Fast Track Recruitment

Employer Branding - the great lost opportunity

Posted by Mitch on 20th November 2015


I used to be a big advocate of the concept of Employer Branding, as far back as 2003 when I was first introduced to the term.

I became a fan because I’d always believed in the power of creative advertising in recruitment. I still do.

So when Employer Branding became ‘a thing’, I was genuinely optimistic that recruitment might be taken under the wing of marketing. That the culture of hiring might even start to evolve away from HR and towards Sales.

I was encouraged that the type of communication necessary to attract the right types of people to jobs would be taken seriously again – as it often used to be back in the days when running full display colour ads in the broadsheets and the trade press were expensive enough to force people to actually take it seriously.

In 2007 I even got the chance to spend £100K of a large corporate’s money on helping them build their first ever employer brand – alongside a great recruitment marketer called Steve McNally, who I chose to work with on the project.

That was my key part in the project – choosing Steve, a freelancer – over the larger ad agencies who were also invited in to pitch for the work.

Once the work was done, it was cited in HR magazine as a good example of how to attract new employees. It was even held-up against British Airways latest attempts at employer branding to highlight exactly how good our work was.

It included a careers microsite, a suite of advert templates and a tagline and microsite url that made beautiful use of the company’s name. It wasn’t especially groundbreaking, but it was a great start.

But then we had to walk away – both literally and emotionally – when the contract came to an end and when HR took ownership of the project. You can probably guess the rest.

Since then, Employer Branding has become one of an endless stream of fads turned to by just about every large corporate in the land, in the hope that this is the thing that’s magically going to solve hiring problems they think they have.

EVPs (employee value propositions) are seemingly discussed with everyone except the very people they should be discussed with – existing employees.

Career pages, videos, applicant tracking systems, email templates, testimonials are all badged-up, colour-coded and assembled proudly.

Applications are made to all the recruitment marketing award organisers.

And still the better candidates hate the experience of applying to jobs with these companies. Or worse, ignore them.


Because the pig wearing the lipstick is still a pig.

The job ads are still just boring job descriptions that try to make tasks and responsibilities sound like benefits; “You will be given the opportunity to work as the point of contact with clients to generate data and provide reports in line with improving efficiencies.”

The email templates are still dismissive and cold.

And their internal recruiters are still under-qualified or over-worked and underpaid.

But hey, everything else looks pretty. And lots of social media followers too, 99.9% of whom the company would never employ in a million years.

Today, Employer Branding for many is just a box of brightly coloured crayons for people to play with who have little real understanding of hiring.

Boring formulaic content, peppered with stock photos of pretty people in suits, underpinned by arbitrary EVPs.

Employer Branding, which once had such lofty ideals, has succumbed to being just another way for these large corporates to say absolutely nothing of any substance, very loudly.

But let’s end this blog with some good news.

There are some cases of companies that do seem to be making a genuine effort to be a less sociopathic employer – and to express a people-centric ethos in their external comms.

Many seem to be smaller companies (150 to 1,000 employees) which is also encouraging, although many don’t seem to have much going for them in the way of age diversity and are a bit “super passionate” in their tone of voice, which this particular author finds a little cultish*.

One good example is this company. Now it could be argued that as an employment communications agency, they ought to be good at this stuff.

But there are plenty of companies in the employment communications business (some of which are also called recruitment agencies) who are terrible at it. What’s also admirable about this company is they’re small and seem to have a healthy smattering of grey hair on the payroll too.

If you know of any others that are doing Employer Branding well, I’d love to hear about them.

Please don’t say Unilever, PWC or L’Oreal.

*Not a typo.

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