AI – the rise of the machines or a useful tool?

Head of Digital Matt Prudente shares his expert view.

Q: Tell us what you know about AI. Do you see it as a positive or negative?

It’s a funny one. I see lots of positives and a lot of potential. But I also get everyone’s concerns, although maybe people have been watching Terminator too much!

Like anything, there are new tools that come along. I view AI as a tool. My simplest explanation is the development of a screwdriver. A basic screwdriver is great but requires a lot of effort. You can take some of that effort out by using an electric screwdriver. That’s progress, isn’t it? 

It’s how I view AI. We have a lot of repetitive tasks that can be handled by technology. We do it all the time. The Industrial Revolution obviously had a huge impact. And now, with coding and computer tasks, I think AI has the potential to be a great tool. It already is.

We’ve seen it problem solve and build websites. Platforms like ChatGPT can generate code for software like WordPress. If you want a particular function, you ask for it and it’ll create the code to drop into your website. AI handles those more mundane tasks, so you can focus on the bigger picture. 

Take Wix, for example. You can create an entire e-commerce website. It provides content, imagery and a template of your choice. It knows what works and can even apply SEO principles to it. 

And then there’s medicine and science. It’s helping come up with new drugs.

AI will make many developers nervous but it still needs someone at the helm who knows what they’re doing. I think the future will be AI carrying out complete problem solving. It needs data input – visual, language or figures – to produce the solution.

Q: Have you tested it out? Any thoughts on which platforms are performing best (ChatGPT, Bard, Code T5 etc)?

We’re at the stage where we’re figuring out what suits us. We’re already using ChatGPT but there have been some failings. We create hybrid apps and use a framework called ‘ionic’. So I tasked ChatGPT with producing a particular kind of ionic app. It came back with a series of code and told me what to do. As I read, I could see that it was wrong and outdated. There’s a limitation there which means it must be checked constantly.

Having said that, as developers, we’re meant to do code unit tests, to check something’s working correctly. We create our own code to check the code. AI could perform a task like that in a much simpler way. We want to use these tools to make the process less manual.

Co-pilot, a Microsoft AI assistant, is something I’m really interested in it. The benefits will be spending less time on laborious tasks and seeing greater output – quantity and quality – meaning a better product for the client. It’d also reduce the cost of a project. As a business, we’ll be able to deliver faster and save money.

Q: How might AI benefit/impact your role in digital?

There’s always a worry but in any role, we have to keep up. Companies pay for employees to attend training courses to improve their skills, or upskill to an area that’s needed. We should always find a place where we’re needed for work. It just adapts over time. My job changed from working as a printer’s apprentice at 16 years old, to where I am now, heading up digital for the Surgery. I’ve constantly adapted and changed, but there’s always been a job for me. We just don’t know what that’ll look like in the future.

A hundred years ago, lots of labourers had their livelihoods taken away but people still have work and there are many more of us now. AI will replace some jobs, just as it has done in the past, but other jobs will come into play because human interaction is still needed.

Q: Do you think we’ll get to a point where we can teach machines ethics, empathy and compassion?

Those are human traits based on love – different kinds of love. As humans, love is there but we don’t always follow it. We don’t always show empathy and compassion. It’s something we need to cultivate in ourselves. That makes it a challenge, for me, to say that a computer could ever be sentient because it’s feelings, not data.

With programming, humans set the rules but AI sets its own. Rules are ok but principles override rules. If you have principles, you can have two rules that cancel each other out. How will AI manage that, given that compassion and empathy feed in? Love overrides so many rules. Traffic laws, for example, are put in place to protect but what if a decision must be taken that doesn’t follow the rules, even though it’s the right and ethical course of action?

I’ve been trying to think of another hypothetical situation that might relate to this. Let’s say you have an air-conditioned room full of people, that needs to be kept secure. How would AI deal with failed air conditioning while still considering the security threat? Would it open the doors to let fresh air in? The data set might dictate ‘if the temperature reaches 38C, open the door’. Or will it watch people’s expressions, to understand feelings and emotions, and respond? Might it respond intelligently by putting people in place to act as security? How might they feel? A lot of facial recognition AI can read expressions, but subtle nuances often don’t tell the whole picture.

Q: How do you think AI and humans will co-exist?

 It depends on humans! We have choice. AI and technology all come from binary but with humans, we have a choice. It’s power. AI needs power. Computers. A man-made brain to be able to do this stuff.

When we have a power cut, it’s a disaster. AI is just technology, again. When your power tool runs out of battery, we use it manually. As humans, we have a choice as to what we do with it.

