Brand-Building on a Budget
In today's ultra-competitive recruiting environment, a strong employer brand can mean the difference between a company's success and failure. With so many companies battling it out for a small pool of talented workers, recruiters must find a way to make their messages rise above their competitors'.
This is particularly true for startups, which are trying to double or triple their workforce in a very short time frame. "There is currently more focus on employer branding than at any other previous time," says Jeff Hodes, an executive vice president at the Bernard Hodes Group, a recruitment communications agency that has been involved in recruiting for more than 20 years.
For an established company, focusing on its recruitment brand often means hiring a recruitment advertising agency and conducting a costly brand audit. This process involves doing extensive primary and secondary research--often using focus groups--to discover how job seekers and the general public perceive the company.
Startups, on the other hand, are in the envious yet challenging position of being able to build their
employer brand from scratch. What they lack in resources they must make up for with creativity.
Defining Your Brand
No matter how big or small your company, developing an employer brand is essentially a two-step process. The first step is identifying what your brand represents.
Many startups cherish the company culture that a core group of original employees has helped create. For such startups, the challenge is not to create new brands from scratch, but to articulate their existing brands in messages that can be delivered to both existing and potential employees.
Hodes recommends that startups poll current employees to get a better feel for their company cultures. By asking your employees directly why they think your company is a great place to work, you can pinpoint the core aspects of your employer brand that you want to publicize.
Anonymity in such surveys is essential to ensure employees respond honestly. Be aware that the results of such surveys may not be all good news. A survey may reveal that your employer brand is not exactly what you thought it was. If that's the case, use the results to drive change within your organization.
Communicating Your Brand
The second step is to figure out how you're going to communicate your brand to both your existing employees and potential employees. For startups that lack the resources to conduct large-scale branding campaigns, developing inexpensive, creative ways to advertise an employer's brand is essential.
It's important to note that retention of and communication with existing employees is as much a part of brand-building as any message that your company sends to potential employees.
"Retention and recruitment are two sides of the same coin," says Hodes. A company must make sure that the atmosphere within the company is consistent with the message it is delivering to potential employees.
What follows are a few inexpensive tactics for startups trying to build an employer brand.
Unique benefits or office policies. These are a great way to generate buzz around your workplace. Examples include allowing dogs in the office, offering discounts to fitness clubs, and providing sabbaticals for long-time employees. Your policies should reinforce the brand that you are trying to establish. If providing a good work/life balance is an important part of your company, then you should be able to point to several policies that allow your employees to achieve that balance.
Employee referral programs. Employee referral programs can play a valuable part in communicating your employer brand--both inside and outside your company. Referral programs build morale and help retain and attract people by reminding employees why your company is a great place to work. Be sure to emphasize the positives of working for your company along with the financial rewards of providing a referral.
Awards programs. Publicly recognizing employees is a great way to reinforce your brand with existing employees. Create a regular reward program that relates directly to the core values that are central to your company's success. The rewards do not have to be limited to cash bonuses. Give gifts that show a personal touch.
Parties. Even if you can't afford to have a famous musician play at it, a party is a great way to generate buzz about your company--provided it is well promoted, both inside and outside your company. Reward employees who take the time to plan your company parties. Emphasize that the event is both a celebration and a recruiting vehicle.
Sponsoring events. Sponsorship of events, while somewhat costly, can be an effective brand-building tool--if the event reaches your target audience. If your goal is to recruit more programmers, make sure the event you're sponsoring is both interesting to and attended by savvy programmers.
Recruitment website. The career section of your company's website should play an integral part of any branding effort. For many job seekers, it will be the first interaction they have with your company. Post your company's core values on your website. Profile individual employees and provide quotes about why they enjoy working at your company.
With all of these tactics, it's important to work with both your PR and marketing departments to make sure the press gets wind of the things you are doing. The end goal of all these efforts is to make your company widely known as a great place to work.
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