Art & Commerce: Be True to Your Brand

As an advertising executive, you build brands for a living. But, like the cobbler whose children have no shoes, you may overlook one of your most obvious clients: your employer brand.

In a talent-short market, developing your firm’s reputation as an employer of choice becomes vital. Without question, demand for professionals such as interactive strategists and seasoned account managers exceeds supply. These workers have options, and they are more likely to join firms that have an enticing image.

Of course, that image also must be accurate, in terms of an organization’s values and culture. If a firm claims, for example, to have a supportive learning environment, but in reality employees are thrown into situations where they sink or swim, the brand makes a promise it doesn’t deliver on—never a wise move. Following are four strategies that can help your firm build an authentic and compelling employer brand:

1. Know whether you’re a Rolls-Royce or a Mini Cooper, and market your firm accordingly. Most agencies would develop entirely different advertising strategies for these vehicles, yet when it comes to promoting their firms to potential employees, they may use a one-size-fits-all approach, posting generic want ads in every location, hoping the “right” candidate will present himself or herself. Instead, create customized job postings that speak to the essence of your firm and why it’s a good place to work. A useful exercise is to interview your top performers about what they like about your work environment; their views could be different from your own. Also, find out where your best people go for industry news. Their responses may help you identify new venues for reaching target candidates. For example, a copywriter might point you to a Web site that’s flush with passionate wordsmiths in search of work.

2. Get a handle on the competition.

Know how your firm’s offerings stack up against others in your area. Use industry salary guides to determine average pay rates in your city, and try to provide salaries above the going rate. If your organization isn’t in a position to compete in terms of compensation, you can gain an edge by offering alluring perks. In a survey by our firm, two-thirds of professionals said flexible schedules might cause them to choose one job over another. Similarly, telecommuting proved a popular benefit, with one-third of respondents saying the ability to work from home might lure them to another firm. Once you know how your company’s chief assets compare to the competition, you’ll be better equipped to promote your firm.

3. Be a brand ambassador. When hiring for in-demand positions, the interview is a sales job. You need to showcase not only the benefits of working for your firm but also your skills as a manager. Career-driven professionals want assurance that they will be treated well and can learn from their supervisors. Small slights such as taking a phone call during the interview or making someone wait more than a few minutes before seeing him or her send the wrong message. Give candidates your undivided attention when meeting with them, and emphasize attractive aspects of your culture. Showcase the work your firm has done that you are passionate about, and have interviewees talk with other enthusiastic staff members who can share their perceptions. Finally, keep in close touch with top contenders during the hiring process. Optimally, you want to move quickly to secure the best hires. If this isn’t possible, you can at least keep the lines of communication open.

4. Don’t forget grassroots public relations. Never underestimate word-of-mouth in influencing your reputation as an employer. This is particularly true in smaller markets that have tightly knit creative communities, such as Dallas or Columbus, Ohio. Offer incentives for employee referrals, and keep on friendly terms with departing staff members in good standing; you may win them back down the road. Also, recognize that today’s new art school graduate may be tomorrow’s creative director, so reach out to budding creatives early and often. For example, you might offer to serve as a guest lecturer at a local advertising school or participate in a portfolio review. Offering encouragement and support to those just starting their careers is a smart way to generate goodwill and give back to the creative community.

Just as brands must evolve to stay healthy, so must your recruiting strategy. As an advertising expert, you have the skills to develop an image that resonates with the professionals you want to hire—it’s just a matter of putting your talent to good use.