When the Industrial Revolution took place, it produced much bigger things and faster. And not long after that, we saw world wars and what was produced there. It can be great but destructive things were also created. There’s always the chance that humans can misuse tools. If you have a hammer, you can build or destroy. It comes down to human choice.

Q: Any other thoughts on AI, now and in the future?

It was 20-30 years ago that most of us were getting emails for the first time. From there, we’re using AI. We don’t have to be in an office – we can work remotely. That’s all come from huge, chunky computers. The advancements have been huge and it’s growing at breakneck exponential speed. Especially when computers are then figuring stuff out for you. The potential is amazing.

The pandemic changed the way we worked. We all had to jump on the digital bandwagon, whether we liked it or not. I wonder if that accelerated the need for AI.

Disruption… do it, deal with it and make it work for you!

Disruption… it’s a fact of life these days.

Like your toast landing butter side down, losing your socks in the laundry, or hastily updating your LinkedIn profile after a terrible day in the office, you’ve probably already experienced disruption at some level.

If you haven’t, you will, sorry about that!

As delegates at our recent Barn to Boardroom event (the networking and learning event for I/C pros) discovered, the good news is there are some solid tactics out there to help you embrace it, learn from it, cope with it and even make it work for you.

In fact, sticking to great internal comms principles, driving an employee-led employee experience, adopting agility, putting out some authentic stories and being bold and resilient might all help, whether you’re being disruptive OR being The Disruptor (what a fab name that would be for a 1980s cartoon baddie, don’t you think?)

A ‘north star’ employee experience

As Barn to Boardroom co-founder and Elsevier’s VP Internal Communications Sarah Meurer and her lovely team Richard Etienne and Lisa Pantelli explained, defining your employee value proposition can give you a real anchor should the waters around you get a bit choppy.

Making sure your EVP is clear and well-defined with employees and that it forms the basis of not just the employee experience but drives through to the external talent proposition means it can become your shiny and twinkling north star.

It’s not something you can sit around with a cup of tea and come up with. Authentic EVPs are something you’ll uncover using insight, insight and more insight from your people.

Giving it plenty of welly at launch and through drumbeat comms, and allowing your people to tell their stories will get your EVP messages ingrained in your BAU and get everyone feeling it every day.

Ready for anything with agile thinking

A bit of agility can also get you ready to disrupt or be The Disruptor (trademark pending).

It’s about being efficient, reducing those processes that drag along behind you every day, stopping you from being innovative and coming up with those funky disruptive ideas. Like new names for ‘80s cartoon baddies, for instance.

As Kate Hughes, Group Internal Comms Manager from Cambridge University Press and Assessment, shared, an iterative define-build-release model can help you constantly refine and learn on the go. It’s for BAU not just for projects and campaigns!

Team scrums, project sprints, and development bursts. They’re all part of your wider agile armoury, helping to drive collaboration, to be slicker in what you do, to reduce risk, to visualise and prioritise the work, and to be on-your-toes ready for whatever is around the corner.

Once upon a time

Stories. We all love them. But if they’re not compelling, genuine or come from those who are actually living them then you’re missing a great chance to be disruptive.

Sam Bleazard, Employer Brand Content Producer at Fortnum and Mason, knows a thing or two about disruption. In fact, he even created his job himself after persuading the bosses at the luxury brand a bit of storytelling is exactly what they need. Nice disruption, Sam!

As he says, sharing great internal personal stories (every business has great people with a story to share) is about creating that genuine, emotional connection with customers, and of course, with potential new talent.

Sam’s takeaway advice is to think about the stories you’re not telling. It’s likely they’ll be much more compelling than the one you’ve just posted on LinkedIn. Oh, and if you can get the CEO to share what they’ve been up to on your socials, it’s even better.

Eating disruption for breakfast

For Laura Campbell, Internal Communications Director at EasyJet, it’s all about resilience because resilience eats disruption for breakfast. She really should know. There can’t be many industries that have had to deal with as much disruption as aviation in recent years.

Natural disasters, cancellations, delays, even a global pandemic. You can add all that to the comms challenges presented by having a remote, up-in-the-air, and desk-based workforce at a high-profile household-name brand which is very visible on social media. Think I’d take the toast landing butter side down anytime!

Everything Laura and her team have dealt with has built real resilience. They use the power of their internal channels to integrate, to head off problems at the pass and to make their senior leaders visible and accessible. It means their strategy and responses to disruption are clearly signposted and out there. It’s really increased the value of their internal comms channels, too.

It kinda goes back to those good old comms principles. When the going gets tough, keep going and keep communicating. As Laura says, it means they’ve been able to bring back the joy (and the fun) of working in travel.

