Selecting the right employer branding partner is one of the most critical yet overlooked decisions a company can make. A great agency fit leads to better recruitment marketing, outreach and brand work that makes every part of the recruiting stack more effective for years to come. A bad agency fit leads to frustration, mediocre work, and a surprisingly high price tag.

And while you’d think it would be straightforward to pick a brand partner, the selection of an agency, consultant or company to build (or help you build) your employer brand is not an easy task. There are two core reasons.

First, it is very likely that you have never had to select an employer brand partner before.

Even seasoned TA, Marketing or HR leaders have been involved in only one or two selection cycles like this, so they, like you, don’t have a lot of experience to draw from. And when you don’t know what a good process looks or feels like, everything becomes more than just stressful. It becomes scary.

The stakes are real. A bad or poorly-aligned employer brand partner will cost you real money (and real political capital) yielding a fuzzy tagline that doesn’t achieve what you needed it to achieve. That’s the kind of “failed project” that can linger on your reputation at that company.

Second, almost nothing about employer branding is standardized.

If you asked ten employer brand practitioners, you’d find that they don’t agree on much. They have different approaches to solving different problems and different tool sets they prefer to use. Heck, you might even notice that they don’t all agree on what employer brand is and is for. It’s like two plumbers not agreeing on what a “pipe” was. And if these professionals can’t agree on much, how can you feel comfortable selecting the one that will help your company? 

I feel for you. I really do.

This guide is here to help you make sense of it all and feel like you made a smart decision. I want you to really understand your options, set proper expectations, and offer advice that will give you the confidence you need to make a great decision. Because a strong employer brand is a strategic asset that will ultimately help your company grow.

Problems that you might be having

Employer branding is something of a buzzword, which means that people who want to sound “in the know” like to throw it around a lot. They also treat it like magic pixie dust that can be spread over any recruiting problem to make it miraculously better.

Now, I’m a huge advocate for employer branding, but it isn’t magic, and it doesn’t solve all your problems. So let’s start by identifying problems you might be having that employer brand can help you solve.

Problem: You can’t attract the quality of talent that your hiring managers demand. The best candidates have choices in where they work, so they tend to select places where they understand the up-sides and down-sides of their choice. If you are having issues attracting quality talent, painting a more credible and attractive picture of the opportunity (i.e. employer branding) will certainly help.

Problem: Your company is becoming invisible to top talent as the job market gets more competitive, putting future growth at risk. If your company doesn’t make retail products, it can be difficult to attract talent to your open roles. If you are one of 1,000 companies offering sales associate, developer or operations roles, why would anyone click your job if they don’t recognize the company. A strong employer brand can build the positive associations to your company that will drive applications.

Problem: Recruiters are burning out and feel scattered. Recruiting is often a deeply individualized practice. And sometimes having each recruiter play “cowboys and cowgirls” out on their own with minimal oversight can lead to sloppy practices and recruiters working at cross-purposes. An employer brand creates focus so that your recruiters (and hiring managers) are all aligned on what makes your company unique and attractive.

Problem: You are dragging around a painful negative reputation. Glassdoor has built a business around making you feel every negative thought any of your people (or former people) have had about you. In a vacuum, those negative comments can be a real damper on your recruiting efforts. But with a strong employer brand providing the frame and context, those comments can be negated.

Problem: Your offer acceptance rate is dropping, forcing you to regularly “go back to square one.” There’s nothing more painful (or more expensive) than getting a candidate all the way to the offer stage only to drop out. That often happens because they don’t see the value of what your offering beyond the salary. A strong employer brand creates a consistent and credible case as to what the candidate can expect, leading to more “Yes!” 

Problem: Recruiting is taking longer and longer, leading to more and more dropouts. If it’s taking longer and longer to fill your requisitions, an employer brand attracts more candidates faster, and becomes the foundation for a strong pipeline strategy that means some interviewable candidates are already in your ATS before you even open the role. That makes a big impact on your time to fill rate.

Problem: It finally happened: You were told to “do more with less.” Talent acquisition leaders around the world are hearing this more and more. Leadership is pulling the plug on ballooning budgets that don’t seem to make a dent in your metrics. Rather than “running to stand still,” your leadership wants you to think about your challenges differently. And this is where employer brand shines. It makes every recruiter and every recruiting tactic demonstrably more effective, it aligns messaging to enable a centralized content strategy, it makes each message more credible, and it helps you focus on what matters most. 

