What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Who is the greatest female tennis player of all-time?
Who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of the greatest all-time stand-up comics?
For centuries, many people have engaged in fun, spirited, and engaging debates. If you put highly opinionated people together in a room, and start off with a topic of discussion, the back-and-forth conversation could last for hours upon hours. People even make a living off the art of the debate. That’s how we have shows like First Take, Pardon The Interruption, and the Sunday morning political shows. The idea for The Guinness Book of World Records came about when Sir Hugh Beaver, attending a shooting party, got into a debate with his hosts on which game bird in Europe was the fastest. You can probably think of some good debates you were involved in recently.
Debates are a intricate part of shaping our thinking about certain topics, and employer branding (or EB for short) is no exception. The “chicken or the egg” version with EB is who bears responsibility for taking the lead, the CEO, HR, or Marketing? Good arguments can be made for all three entities, but my answer is this:
Yes, meaning all three have a shared responsibility.
Before we delve into why I came to this conclusion, let’s review the arguments for all three. The CEO is the head of the company, and in some instances, the face of the company. They are where they are not only because they have made good decisions in the past, but also they embrace the company’s values and mission, and are very passionate about those things. There is plenty of talk about “champions” within an organization (those who become advocates for certain things), but there is no ultimate champion in an organization than the CEO. Famous “champions” of employer branding include Sir Richard Branson of Virgin and Larry Page of Google. Their passion for putting employees first is why their companies annually are at or near the top of the Best Companies To Work For lists, and are why CEOs should have a role in EB. If they embrace employer branding, others within the company will be sure to follow suit.
HR has a role in employer branding as well. Part of employer branding is communicating to a targeted audience what is appealing to them from a company culture standpoint. HR helps form the team and maintain company culture by recruiting and retaining the right people for that company. Employee engagement, a responsibility HR is tasked to maintain, is crucial to keeping talent at a company. Happy employees are productive employees, and keeping them engaged and motivated helps employees become “brand ambassadors” by spreading the message of how awesome it is to work at your company. If HR continues its advocacy of culture, of coaching, and not managing, and offering clear career paths for advancement, and giving employees the tools (a.k.a. career training and development) on how to get there, then this is an example of a company’s brand getting stronger. It just needs to be communicated at that point internally and externally, which leads us to the final player in the game…
No one in your organization (perhaps outside of your CEO if he/she is good at it) is better at appealing to certain groups than your marketing team. They stay afloat of the latest trends in terms of demographics, their behaviors, their purchasing habits, where they get their information from, etc. They will be well-versed in your target market and know which content marketing strategies will get them aware of your product or service and will ultimately convert those people into buyers. In the world of employer branding, utilizing their targeting and communication strategies will be crucial in making your targeted recruiting group aware of how cool it is to work for your company versus others. This is something that your HR department and your CEO may not be as strong in.
So why is employer branding incumbent upon each of these 3 working hand-in-hand together? Marketing may know how to appeal to an audience, but they know it at the consumer level, not the employer level. HR knows what it takes to have a winning team, but content marketing is not their specialty. The CEO may be your best advocate of them all, but most experts agree that EB is more effective if that message is coming from lower-level employees, and they may have made their name in something other than marketing. Even if they are strong marketers, they will need to rely on others to achieve effective change. The point is that each of these three lacks something in order to effectively implement and maintain EB, and so they must work together to achieve just that.
Each entity provides a strength to another entity’s weakness. Ultimately, however, the CEO must be on-board and a proverbial “champion” of the cause if EB is to be most effective. It’s like football, where a quarterback or a running back may have suggestions as to how to attack a defense, but it’s ultimately up to the head coach to be on board with it too or else those suggestions go to the trash can. But every coach needs their players to execute well or the whole team loses. Similarly, The CEO needs HR and Marketing to do their part; otherwise, your EB strategy is only as good as the paper it’s written on. There’s no debating that.