Be The Disruptor on LinkedIn

Personal branding, ooff. It’s one of those things we need to think about if we want to be disruptive, stand out and be noticed. It’s not always comfortable talking about what you do and how good you are at it, though, right?

As Vicki Marinker, Candid Career Coach, wonderfully told her attentive Barn to Boardroom audience, you can get yourself out there and grab attention without being a total $&*7.

It’s not all about you, of course. LinkedIn is where all the talent is just hanging around, waiting for the next piece of inspiring content to thwack them over the head. It’s where the decision-makers are too. In fact, LinkedIn is 277% (yes, you read that right) more effective at generating leads than Facebook and Twitter. 81% of B2B buyers are more likely to engage with someone who has a strong personal brand. Vicki makes a very compelling case!

So, whether it’s your brand or you’re updating the pages for Timpkins and Sons, remember Vicki’s seven Cs – complete your profile, curate your feed, connect, communicate, comment, create and be consistent.

So, another brilliant Barn to Boardroom (which had its own fair share of pre-event disruption thanks to rail delays, torrential downpours and chairs for the event only just turning up in time!) is done and dusted.

It was so good we should do it again next year!

Interested in employer branding? Download our whitepaper to understand the context, case and considerations for a modern employer brand.

The intriguing world of driving engagement through employee personas

In the bustling realm of internal communications (IC), one pivotal element that often goes overlooked is the understanding of employee personas. These fascinating character profiles provide a window into a company’s workforce.

From the diligent tech wizard who lives and breathes innovation to the enthusiastic social butterfly who sparks contagious energy, employee personas offer valuable insights for crafting effective IC strategies.
So, how do they shape the fabric of corporate culture?

The Visionary Trailblazer

At the helm of every organisation, you’ll find the Visionary Trailblazer; someone who’s brimming with ideas and a tireless appetite for innovation. This persona thrives on opportunities to reshape the company’s future, eagerly seeking out the next big breakthrough. To engage the Visionary Trailblazer, IC should think about offering a platform for brainstorming sessions, sharing cutting-edge industry trends and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

The Analytical Problem-Solver

Meet the Analytical Problem-Solver, armed with spreadsheets, data-driven insights and an insatiable thirst for cracking complex challenges. This persona’s cerebral prowess and methodical approach ensures that no problem is left unsolved. IC should emphasise logical reasoning, present structured information, and provide opportunities for critical thinking and problem-solving exercises, to effectively communicate with the Analytical Problem-Solver.

The Social Connector

There’s a Social Connector in every office; a vivacious persona whose mere presence electrifies the room. They possess an uncanny ability to forge connections, build camaraderie and bring diverse teams together. To capture the attention of the Social Connector, IC should consider incorporating elements of fun, team-building activities, and foster an inclusive, collaborative environment.

The Detail-Oriented Perfectionist

Ever met that colleague who spots the smallest typo from a mile away? That’s the Detail-Oriented Perfectionist. This meticulous persona ensures that every comma is in its place, every PowerPoint slide is pixel-perfect and every document is flawlessly formatted. To engage the Detail-Oriented Perfectionist, IC should focus on precision, accuracy, and attention to detail, providing well-structured guidelines and templates.

The Enthusiastic Learner

Enter the Enthusiastic Learner, a perpetual student who craves knowledge and growth opportunities. This persona views each new project as an opportunity to acquire new skills and broaden their horizons. To captivate the Enthusiastic Learner, IC should offer a variety of learning resources, training programmes and platforms for knowledge sharing.

The Empathetic Supporter

Behind every successful team, there’s an Empathetic Supporter. This persona possesses exceptional listening skills and a genuine desire to help colleagues overcome challenges. They are the go-to person for advice, encouragement and an empathetic ear. Providing opportunities for team recognition and promoting employee well-being initiatives is a great way to tap into this persona’s needs.

Good stuff but how do we build our own employee personas?

  • First of all, talk to your colleagues with experience in building personas.
  • Talk to your employees. Set up working or focus groups. Understand their wants, needs and niggles.
  • Decide what criteria you’ll use to categorise your personas.
  • Build and store your new personas.
  • Test them out. They’ll naturally evolve over time but keep going.

Making use of personas

Having realistic expectations is important. In reality, you won’t be able to generate an optimum number of personas to cater for everyone but you can create examples highlighting common problems, based on your research or data. Addressing key challenges, segmenting your audience, deciding on preferred channels for communication and understanding what motivates your employees are all hugely beneficial learnings for cultivating positive engagement and hanging on to your staff. These learnings often have a domino effect, resulting in meeting your customers’ needs, meaning the business wins too.

Employee personas should serve as a guide to understanding your workforce’s needs. By striking the right balance between personalisation and authenticity, organisations can create a workplace culture where IC thrives, driving engagement to new heights.

