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Colborn’s Corner: HR as Brand Managers

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Quentin Colborn
For many, HR has become a fairly traditional role with pretty well defined responsibilities, but do we have wider responsibilities than those typically associated with the function? In the latest edition of his column Quentin Colborn argues that we all have a marketing role to play – albeit that the product is not necessarily as definable as your typical high street brand.


I suspect that many HR people would run a mile rather than take a career in marketing. I mean, that’s just not our type of work is it? We like our cosy world of policies and procedures and dealing with the sort of problems that line managers seem to find it so hard to manage but is this all we can do? I think not!

In a world where competition for skilled labour is ever more intense, our role has to be one of creating a brand for our employers, one that is recognised as strongly as any consumer brand. Idealistic? Undoubtedly! Easy? Never. Achievable? Definitely!

So what is brand management all about? Well I’m not a marketing specialist, and I’m sure people will correct me when needed, but to my mind brand management is all about creating and maintaining a favourable perception in the view of an organisations target market. Now this market may be for champagne, cars or even flip-flops, but it can also apply to an employer. Creating a positive market view of an employer may be one of the best long term strategic actions an HR team can do. Fail to plan for future staffing requirements is a major business risk; in many cases no people equate to no business.

So how do we go about building a strong employer branding? The first area to tackle has to be establishing a clear and attractive HR strategy. There is of course a lot of nonsense spoken about HR strategy, normally starting with the assumption that you need a consultant to establish one. The truth is that every business has an HR strategy even if they haven’t actively defined it. The small business that pays at or below the national minimum wage provided minimal holidays, no benefits and bullies its staff does have an HR strategy.

The strategy may be, “Treat them like dirt”, not attractive or desirable but it is a strategy! Assuming the business wants to look a little more positively than that, a clear HR strategy provides the basis for the brand the employer would like to create. Among other things it will include an approach to learning and development, diversity, promotion, fulfilling work and the reward approach.

Some of these topics may be difficult to communicate externally but we need to be inventive. Use recruitment advertising to spread the message, take opportunities to speak to local trade organisations and schools and be prepared to write case studies for local papers about the good things that you do.

However, the main way of enhancing the brand is by the way we deal with those we meet. It’s a sad fact of life that we normally reject through our recruitment processes more than we recruit but what message do those people go away with?

Consumer research indicates that when we have a bad experience with a product or retailer we tell nine others about it, I have little reason to think it is any different with recruitment. Why not look at your processes so that you can answer the question, “What impression did that unsuccessful applicant leave with?” No one likes being rejected for a job, but if they are able to say although they were rejected they were treated professionally and it’s an employer well worth considering, then it is surely a job well done.

So why does all this matter? Certainly an employer’s reputation in a local market will have a big influence on the quality of applicants but what about inside the organisation? While it sounds trite, an employer’s best brand ambassadors are its employees, get them having a highly positive approach to the organisation then the word will spread and everyone will reap the rewards.

What experience have you had of changing the external image of an employer? What tips and hints can you pass on to others. What big hurdles have you had to get over? Let’s hear about your experiences!

Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex who advises management teams on operations and strategic HR issues. To contact him T: 01376 571360 or e-mail him at [email protected]

Colborn’s Corner: series articles

One Response

  1. One of the “publics” in marketing speak
    Good article!

    Marketing is about matching the needs of prospective customers, or employees here, with what the organisation has the ability to deliver.

    I worked in an organisation with an excellent culture and we filled three quarters of our vacancies with friends of existing employees.

    As you say, employees are a great resource for spreading the word – good or bad!

    The marketing viewpoint is very different from others, HR, Ops or general management. It is worth doing some training to pick up the key concepts. It is a different world!

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