HR own employer branding. Here’s why. 

8 March 2023

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.

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