Virtual work events: the good, the bad and the Wi-Fi woes

In a post-pandemic world, virtual work events have become all the rage. We’ve bid farewell to the days of stuffy conference rooms and awkward icebreakers and said ‘hello’ to the convenience of online gatherings. But, as with anything in life, there are good bits and bad bits.

The pros…

Super convenient

No more commuting long distances, getting stuck in traffic, or rushing to make it on time. With virtual events, you can join from the comfort of your own home, or anywhere with a stable internet connection. Plus, it opens up opportunities for employees globally to participate and collaborate more easily.

Kinder to the purse strings

Hosting an in-person event can be a hefty financial burden. Think about it: venue rentals, catering, travel expenses and accommodation can quickly add up. Virtual events, on the other hand, eliminate these costs. All you need is a reliable platform, and you’re good to go. So, not only can companies save a ton of money, but they can also allocate those resources to other important areas of their business.

Being inclusive

Traditional in-person events can be challenging for employees with disabilities or those who have difficulty attending due to personal commitments. Virtual events allow everyone to participate on an equal footing, creating a more inclusive and diverse environment. Moreover, introverts, who may feel overwhelmed by large gatherings, can find online events more comfortable and less intimidating.

And the cons…

Lack of in-person interaction

While technology is wonderful, it can’t fully replicate the experience of being physically present with others. Non-verbal cues, spontaneous conversations and building personal connections can be more challenging in a virtual setting. It can be harder to establish rapport and develop strong relationships with colleagues and clients, sometimes leading to feeling isolated or disconnected.

Screen freeze and other glitches

We’ve all been there – frozen screens, lagging audio or poor internet connections. Technical issues can disrupt the flow of the event, cause frustration, and hinder effective communication. Backup plans are a must. Test the technology in advance and be prepared to troubleshoot problems on the fly, before it turns into a tech nightmare.

The buzz

Virtual events can seriously lack the energy and excitement that come with in-person gatherings. The buzz in the air, the shared laughter and the spontaneous moments of inspiration can be harder to replicate virtually. Engagement and motivation can suffer too.

Winning with virtual events

There’s no exact formula for producing a gold-star virtual event but you can follow some easy steps to make it much more likely. Here’s how to engage your audience and add some digital dynamism:

  • Trying creating a fully managed vision-mixed broadcast with production levels that’ll make the audience feel like they’re watching a TV show – as opposed to it feeling like ‘yet another virtual meeting’.
  •  Share real stories that capture the attention and imagination.
  • Mix up the content with live speakers, interviews, video, Slido (or similar), and chat.
  • Ensure the content is fast paced, with no one presenting live without interaction for longer than nine minutes. There’s even some proper neuroscience research from Inc to back this up.
  • Give people a reason not to switch off with a ticker tape teaser – ‘coming up next is….’
  • Make sure everyone knows it’s fully live (and not just a recording they can snooze through).
  • Let people interact with the speakers via the chat and Slido.
  • Keep it interactive and fluid with quizzes, questions and polls.

Let’s champion the virtual work event revolution, adapt to its challenges and make the most of our digital connections.

Employer brand content: quick and dirty or highly polished?

Employer branding content is a conundrum. You want candidates to get an authentic feel of the business, whilst demonstrating how much you care. But does that point to film-on-a-phone style stories, or something a little more high end?

Forget Charles, content is king right. We all need content these days, it’s what we all trade in. It gets traffic to our websites, makes us look good and can help us spread good vibes (cat videos anyone?).

When it comes to employer branding, content is our way of showing who we really are. It’s a way of getting stories out to potential candidates, keeping us in the minds of future employees and generally helping people understand what we’re all about.

But does it matter how we go about it?

Personal and credible 

The approach to your content can say a lot about you. It can showcase your skills for one thing. And whether we like it or not, people will make judgements off the back of it.

Remember hearing about the halo effect in GCSE psychology? When someone or something looks good, we generally expect it to be good in other ways. So, if you make good content, we assume that you may be good at other things too.

Let’s say for a minute you get a handwritten note through the door. It’s a bit of lined paper, torn from a pad, with handwriting written in biro…

  • If that’s a neighbour asking you round for a barbecue, then you probably see it as a nice touch and think little more of it.
  • But, what about if it was a local restaurant that just opened?

Would you still see it as a nice touch, or would you wonder why it’s not something more polished? Would you see the lack of professionalism as something to worry about? If they can’t even create a proper advert, how can they cook us a decent carbonara.


There’s a danger that things that seem put together cheaply and quickly don’t capture the quality we want to convey. When we’re selling anything – whether it’s our role as an employer, or our latest pasta extravaganza – that can be a problem.

