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Ready to invest in your employer brand? 6 things to consider before hiring an Employer Brand Manager

Wow. In the 10 years I’ve been in employer branding, I’ve never seen it blow up quite like it has this past year. It seems like everyone is hiring for employer branding and recruitment marketing. Small startups. Massive enterprises. Tech companies. Hospitals. And everything in between. Even more exciting for me and my employer branding counterparts is how many places have gotten the green light to hire their first person to launch it. After spending years watching this function be considered as a “nice to have,” it warms my heart to see it truly embraced. Finally!

The pandemic was (is?) a hot mess, prompting a ton of radical changes in the workforce and causing everyone’s head to spin. But it wasn’t all bad. If anything, it forced companies to consider employee experience more seriously and adapt to the changing market.

For someone who’s mostly worked remotely since 2012, I appreciate the switch to remote-friendly workplaces because it creates a more inclusive and flexible environment. I also love seeing employees take a stand for things that matter to them from DEI and well-being to better pay and flexibility. Workers are no longer playing around with companies who don’t treat them well or aren’t trying to make the world a little better.

Another interesting thing to come out of these last two years is that companies can no longer hide behind their fancy office designs and the ridiculous idea that ping-pong tables equals culture. When most of us were forced to work home, all of that was stripped away and made us question what was worth staying with our employers.

Also, companies can no longer sweep bad behavior under the rug. Employees dgaf about openly and loudly shedding light on poor practices and work environments. If you fire them, they’ll likely have another job offer a second later.

It’s a candidates’ market, baby. We’re just living in it.

Companies who don’t meet these expectations are feeling the pain of their employees leaving in droves, and places who haven’t lost their talent (yet) are taking note. They know they need to not only step up their game, but also be loud and proud about what they have to offer.

Queue employer branding and recruitment marketing. 👋 Hi there. We’ve been here the whole time, and we’re glad leadership is finally seeing our value.

So there’s a purpose to this ridiculously long backstory. I promise. It’s to show that employer branding isn’t as simple as hiring someone who’s good at stuff like social media, writing, and creating cute visuals on Canva. Sadly, many people hiring their first employer brander think it’s enough to have a recruiter, coordinator, or internal comms person moonlight as a talent brander. Or maybe their limited budget will only let them hire an intern or someone fresh to the workforce.

I’m not saying this can’t work, I’m just saying it will be tough to make enough traction to keep up with this wild market AND compete with the many companies now investing in employer branding.

Don’t worry though. Even if you’re a tiny company starting out or a mid or large company ready to jump in, you can be successful.

But in order to be successful, you need to get your expectations in check and do the legwork to make sure you set up your first employer branding person to be successful too. Here are a few things you should consider before hiring someone.

What are you trying to solve?

Get specific here because it’s going to help you understand the skills, partnerships, and resources you’ll need. To throw out a blanket statement like “becoming an employer of choice” or “to increase hires” isn’t good enough.

Look at your hiring plans for the next year. For the next three years. Who are you trying to hire? Where are you trying to hire? What are your business goals and how will your teams evolve to support that? What initiatives are in place to enhance your employee experience? Who are you up against when competing for talent? What’s going on in your company’s industry? In the talent market? When it comes to hiring, employee engagement, and retention, what’s working and what isn’t?

Of course the pandemic showed us just how little we can predict things, but we can try to get a clearer understanding of what our hiring needs are and what can impact it to the best of our ability. By understanding this, you can map what you need and which skills are essential to support your goals.

What skills are absolutely essential?

The interesting (and hard) part of employer branding is that it's basically a branding, marketing, communications, and creative department all rolled into one. There’s a lot to juggle, and that can be tough for one person to handle.

Can one person do a ton of varying tasks? Sure. Can they do them all super well without some form of support or resources? Probably not.

For us in the employer branding space, it peeves us when we see job descriptions requiring a ton of advanced skills in a range of areas. You want a brander who is a social media and copywriter who also has advanced skills in video and graphic design programs, can coordinate massive events, can support internal comms, and be a program manager for DEI? Yikes.

You’re not just competing against other companies for talent, you’re also competing against all the other things out there trying to gain your target talent’s attention. This includes marketing and entertainment teams with massive budgets. (Oh…and the influencers too. Can’t forget about the influencers.)

To stand out from the noise, you need to be able to invest in building the right platforms to connect with people. If they’re stretched thin or don’t have the right skills, you’re setting this person up for failure.

That said, you need to consider what you need this person to handle and determine what they can outsource to internal teams or vendors (more on that later).

For your first employer brander, you’d likely benefit from someone who is both strategic (big picture) and an excellent executer (in the weeds). Now, when I say they’re good at executing, I don’t mean expecting someone to be a social media-copywriting-web designing-email marketing-event planning guru. I mean being able to handle a couple of those things well and effectively project managing other specialists to do the rest.

