As the Indian public relations (PR) industry set upon a fast-track evolutionary path over the past decade, a wide range of services – public affairs, creative, digital – were added on and each played a role in our growth. Each deserves several columns of its own, but here I will focus on one that speaks directly to a strategic challenge that most businesses are facing today – finding and retaining talent.
Creating employer brands is just one of the ways businesses have responded, and it has set PR and HR communities abuzz. But what exactly is employer branding and what is the opportunity in it for PR?
Not everyone can be replaced
What most businesses don’t understand is that an employer brand involves a lot of work within before you can actually communicate it. For example, you need to get your values in place and culture right first. You can’t simply wake up one day and start communicating. (Remember the old saw about no amount of marketing being able to rescue a bad product?)
It’s worth the effort – industry estimates say companies that invest in employer branding are three times more likely to make a quality hire. Also, it follows that companies that don’t invest in their reputation as employers are likely to spend more on acquiring talent.
This is important because we’re experiencing how tough it is to get quality staff – and no one knows this better than the Indian PR industry itself. Business performance is getting to be impossible without a great team, but talented employees are tough to get, very tough to retain and nearly impossible to replace. Businesses understand that it is these employees who ensure the company achieves its goals.
That’s why you don’t need just a ‘body’ but an inspired person who brings realistic, impactful solutions to the table. If your organisation doesn’t project itself as the right place for them, you’ll lose them to competition.
The PR opportunity
Agencies can help businesses make their employer brand a daily focus. Our tools are best suited to tell the stories that need to be told.
Employer branding is about defining, managing and communicating the organisation’s image and aligning it with the employee experience. As with regular PR, an image exists whether you manage it or not. You’re far better off being proactive in order to shape the brand. A good employer brand will not only communicate what the business is all about and what the employee gets out of it, it will also underscore the link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction.
How an agency can help:
• Managing and monitoring conversations and reviews on sites like Linkedin and Glassdoor
• Driving positive – and honest – reviews, often by incentivising employees. It not only neutralises negative reviews, it’s critical for proactive communication
• Encouraging positive use of employee social media handles
• Painting a picture on the firm’s owned digital assets on what it’s like to work for it
The aim is to bring alive the emotional connections that team members make with the organisation, and drive home the brand messages. You can’t communicate them externally without first making them part of the organisational DNA.
But it’s not easy.
Our experience has been that such campaigns cost more but typically, especially in India, budgets for such work have been small. What’s the ideal budget? Assuming a Rs 1-crore annual PR budget for a brand, anything less than 20% for employer branding would not work. This is still a very small number but it’s early days yet.
Also, many businesses start the campaign enthusiastically but lose interest as retainers start making a dent in the communication budget without showing instant results. Like with reputation, the arc for employer branding can be slow but it has huge payoffs.
Also, it’s a time for reducing costs. A good employer brand, as explained above, saves costs in the long run but it’s tough to explain that to investors and shareholders.
As with any communication effort, there are risks and the road can be long and winding. However, this is will become mission critical for all businesses in the years to come. It translates into a great opportunity for the PR industry, one that we should seize now.
(The author is the co-founder of Pitchfork Partners, a strategic communication consultancy.)