So, what about if we add some real production value?

In the context of employer branding, a cheap and quick approach may be getting an employee to talk to your smartphone, and putting the video out as a story. A polished alternative, may be using a videographer, with some professional lighting, directing and post-production to create a high quality video.

Based on our halo effect, a top-notch video should convey the quality we want right? Content that has clearly had some real care put into its creation, will mimic the care an employee could expect when joining. Right?

Er. Maybe.

Here’s the thing – there’s a lot of research that tells us (younger candidates especially) don’t really trust companies. Content created by the company with time and budget signifies something that fits the brand’s agenda – and therefore maybe shows their less than authentic spin on life.

Persuasive content

Beyond the woes of credibility and quality, we should also consider the goal. Anyone from a comms or marketing background will know there’s a real challenge in matching your strategy to your audience and creating something that gathers attention, builds interest, and drives some action. It takes skill and hard work.

Can we really hit the mark without the time, effort and budget to produce something carefully crafted? Can we really create something engaging enough on the fly?

Head f#ck

It feels like an oxymoron. Create regular authentic content that feels personal and trustworthy, but also captures the quality and care that conveys your approach as an employer. Unless you have a team of people with an empty diary that work for free – it’s a head f#ck.

But – perhaps it’s not quite as bad as we’ve made out (sorry not sorry).

All approaches have merit. Standing alone they are open to scrutiny, but together they can appeal to different aspects of the psyche:

  • Regular digestible content – can provide a baseline authentic view of who you are, through regular short conversations with real employees, filmed on a phone or put out as audio clips
  • Creative campaigns and more permanent content – can showcase what you can do with a little time and budget, reinforcing the care and standards you hold dear as a business

Let’s be honest, getting regular content out is a challenge. We need willing employees, endless ideas, and a cycle of speedy production. So keeping it a little quick and dirty will give us a realistic way to create a baseline of believable stories.

Then we can layer on content designed to showcase how good you really are. Think creative campaigns, or career site videos – opportunities to really capture the imagination.

Quick and dirty, highly polished, they’re both winners here. The trick is to make the best of both. Think of the end user, think of your capabilities, and find the balance that draws it all together. And if you get time in between to visit to the local pasta place, all the better, even if their promotion didn’t blow you away.

Interested in employer branding? Download our whitepaper to understand the context, case and considerations for a modern employer brand.

HR own employer branding. Here’s why. 

Employer branding is a hot topic in most circles right now. We’re all competing for the same talent, and those companies with a clear employer brand are starting to hoover it up. But there’s some push and pull over where it sits. So, lets clear that up today.

There’s a new film out. Top Gun 3. You’ve seen the trailer and, well, it looks pretty shit-hot.

So, you stick on your aviators, jump on your motorbike/horse, and head to the local cinema to spend your life savings on popcorn and fizzy drinks.

But three hours later, you come out deflated.

It wasn’t shit-hot. Just shit. The trailers showed all the good bits, the acting was bad, the plot had holes, and well it just didn’t live up to the hype.

Much like you, other people didn’t like it too. In fact, it’s getting a bad reputation. Poor reviews flood in, box office performance falls flat, and it ends up being one of those films destined for late night showing on freeview. (All totally unrealistic as Top Gun is great, obviously).

So, here’s the question – who’s responsible?
Is it the guys at the cinema, selling you tickets and showing you to your seat?
Is it the team doing the promotion?
Is it those who kept things ticking on set?
Or is it the people who made the major decisions about the film?

Hold that thought.

Talking about reputation

Employer branding is your reputation as an employer. It’s the feeling in the gut when people hear your name mentioned. It’s how they see you as a place to work.

“John, would you ever work at Barry’s Fish and Chips?”
“Yeah, Norman works there and says they’re a lovely bunch.”

The difficulty is people’s perception can be made up of a lot of stuff, so it’s a beast to unpick. But one thing is clear – it impacts how people interact with you.

If they see you as a great place to work, you’ve got your pick of the bunch. If they don’t, well then, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

Employer branding is worth investing in.

The right team for the job

We could argue that every employee has a share of the employer brand – because everyone’s actions can impact the perception of others. But who should be the one that steps forward when the board ask how the employer brand is doing? Who should be the one trying to manage or improve it?

In a January 2023 LinkedIn poll, here’s what our 497 respondents thought:

Who owns the employer brand?

  • HR – 16%
  • Marketing –27%
  • Talent acquisition – 10%
  • Dedicated team – 46%

In an ideal world, there’ll be a dedicated team to pull the strings. Because if managing the employer brand is a bolt-on to an already busy role, expect bolt-on-to-a-busy-role results. If it’s a dedicated person or people, well then now we’re talking.

