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Why Marketing Needs to be Responsible for the Employer Brand

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Consider this, recent research in the Harvard Business Review states that 60% of surveyed CEO said they believe responsibility for the Employer Brand (EB) should be in the Marketing. Here is why I agree with that conclusion. And, another study highlighted the fact that: 60% of the CEOs surveyed said this responsibility lies with the CEO. For the sake of this article: Let’s take up the Marketing Department route here.

Let’s begin. HR in most cases wants to own all of Employer Branding; in fact, 58% of HR executives say HR should own it. So, the prevailing conventional wisdom and practice suggests that HR be the current and accepted home for most Employer Brand initiatives—but is it the best home? In this article, I suggest a paradigm shift.

In my Employer Branding career which began with Monsanto in early 2002, I have worked on: 1.) creating large global (worldwide) EVPs and Employer Brand Programs (both inside the US and in a foreign world region offshore location; 2.) large US nationally focused EVPs and Employer Brand Programs; 3.) small regional focused EVPs and Employer Brand Programs for several firms that draw their talent pools from a single American state.  I led these efforts out of HR and Talent Acquisition, interacting constantly with my Marketing colleagues. And given my 16 years’ worth of EB experience, I have found that the better model is to domicile the creation (development, execution, etc.) of a firm’s EVP and Employer Brand Program out of the Marketing Department.

Consider this, the Marketing Department is where your product or service brands are administered. Tight product or service guidelines are in place to steer and nurture the brand. Constant brand research is done to monitor and augment/protect the brand. And this is where the human capital and the creative talent is housed. These people do brand work 24/7.

They use market research principles, market surveys, customer satisfaction surveys, focus groups, and mystery shoppers as part of the work; not to mention the fact that these people should know how to sell your company. Their tasks also include: identifying the target clients; researching the target client group; developing the brand positioning; developing the messaging strategy; test marketing; developing the product or service name, logo and tagline; developing the content marketing strategy and developing the website. Why not apply all of these principles and resources to the creation and execution and administration of the Employer Brand? Also, this department generally has a pretty large budget which might not be subject to deep budget cuts and the whims of hiring freezes and layoffs campaigns. We all know that HR departments are always first in line for the first round of budget cuts during contracting periods.

But, surely and obviously, HR’s input and contribution is needed to help support the Employer Brand strategy daily– which will aid talent attraction and employee retention, but marketing the company can  be entirely left to the Marketing professionals. Also, Marketing is an-house resource that is already in-place, so why not use it to save on (precise) dollars.

Let’s think of it this way. Creating an Employer Branding strategy involves among other things: conducting research (about your firm’s attractiveness) through focus groups and survey campaigns targeted at job seekers, recent hires, recent alumni,  universities, college students and etc. Then you will need to develop differentiators and a positioning statement which will flow into to your Employee Value Proposition (EVP).  And who might be best at conducting customer research and sussing out and defining your firm’s differentiators, etc.— here is a hint: the Marketing Department. You will also need tools which will vary with the firm, but a critical tool is the Career website; again, you might want to turn to your internal folks who create and manage your firm’s overall main website. Finally, comes the launch of the Employer Brand, both internally and externally; your Marketing Department should be the best at your firm in launching your product or service brand—so, why not let them do the EB. And, it is both cost effective and proper to use your existing in-house Marketing resources to handle the Employer Brand.

In fact, when HR (itself) is tasked with developing the EVP and the Employer Brand, guess who they turn to?—they turn to expensive external global Consultants and big named global Ad firm. This is costly. I was recently involved in such an effort. The various specialized Ad firms and Consultants presented us with cost proposals ranging from a modest (in their view) $270,000 dollars through to $1.7 million dollars and finishing off at a staggering $3.1 million (for a full blown EB Program complete with all the “bells & whistles”)

Clearly, HR needs to certainly play a key role (before and after the EB launch) in defining and shaping: the many Employee benefits and offerings; the culture; and the work environment but I suggest the “heavy lifting on the Employer Brand be left to the Marketing professional”. Additionally, why lose control of the EB project and turn it over to an external Consultant or global Ad firm; keep it inside your organization and have your Marketing department handle it.

Who manages the Employer Branding permanently and long term is another topics, I will write about in the future in this space.