Where will they sit?

I don’t mean in the office. I mean what team will they be on. Every company does it differently. I’ve seen this person sit on the People team, the Talent Acquisition team, the Internal Comms team, the Corporate Comms team, and the Marketing team.

Depending on the skills needed and resources available, you’ll want to think about which team and/or manager will best support this person’s career, role, and growth. You also want a manager who has the right influence to help remove roadblocks and deal with the fun politics of the corporate world.

Regardless of where this person sits, they’ll need to have strong connections with each of these departments…which brings me to my next point.

What internal partnerships have you put in place?

It takes a village to make employer branding work, so who internally have you gotten bought in and committed to help make this happen? As I mentioned, the person you hire needs to leverage others to get everything done.

Before you hire someone, have you talked to the department heads and relevant managers to explain what you’re doing? How will this person impact the corporate brand? PR? What brand guidelines do they need to adhere to? How can they make sure they’re informed on what’s going on at the company and/or inform others (like HR, internal comms, etc.) on what’s going on in their world?

More importantly, who has committed to offering bandwidth and resources to help push projects forward? Just because your creative or web dev teams are bought in, doesn’t mean they’ll have the bandwidth to prioritize employer branding projects. Most people in this role will tell you how often our projects get pushed down on the priority list, deadlines zipping by one disappointing day at a time.

If you’re not getting that commitment or aren’t confident they’ll follow through on it, then you need to make sure other resources are available to fill that gap.

What resources can you offer?

Unfortunately, most of these resources are going to cost money if you can’t do it in-house. So I hope you’re ready to make a case to secure budget. Whether it’s a tool or a vendor, you’ll want to get a sense of the typical cost when pulling together your budget request. Without this budget, you’ll run into delays or will struggle to do things that make an impact.

Here are some things to price out. Again, what you need will depend on what you’re trying to solve and the infrastructure you’ll need to support it.

  • Employer platform costs (e.g., LinkedIn, Glassdoor, etc.)

  • Contractors (e.g., designers, copywriters)

  • Producers (e.g., videographers, photographers)

  • Tools (e.g., social media tools, website platforms, CRMs, employee advocacy tools)

  • Ad spend (e.g., paid campaigns, sponsored jobs)

  • Sponsorships (e.g., event sponsorships, partnerships with DEI or universities)

  • Physical assets (e.g., collateral, swag, booth design)

  • Consultants (e.g., EVP and messaging development)

There are plenty of other things to look into, but this is usually a good start. Some of these might be a little too much for the first year since branding takes time to establish. However, it’s safe to say you’ll want to focus on infrastructure and foundational things. This includes building your anchor messaging (e.g., EVP), setting up the platforms to reach the right candidates, optimizing your career site, figuring out visual language, and crafting foundational content (e.g., blogs, videos, social).

What expectations do you have?

I’m sorry to say that building momentum in employer branding takes a while. Just creating the foundation and infrastructure alone can take a few months, and that’s before getting to the actual recruitment marketing part to engage candidates.

You need to get real about what you want this person to accomplish and to ensure you’re not overloading them with unrealistic expectations.

If the foundation/infrastructure will take a good chunk of their effort for the first 3-6 months, what are some smaller, tactical, instant-gratifying projects they can do too just to make small strides to support immediate needs? Is it doing a Q&A LinkedIn Live event with your recruiters and hiring managers? Is it throwing together a casual open house meet-and-greet? Is it connecting with employees to amplify their authentic stories on one of your platforms? Is it working with your employer partners (e.g., Built In, PowerToFly, etc.) for sponsored content or boosting job postings?

There are small things your employer brander can do that won’t pull away too much of their attention from their bigger task. If your leaders want to see these quick wins, this can be a good way to appease those pressing for it without compromising the deep work your employer brander is doing.

Just remember, patience is key.

So, if you’re ready to invest in employer branding and recruitment marketing (which I highly suggest, and I’m not just saying that because I’m in it), be sure to do the groundwork first before posting your job.

A bad job description that seems unclear or like it’s combining too many expertises into one role will be a major red flag for branders. They may question if your expectations are realistic or if you have the resources available to help them do a good job.

This role is in hot demand, and there aren’t a whole ton of us out there. You’ll have a better chance of attracting the right person if you present the role in a decisive and realistic way in your job descriptions and share more concrete answers about the role during the interview process.

It will also help ensure you’re interviewing the right people with the right skills that will support your unique needs. Good luck!

Have questions about hiring your first Employer Brand Manager? Harlow can help! Contact us here for a consultation call.


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