But let’s be realistic – we aren’t all financing a new team just yet. So how do our other options stack up:

  • HR know their people
  • Marketing know the brand and engagement techniques
  • Talent acquisition know the candidates
  • Internal comms know how to connect the workforce (LinkedIn polls only give four options, so sorry IC you didn’t make the list but we still love you)

All of these teams play a valuable part. Can you manage the employer brand without any one of those stakeholders? No, you can’t. Not well anyway. So, they must all be involved right?

It comes down to who made the film

Top Gun 3 had a bad reputation because it was a bad film (yep, we’re back to this pretence). And no amount of promotion, persuasion, audience knowledge, relationship building will change that.

The same is true of you as an employer.

There’s great reasons why Talent Acquisition or Marketing should ‘own’ the employer brand. If you see the employer brand as the assets and how they’re shared with the population, maybe you sit in this camp. The challenge is their ability to impact it is limited. if you’re a bad place to work, then they have two options 1) be totally up front about it and hope there’s enough people out there still up for the challenge 2) paper over the cracks and hope people don’t find out the truth until they’re too invested to leave.

How about internal comms? They can wield great influence in the business. They join people up to the vision and values, they represent the face of the business to many, and well, they’ve got eyes and ears everywhere. They can impact the employee experience, and arguably bad comms can really let a good business down.

But – there’s no substitute in investing in your people and making every effort to create a place where people want to be. If you do that, then the rest starts to fall into place. And that has to start with HR and a strategy with people at the centre.

The conclusion: make a good film

A great film with poor promotion will still do well. The reviews will be good. People will talk on social media. The quality will carry it. It could be a classic.

A poor film with great promotion won’t. There may be some early interest but the reviews will be bad, people will talk on social media, and the quality will let it down.

The secret to a good employer brand is being a good employer. Yes, there’s value to add in how we share that with the world – but we can’t escape the simple fact that a good reputation comes from being a good place to work.

Managing your employer brand comes from collaboration across the teams with the skills and the interest – but the area of the business most empowered to impact it is HR. That’s why, when push comes to shove, they should own it.

HR listen to employees. They look after the values, nurture the culture, work with managers and the board to make improvements (no doubt with internal comms supporting). They are responsible for keeping people healthy and happy.

HR can help the business create the best place to work. No other team can boast that to the same degree. And creating the best place to work will attract and retain good people.

So, if you’re starting to think about your employer brand, start with HR and the question – how can we do more for our people?

P.S. If there is a third Top Gun film, with Tom Cruise’s grandson flying the jets, I promise to come back and update this blog.

Interested in employer branding? Download our whitepaper to understand the context, case and considerations for a modern employer brand.

What the 90s video shop taught me about employer branding

Choosing the perfect film was once about glossy covers and a leap of faith. But now it’s about online reviews and realistic expectations. So, do you approach your employer branding like a 90s VHS or a modern blockbuster?

“Let’s go down the video shop”, he said.

It was Saturday afternoon. I’d switched off the Sega, and met up with my friend. We were off to rent a film from the video shop, as we called it back then in the 90s.

I remember stepping through the door, marvelling at the floor to ceiling shelves. “There must be at least two hundred movies here”. Ha, how we can laugh now.

We’d head off in different directions to gather a small pile of the videos we liked. Both finding inevitable excuses to pass the adult section several times.

“What about this one?” he said.

Return of the Killer Tomatoes. Looks interesting. The cover was some buff commando with a big red face.

“Epic”, I said, “basically Rambo with a tomato head”.

We took it home and put it on. But what we actually got was a film about giant tomatoes rolling over civilians and a mad scientist using music to turn tomatoes into people. Now, I know some people might regard this as a B-movie classic, but it was hardly the action film we’d dreamed of.

The term ‘never judge a book by its cover’ is well known, but no one told us it applied to VHS too. And in those days, how else would you judge it?*

The trouble is, the covers could really pull you in – make it sound exciting, make it look great – something that acting and special effects seemed to rarely deliver (no offence film fans, there’s still some great movies from that era).

Fast forward to 2023 and you probably get your films online after a quick search and a read of the reviews. It’s a totally different world.

Erm, I thought this was about employer branding

90s VHS often set expectations that the film failed to deliver. And it wasn’t just this one. Time after time, we were let down by interesting looking horrors that turned out to be god-awful puppet shows.

Great cover artwork would grab our attention, but it didn’t guarantee a good watch.

The same is true of employer branding. We can get attention with some slick words and big promises, but that doesn’t guarantee a good experience when you get through the door.

