The Sunday Times Employer Brand Conference v.1.0

I attended the Sunday Times Employer Brand Conference at the wonderful British Library (I’ve hosted many an event there!). It was a very good, and interesting, day. I met some really nice and lovely people who were clearly passionate about their craft.

Ranulf Fiennes‘ presentation was quite inspiring. Signed copy of his book was a treat!

First, the good news: HR people get that there’s more to HR than the processes running recruiting, selection, induction, development, reward etc. Overall the majority of people I spoke to, most of whom were HR professionals, wanted to know more and were truly behind the idea.

Second, I was pleasantly surprised that some connections were being made between smiley-face employee satisfaction (nice to have … but what does it DO?) with their life at work (ok, I know, discretionary effort etc.) and the delivery of the customer experience by both front- and back-office employees.

Third, there were some great data sources and quotes:

Henry Ford (paraphrased) – “If I’d listened to my customers they would have asked for a faster horse.”
“Ticking the boxes does not create a great place to work.”
A great brand essence hidden on one slide — Anheuser-Busch -“Making Friends is Our Business.”

Fourth, my favourite presentation was William Hill who had a zero-bullshit approach to it all and could link £800,000 pure new profit to their 6-month old brand engagement effort. Well done!

And now, the bad news. (Apologies for some of the comments that will likely follow as I am feeling a bit tired, irritable and yeah slightly sarcastic. )

Well, yes, it was funny Royal Mail‘s showing a clip of all their smiling, happy, engaged employees the day before the first strike in 11 years over pay and working conditions. Guess putting up all those plasma screens didn’t actually engage or involve managers and their people in their day to day jobs and delivering the right brand experience. (To be fair, they are trying hard in a very difficult situation and these things take time. But, god, what a juicy target. I couldn’t not comment…)

Recruitment agencies jumping like fleas onto the brandwagon

Recruitment agencies suddenly becoming experts in brand management and employee engagement overnight?

PiB appeared credible (if not terribly innovative) on the brand capability side and presented the 10 year old service-profit chain model that TP/ISR, Maritz et al (gag me, I just saw on their snazzy new site that now they do “creative design” too… the brandwagon is truly creaking now!) have been delivering for donkey’s years now and dare I say is a bit mechanistic and old hat by best practice standards (although by the same token, still too few organisations are doing this).

… but you always have to watch marketers. PiB’s CEO put up these charts showing “because we keep track of these things” how many searches there were on Google for “employer brand”, “employer branding,” “employer brand management” from 1991 to the present or something like that. It’s skyrocketed from like 100 to 270,000. Um, but isn’t that tracking the growth in buzzwords, combined with adoption of web search use globally, not progress of a profession? Please don’t do my stats, thanks very much. [Good people have been doing this for at least 10 years – when I was at Mercer it was certainly an offer on the table.]

It was also interesting to see some old chestnuts from consumer branding methods rolled out as ‘innovative’ (anyone for asking people to say what animal, car, or celebrity their company would be)?

And Hodes’ linking up with the designers of the London 2012 logo is a very smart move … I suppose they at least had the maturity not to try to pass themselves off as brand strategists/designers and did the right thing by working with a good agency — unlike the raft of other graduate recruitment players maniacally jumping on the “brandwaggon” and claiming expertise that they don’t actually have.

HR and procurement folks: Caveat emptor!
My advice to would-be employer brand service consumers: check those case studies and credentials. Saying you do brand engagement, employee engagement, internal communications and brand management is (and how ironic is this considering the topic???) a far, far cry from actually having credible evidence that you have done and can do brand-related employee and HR work. Beware brand posers (say it but don’t do it).

Make sure they have a consistent and credible set of case studies demonstrating at least:

  • 5-10 years proven brand strategy and corporate identity expertise
  • 5-10 years proven employee engagement expertise
  • 5-10 years brand engagement expertise
  • 5-10 years HR and organisational development expertise.

That should narrow your field!

OK, I probably am being far too rough on the whole thing. But hey, how else could I be CONTROVERSIAL? Doesn’t that DRIVE THE HITS and COMMENTS which make my blog SO VERY IMPORTANT?

It’s clear that HR and internal communications teams can benefit massively from getting a deeper understanding of how brand (reputation) and branding processes work, and build the capability to apply these principles or understand them so they can better work with their marketing and brand teams.

But if brands (reputations) are about being inspiring (something interesting, captivating, compelling) and true (the compelling bit is backed with evidence of performance), then I must say that there is a bald, naked, arrogant irony in people and companies putting themselves forward as overnight brand experts (yes, Wally Olins is wonderful and writes great books. AND he’s been at this for 25 years) when that simply isn’t the case.

But we live in a commercial world.

‘Nuff said.


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