As a strategic function, a strong employer brand can make a lot of impacts all around the company. But to talent acquisition, you can feel confident that an employer brand will be a great choice in developing your strategic solution. 

How to select an employer brand partner

As you’ll soon see, there are a lot of potential employer brand partners out there. And while they all “do employer branding,” they are very different from one another. 

To ensure you’re able to make the best choice for your company, to make sure you’re a great match, you’ll need to understand your needs and their capabilities and approaches.

Questions you need to answer of yourself before you get started

What 1-3 problems are you expecting an employer brand to solve for you? You’re not going through the process for fun. You are trying to solve a business problem. And while employer brand can impact a number of different issues your company might be facing, focus is important. As the saying goes, “The dog changing two rabbits catches none.” So focus on the core issue you want solved. You might also attempt to answer the related question, “When this is done, what does ‘success’ look like to you and the company?”

Who is “bought in” and who still needs to be sold on the idea? Employer brand isn’t equally understood or valued by talent acquisition, human resources, marketing, comms or leadership, so there’s a good chance that not everyone’s on board yet. This is especially true of the marketing/TA divide. For example, if you’re in TA, you need to have a conversation with marketing to ensure they understand the need and can offer the necessary support to the selected partner. 

Who is your competition? Hiring is a zero-sum game, as the person someone else hires can’t be hired by you, so you are always in a race against other companies. Focusing on 3-5 “typical” talent competitors will help you and your partner understand if you need to be better than three local companies or whatever’s left over of the FAANGs.

What’s the project scope? Are you looking for some internal brand support? A complete brand deliverable? Activation support (job posting copy, career site redesign, ongoing social media content, recruiter and hiring manager training, etc)? No need to spend $100 if you have a $2 problem.

Why now? From my point of view, all companies need employer brand support. So why are you looking now? What’s the “inciting incident” or new expectation you are living with that makes this an urgent need? 

Questions to ask of your prospective partners

When you say “employer brand,” what do you mean? As I mentioned, even pros disagree on what they see as what an employer brand is and what its purpose is. Depending on who you talk to, it is a visual identity (logo, tagline, etc), the recruitment marketing strategy, something that fills the top of the funnel by making you “more attractive,” the human face of the corporate brand, or the strategic position of your entire people function.

This isn’t about getting into a philosophical approach to the work, but if you’re talking to a company that thinks in terms of “visual identity” and you want to define what makes you a different employer, you can waste a lot of time talking past each other without realizing it.  

What is your approach to building the brand? There is no one right way to build a brand. Some companies take a positioning approach. Some companies love internal and external data. Some are about building a brand that won’t change for a decade, while some build something that gets you to the “next stage.” Again, there is no right or wrong answer here, but the approach determines the deliverable and the outcome.

What is the downside to that approach? This question isn’t about trying to make your prospective partner squirm, but about truly understanding the implications of their approach. Every approach has a downside, whether it is about how long it takes to deliver, how much work it will take to localize and activate, 

How are you different from X,Y, Z? Most employer brand partners have some way of providing “full support” for the brand (copy writers, designers, website developers, social media specialists, etc), whether it is in-house or via a network of freelancers and contractors they use on demand. So when you are trying to understand each partner’s strengths and weaknesses, it is helpful to see how they see themselves relative to others beyond being “full service.” Again, there is no right or wrong answer. You’re trying to fit the company that best aligns to your needs and situation.

Buying an EVP isn’t easy, but with proper prep and a little perspective, it’s something you can do with confidence. And if you are looking for an apples-to-apples comparison of 25 employer brand partners (in their own words), check out EVPBuyersGuide.com.

Keep your focus on what you’re trying to accomplish short and long term, and you’ll find the partner who fits you best.


Authors
James Ellis

James Ellis is an authority on employer branding, focusing on companies who think they have no choice but to post and pray for talent. He is the principal of Employer Brand Labs, a bestselling author, keynote speaker, practitioner, and podcaster with a wealth of experience across multiple industries for almost a decade. You can find him on LinkedIn or subscribe to his free weekly newsletter The Change Agents.  


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