What happens if the experience doesn’t match the expectation? Well, in our scenario, we wasted three pounds and two hours of our life. But for you as an employer, you’d lose your candidate and all the time, effort and investment that went into recruiting and onboarding them.

And that’s if they don’t do their research and find out the truth about you first, before you have a chance to convince them otherwise.

Approach your branding like a modern movie, not a 90s horror

A lot has happened since those video shop days – perhaps most notably is the internet. And that means everyone has a voice.

For movies, you can find countless reviews online and form a good idea of what to expect. For employment, well actually it’s very much the same.

You used to be able to close the doors to the office and paint a picture of whatever you wanted to the outside world, but now the world is much more transparent, so the truth comes out (ahem, Brewdog).

What does all this mean? Well, it means three things, and some of them are biggies:

  1. Get your shit in order. If you’re losing people because you have a toxic culture or you’re not paying a fair wage, then no amount of branding will fix that. Make people want to work for you because you’re a great place to work.
  2. Build an authentic brand. Create an employer brand based on what people like about working there. Do your research, be honest about aspiration, and let your employee voices shine.
  3. Listen to your reviews. No one likes to hear criticism, but it’s how we grow. Get regular feedback, learn from your exit interviews, keep an eye on Glassdoor and be humble in your responses.

And so…

Great employer branding is no substitute for a great place to work. Fixing that has to be priority number one.

But if you’re doing good stuff and struggling to pull in the candidates, then maybe it’s time to look at how you position yourself. Just because people know who you are as a business doesn’t mean they know who you are as an employer or why they should be a part of your vision.

Understand who you really are and turn that into something authentic and inspiring. Make sure you’re the modern movie boasting the five-star reviews, not the forgotten horror setting expectations that it just doesn’t deliver.

*Whilst we were often let down by these films we also never learned. After being disappointed by a horror movie called House, we still went on to watch House II, House III and House IV. All of which were crap! Kids eh 😆

Interested in employer branding? Download our whitepaper to understand the context, case and considerations for a modern employer brand.

Storytelling: It aint’ what you do.. it’s the way that you do it

“It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it.” What a tune. 1982 apparently.

I say apparently, as I am far too young to remember the early 80s (cough, cough). My grandparents say it was a cracking time to be alive, though.

If you’re a fan of 80s music (no! come back, Millennials, this blog is for you too, honest), then you’ll no doubt already be humming it ain’t what you do. It’s a proper tune from pop giants Fun Boy Three and those era-defining dungaree-clad musical icons Bananarama.

Obviously, when the girls from Bananarama and the erm… boys from Fun Boy Three sat down to write it, they knew it was all about the secrets of successful and engaging storytelling for business. I mean, obviously, right?

You might need to bear with me on this one.

Imagine for a moment you’re a leading financial firm in a big city.

Your main rivals, Pugh, Hugh and McGrew down the road, are a leading financial firm in your city too.

You have similar clients, offer similar services and similar products at a similarly exceptional level.

There’s not much to choose between you. Maybe the biscuits you roll out for meetings are just that little bit more chocolatey. Gooier in the middle, maybe. Perhaps they just chose you because you’re right around the block from their office.

You’re going to need something to make you stand out from the rest (investing in even better biscuits ain’t going to cut it).

You need to be something different, so those big spending clients and all those shiny new graduates and talent just have to choose you over your rivals.

You need a story, a way to explain to people your why and how. Why are you here? Why are you different? How do you do what you do?

It’s all about the feels

The best stories are all about people. They’re about relationships. The relationship you have with your clients and customers and, of course, your people. They’re the ones doing your do, after all.

Through telling your story, you can create an emotional attachment – a feeling.

Tell a compelling, provable story, and it won’t matter what sort of biscuits you dish up; the power of who you are and why you do what you do will be what makes you stand out, be different.

If it’s genuine and you back it up every day, if it’s something your people can believe in and talk about with passion, then your employee engagement should soar too.

Stories are powerful stuff!

Of course, your what is important, but it’s the why that gets those neurons firing. See? It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it. The next line after that one? And that’s what gets results! Bananarama and Fun Boy Three really were way ahead of their time.

I wonder if all 80s songs had a subliminal business message?

Maybe Rio by Duran Duran is actually about creating a growth mindset in a stagnant and destabilised marketplace. Maybe not.

Here’s three things to help you bring storytelling into your business;

  • Remember, it’s about EMOTION. Get them laughing, smiling, crying, nodding along in agreement. Your story needs to connect and move people.
  • LOGIC is important too. Your why and how are the connectors, your logic, the rational sense behind your story, is your anchor.
  • Give it some CREDIBILITY – make sure you can prove what you say, back it up with tangible actions. It’ll help show you’re a source worth listening to.

