talent brandI’m demanding of our industry – and am the first to admit that. These demands aren’t unrealistic, I think; I expect organizations who haven’t developed a dedicated effort to attracting talent to get on the bandwagon. It’s up to us, in talent acquisition and human resources, to create compelling content and a comprehensive strategy around what it’s like to work at your company and stop tasking the corporate communications or consumer marketing team to do the heavy lifting.

I expect great things from those leading edge organizations who have already recognized recruiting and retention reality by already dedicating headcount, budget and resources towards attracting (and keeping) top talent to their organizations – on a multi-dimensional level.

What, exactly, does ‘multi-dimensional’ mean?  It means it’s time for these programs to grow up and move up to the next level by finally realizing what we in talent attraction really are: a true marketing function.

OK, let’s face it. It’s nice to see some cutesy employee quotes with a couple of lines of copy on why they love their culture, company or jobs. But these sanitized, stripped down ‘testimonials’ fail when it comes to creating employee engagement or even a contrary point of view. After all, what else is there to say besides some lame affirmation of what’s printed on the ubiquitous ‘values’ section of your company career site? Who doesn’t like stuff like good benefits, decent work life balance, cool colleagues and a fun office environment? If you don’t, chances are pretty good you’re in HR, anyway.

Most of what we choose to share in our recruitment marketing sounds like they were created by Captain Obvious, and we continue to salute the superficial. No one notices, mostly, because no one expects us to share anything but the positive, transforming dynamic employers into Potemkin villages when it comes to talent attraction. Now, I’m not saying you should highlight all your company’s dirty laundry – although there is absolutely a benefit to shining some light on the difficult realities of your corporate culture in your recruitment marketing materials. What I’m saying is we need to collectively help each other innovate by creating ideas and individuality that not only distinguish a company’s talent brand, but also add an element of depth that’s largely missing from what we currently share in our careers collateral and conversation.

Take a look at this clip from one of my favorite shows to watch with my daughters, Nashville. They go behind the scenes to feature a few people discussing a project (or song) that’s featured on the show. It shows collaboration, pride in work, environment/ambiance, cultural influences and the central dynamic of overcoming adversity to survive – and thrive. In other words, this clip captures all the stuff we get geeked up about sharing when building our employer brands or recruitment marketing messaging. They even go a step further than most talent brands do, drilling down another level to include contractors and consultants – it’s not just the full time employees who are the stars of your organization. Give this video a look and learn to take a page from their playbook – contractors represent an increasing percentage of the workforce, and must also live the culture of the companies we’re still tasked with attracting them to, regardless of employment status.

It’s an interesting piece that we can use to start thinking about retooling and reprogramming what stories we tell and how we share them. The best existing example I’ve seen in talent branding comes from Microsoft’sI Created This” campaign. This campaign beautifully mixes corporate, consumer and employer brands in a perfect mix that highlights the artists, entrepreneurs and employees driving innovation behind the scenes at this tech titan. Microsoft, unlike many companies, isn’t hung up on differentiating W2 workers from their 1099 counterparts, showcasing all contributors and colleagues equally – just like, ultimately, the contributions they make to the organization.

It’s a brilliant take on the “Get A Mac” campaign deployed by Apple from 2006-2009, and shows not only product and projects, but the real teams and real users upon whose sweat equity Microsoft’s bottom line relies. It’s compelling recognition for those featured, and sends an even more compelling – not to mention very attractive – message to current and potential employees alike: your work matters here.  It’s worth checking out.

Once you have, it’s time to start building your brand with an audit or assessment of existing collateral and content. Take a careful look not only at what the copy says (which is extremely important), but also, what it means. Is there depth? Which shareholders are included (or are you stuck with stock art)?  Most importantly, consider what, if anything, your recruitment marketing actually achieves. Does it build buzz? Will it drive conversation, sharing, and ultimately, conversion of candidates and increased sense of ownership (and fealty) among current workers?

Your existing employee population is the most obvious – and ideal – of focus groups (an important element of any marketing strategy).  You’ll know you’ve ‘nailed’ talent branding when people proactively share what you put out there – but the only way to do that is, optimally, by working with them to capture feedback and refine your talent attraction strategy before it’s distributed to a wider audience.  No one knows what it takes to attract talent to your organization better than the talent that’s already in the kinds of roles you’re trying to fill.  Capitalize on their experience and expertise to discover what, exactly, is compelling to your target audience – their professional peers.

These initiatives can be easily transformed into true marketing campaigns by including the following essential elements:

  • Marketing Communication Opportunity Assessment:  Examine the make-up and needs of target market.
  • Communication Channels Analysis: Where will this campaign be seen? What platforms will you use?  Use the needs/practices of the initiative/campaign’s defined markets, job levels, and environments to help guide you.
  • Defining Objectives & Outcomes:  Clearly state the expected long &/or short-term behaviors of the target audience for the campaign.  This defines your promotional objectives and is important to include in metrics planning; rather than focusing solely on our standard “number of views, apps, interviews, hires.”  Remember, all objectives must be measurable and succinctly stated.  If it takes a paragraph to explain an objective? Start again and keep refining it down to a single statement.
  • Determination of Resources & Budget: Simply showing up to an event doesn’t mean you’ll be asked to dance.  In order to create awareness, you must have resources that allow you to participate in your selected channels and platforms.  This is where you allocate resources amongst sales (read: recruitment) promotion, advertising & publicity (read: branding).  All three are necessary for a well-rounded campaign.  An advanced program will also include the cost of personal selling (in our case, the cost of the line recruitment staff); though currently very few actually do this.   The promotion budget involves determining cost breakdowns per business unit, by geography (and potentially job level) and promotional mix elements. Don’t rush this; be sure to drill down and understand the allocations being made/given and determine the affordability, percent of sales (referrals/apps/hires), and competitive parity (yes, what your competitors do actually does matter).
  • Messaging Creation & Promotion:  Notice we’re at step 5 and we’re only NOW focusing on message development.  You have to know the ‘Why’ to know the ‘Who’ to know the ‘Where’ to know ‘How’ to create ‘What’ actually needs to be said.  This is backwards from what many learned with the “Who, what when, where, and why” in science, but that’s okay – this is marketing. At any rate, this is where you and your team (or agency if you don’t do it all in-house) focus on content.  The formula follows: structure, format, source, appeal and execution of the message.  They all must flow and work together.
  • Campaign Measurement and Efficacy:  You have to measure what you make or how do you know if it really matters?  Once marketing communications are developed, the promotional plan must be created.  This is a formal, well-defined, written document. Define your hiring initiative (campaign/situation analysis), platform, timetables (execution, integration of promotional elements with other elements in marketing mix – this probably isn’t the only thing you’ll have running at one time), costs, methods for measuring effectiveness (metrics). To measure the effectiveness of your promotional objectives, you’ll actually have to ask for feedback from candidates.  What elements did they recognize or know as part of your existing branding?  What do the recall from your campaign’s content (how much of the message do they remember)?  How did this make them feel about your company and how much did it influence their decision to apply?  You’ll need to record that into your plan so that you truly have an effective document that can be referenced later.

Only by realizing that our recruitment marketing strategies must capture these mandatory marketing elements to succeed can we work towards the shared objective of every employer: to recruit and retain the best talent. This is the goal we need to work for, the ultimate end regardless of the mechanics or means we use for our marketing. It’s not just about creating some flashy videos, cool graphics or clever copy. While those are great, they don’t show depth – and digging into the operations, framework and content of our programs matters most, then planning (and executing) accordingly.