges regardless of the sector in which they operate. These Employer Brand challenges cover a broad range, from alignment with internal processes and the employment experience, to overcoming negative reputations and the best ways to utilise employee generated content. And in these data driven times the questions of measurement and validation are never far away.

You can read more about these, and potential solutions, in our Pulse Report – which can be downloaded by clicking on the image below – and also from listening to this podcast in which Matt discusses the research findings with Papirfly’s Client Director Sara Naveda


Papirfly’s Employer Branding Insight Report was produced by Two Heads Consulting, a research, insight and content collaboration between Mervyn Dinnen and Matt Alder

Whose Employer Brand is it Anyway?

Back in December I went to the Employer Brand Management Conference, which I previewed in this post.

I have written about employer brand quite a few times for HR and recruitment audiences – its a hot topic that many practitioners seem to want to know more about – so it was surprising at that event to find in over 120 attendees there was no-one from either discipline. Maybe the word ‘brand’ signifies marketing and comms to some HR folk, but there is little doubt that they shouldn’t be ignoring it.

The number one priority for most HRDs is the attraction, retention and engagement of the employees and skills they need – the way you are perceived as an employer, the way you reach out to new hires, the way you manage and lead, the vision and purpose, all of this is in the large melting pot of what we call Employer Brand.

Is it a case of everyone thinking that someone has responsibility for employer brand but in reality nobody takes it? Recent research from Universum sheds some light on this.


60% of CEOs think that they own it and only 32% think its HR. Which is in contrast to those in the talent acquisition sector, with 58% of HR execs and 57% of recruiters thinking its HR’s responsibility. Marketing execs are even more confused with 39% saying HR, 40% the CEO, and 27% themselves.

Whoever has internal responsibility, they seem in little doubt that the immediate main objective is to fulfil short term recruitment needs and the longer term main objective is to secure long term recruitment needs.

Of course the reality is that if anyone ‘owns’ it then it’s the employees, as it’s their experiences that are most visible to outsiders. How their employment experience is impacted by development opportunities, reward, performance management, inclusive management and a positive hiring experience is where HR come in to play. And if HR are doing their job and creating a great working environment, then they should also want to know how that is being communicated. The art is to let employees be the storytellers through encouragement, not control.

However some of employer brand is inextricably linked to general brand perception. Employer branding didn’t start with the internet, and just as Google, Apple and Facebook are brands that newer entrants to the job market would like to work for, so companies such as Virgin, M&S, John Lewis, BBC and numerous consulting firms and advertising agencies have been aspirational employers in the past. Often these preferences are based on general brand awareness, not the employment experience.

Is it the wider implications of branding and brand messages that maybe HR and recruiters struggle with?

On April 21st I’ll be heading off to blog and tweet from the European Brand Conference in London, which again is being run by Transform Magazine. There are a number of presentations around branding – perceptions, reputation, tone, experiential – with sessions specifically looking at employer branding too. There is a diverse range of companies speaking, including Cancer Research UK, BT, Oxfam, Eurostar, Orange, Fairtrade, Oxford University and Starbucks.

If you want to hear more then there are a small number of tickets available and blog readers can get a 10% discount the code TRANSCONF10 when booking here.

So if you’re thinking of dipping a toe in the branding conversation then come and join me, I’m sure the water’s just fine.

Talking About Employer Brand

Whenever I attend an in-house recruitment conference, and attendees break out to discuss their big challenges, the two issues most consistently raised are pipelining and brand. Cost of hire and quality also feature along with volume of irrelevant applications and the need for better internal mobility.

Inevitably it’s the employer brand that links all of these, yet the very concept still seems diverse and difficult to nail down. Many have an opinion on what it includes and how to showcase it, but the whole area of marketing to engage, attract and retain still remains a challenge for many recruiters

Over the last couple of years I’ve seen presentations on, and judged HR and recruitment awards for, employer branding and it would be easy to conclude that it’s a fairly amorphous topic that means anything from a new logo or learning programme for some to reputation and rewards for others.

Of course its all of those things and much more, but the challenge of defining and illustrating the experience of working for a business, the compelling reason why someone would want to join, nailing what someone says about you when they’re not with you, to promote what is effectively your reputation as an employer, is elusive to many. Yet the benefits of getting it right – reduced recruitment costs, fewer hiring mismatches, greater awareness, stronger pipeline, communities, better quality and retention, differentiation, alignment with consumer brand to name a few – are great.

And the window on your employment experience is already wide open. This graphic (from research on employee activism earlier in the year) illustrates that employees are already shining a light on their day to day work experience through social channels, even before they decide to log in to Glassdoor.

And it isn’t just your people. The second most popular job search activity on social media is researching potential employers, with 47% also checking out what other people say about the company.

I’m always interested in finding out how businesses from different sectors manage to achieve this successfully and overcome barriers, whether its buy in from the C-suite, measurement or creating long term growth, so I’m looking forward to this Friday’s Employer Brand Management Conference at which a range of businesses – including Sky, Deloitte, RAF, First, Shell, TfL, ebay, Carphone Warehouse – will share insights, learnings and benefits. I’ll be aiming to tweet the best ones.

The conference is run by Transform Magazine and there are still a few places left – readers of TRecs can get a 15% discount by using the code EBM_15 when booking here.

Should be an interesting event. With job seekers searching out what people say about working at a company, and existing employees/alumni offering their help, possibly inadvertently, its not surprising that employer brand remains a priority for recruiters.