If you’re struggling to unearth your why and your how, we’ll do the deep dive, find out who you really are and help you tell your story (we promise not to mention Bananrama and the Fun Boy Three ever again).

Get in touch today @

Losing a limb? It’s worse than that, Janet!

(or how to ensure your workplace EX and EVP drives recruitment and retention)

Work eh? Would we do it if we didn’t have to? If it means we can make a difference to the world around us, then maybe, just maybe, we would. As The Surgery’s Employer Brand and Behavioural expert Si Andrew told attendees at the recent Barn to Boardroom Employee Experience event, a bit of CSR and a bit of care can go a long way towards creating a place your people will love to be.

Thankfully the workplace has moved on a bit since the 1800s.

Back then, employee benefits pretty much amounted to being allowed to keep all the wood shavings you found in your pockets at the end of the day. You might have got a few hours off to celebrate Whitsun, too, provided you made the time up later. The biggest benefit was coming home after a long day at t’mill with all your limbs still attached.

Stuff matters

It’s all subjective, of course, but these days, gripes in the workplace are likely to be a little less life-threatening.

Perhaps Gavin’s hogging the office Fussball table again, or your clearly marked yoghurt has miraculously disappeared from the communal fridge (I know I sound petty, Janet, but that’s the third time this week!)

Stuff like that matters to people, and if the culture is a bit crap at your place, then it can damage your reputation as being a nice place to work.

Back in the olden days, if you had an awful day, no one cared. They’d just replace you.

Now, your people can be on social in seconds to let the world know how let down you’ve been.

Companies can’t get away with not caring any more, thanks to Insta/Twitter and LinkedIn there’s an open window into every workplace.

“The best organisations are talking about how they can inspire their people to connect and build work experiences that matter and make a difference.”

Si Andrew

It’s an employee’s market

Being happy and driven at work goes beyond yoghurt and Fussball tables, of course. If you don’t look after your people, give them what they need to thrive, they’ll be off to see what else is out there in what is still an employee’s job market.

While tracking down the yoghurt thief is a good idea, employee experience goes a bit deeper than that. You need to make sure work is supportive, fun even, and just as importantly, your people need to feel that they can really make a difference to the world around them.

Genuinely caring about your people and building work around them will give you advocates that will sell your company for you. The best employer brand is not the flashy stuff, but putting your people first.

Walk the walk AND talk the talk

As Si told the internal communications gurus attending the Barn to Boardroom event, you need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk (we may have paraphrased that slightly).

If you’re to compete with Jenkins and Jenkins Ltd down the road, you need to offer more than organic kumquat and quinoa salad in the office canteen, as lovely as that is. The perks might be fantastic and are still important, but what do your people come to work for? Why are they there?

Gone are the days when offering the best salary in town afforded you the pick of the coolest graduates.

Work has to mean something. When candidates say they want to make a difference in their interviews, they actually mean it. Can you imagine!

These days, flexibility, empathy and understanding are the most highly rated traits in employers. In polls, 70% of employees demand to do purposeful work.

Support, trust and flexibility

It’s all about demonstrating your corporate social responsibility and showing pride in developing a welcoming and supportive culture to drive your employee value proposition.

It’s about striving to be a modern and accommodating workplace, one which gives its people support, trust and flexibility.

“79% of employees want to be able to work in a hybrid (from the office and at home) working model,” Si said.

“And these days, flexibility, empathy and understanding are the most highly rated traits in employers. In polls, 70% of employees demand to do purposeful work.

“They want meaning, not just activity, and many are saying they would be prepared to compromise on their salary expectations to get it.

“Having a shiny brand isn’t enough anymore,“ Si added.

“The best organisations are talking about how they can inspire their people to connect and build work experiences that matter and make a difference.”

The impact when you get it right can be staggering. According to Glassdoor, over 85% of candidates will research a company’s ratings and reviews before applying, while a whopping 92% of people would jump ship to a company with an excellent corporate reputation.

“Employee voice is three times more credible than the CEO’s when it comes to talking about working conditions in the company,” Si said, revealing just how important having a culture you can be proud about is in recruitment.

“Driving an EVP is about listening to your people, using design in your thinking and giving your people a platform to share ideas and be involved. It’s the norm now, what people expect from their job.”

Empathise and engage

Promoting a great culture, living your values, and showing how diversity and inclusion matter to you are key. People want a good work/life balance; they want senior managers to empathise and engage.

It’s not just compensation and benefits which drive people’s work choices these days.

Knowing someone isn’t going to steal your yoghurt and not losing a limb also helps!

Si Andrew and the Surgery Team can help create your perfect Employee Value Proposition. 

Get in touch today @