The World of Employer Branding

19 February 2019      Martin Higgs, Communications Officer

Lessons learnt from the world of employer branding

Unsurprisingly given the current climate for HE, more and more institutions – regardless of size and focus – are engaging with employer brand management (even if some are reluctant to call it by its name), writes Robert Peasnell, of TMP Worldwide UK. The drivers are clear: ever fierce international competition for the best people; the need for institutions to become more business like (and therefore to develop propositions that extend beyond the academic focus out to those currently in the world of business); and diversity (linked as it is, not just to the common sense goal of having a workforce that reflects the student population, but linked to funding too). And that’s without even mentioning the impact that the ‘B’ word will have in terms of access to EU staff; or the implications of the change in the size and decision-making process of the student demographic for institutions’ claims to be providing access to the greatest young minds.

At TMP, we have partnered with a range of HE institutions to help them understand and then express what they have to offer as employers. Not just to academics (for whom as we know, engagement is largely driven by networking) but for those who would fill professional support service roles and those from all backgrounds. 

Our work with the likes of the Universities of Sheffield, Manchester, Reading, East London and others has identified a number of key learnings, which you might find useful if considering an employer brand management project yourself.


Resistance to the federated model is futile! So work with it.

If there is one thing we all know about HE institutions, it’s that there is no one size fits all; no one culture.  In talking about their institution, one vice chancellor I interviewed called it “A village with overlapping tribes”.  When it comes to the federated model that often typifies universities (and the myriad subcultures that come with it) resistance is futile! Managing employer brands in this context is about identifying unifying cultural traits and using those to build an overarching employee value proposition (EVP). This will provide an element of consistency where it really counts.  But it’s also about creating enough space for that proposition to be flexed for the variety of ‘on the ground’ employment experiences based on your role, where you work, your skill set and other factors.

This is, of course, eminently doable but getting started is easier if you accept that building an overarching EVP isn’t enough on its own – if you want your employer brand to really work for your institution.

It pays to engage all potential employer brand beneficiaries from the start.

Employer brand management is about more than attraction/ recruitment communications – it’s about delivering an authentic, consistent experience from potential candidate engagement through to employee exit. 

We also understand, however, that many projects are driven by the recruitment imperative, so we aren’t suggesting to heads of recruitment that they’ve got to take on the job of branding the whole lifecycle. What we have found, however, is that advising colleagues in talent management, L&D, internal and corporate comms and other teams early on, can pay dividends.

Colleagues outside recruitment might want to get actively engaged from the beginning (and their support might strengthen your business case for funding). Or they might just want to be kept informed so that when the time comes for changes in their areas of work, they can draw on the employer brand for direction. Either way, engaging a breadth of colleagues might mean you end up with a branded employee lifecycle anyway – which helps to ensure that the people you work hard to attract stay, because the promise made in your recruitment communications proves to be real across other employee touchpoints.

Employer brands work best when shared.

The most successful employer brands aren’t just owned by the project teams; they are built with input from, and subsequently owned, by employees whose views, ideas and feedback should have been sought as part of the process of development. So why not tell them how their input helped shape the end product by launching your employer brand internally?

A launch can be as high profile or low key an affair as is appropriate for your institution.  But it helps on two fronts. Firstly, it recognises that your colleagues have the potential to be the greatest advocates for your organisations as employers. If they feel affinity with your employer brand, they will sell it to your target recruitment audiences. Secondly, it will help to drive engagement specifically amongst your recruitment and hiring manager communities: rather than receiving a new toolkit with instructions to ‘use from now on’ (which they will likely ignore) they will understand what they’ve got, how it is was created and, most importantly, how it will help them. This will help drive the consistency of approach to recruitment look and feel we at TMP know you crave.

Start off with an idea of what success looks like – so you can measure it.

Employer branding is all about supporting organisational performance by facilitating the attraction,  retention and engagement of the people who are going to drive and deliver against strategic aims.  So, at the very start of a project like this, it’s always good to be clear how you’re going to gauge whether it’s working. 

With the recruitment imperative in mind, it’s very easy to focus on tactical measures such as time and cost per hire.  Absolutely nothing wrong with these – and to them you could add other measures, such as hiring manager feedback on quality of candidates. 

However, there is something else to consider: if you are better able to hire following work on the employer brand, it will be because your target recruitment audience feels more positive about your organisation as a place to consider working. That is, their perception has shifted. So why not measure that? 

Key message here? We all like the feeling of satisfaction that comes from a job well done. So if you’re going to invest time, energy and budget in your employer brand, make sure you can evidence how well it’s doing by measuring it.

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