Employer & Education Marketing – Helping you stand for something
By Suzy Kostadinov
People often ask what I do, and for lack of a more accurate reference point, I might tell them think Madmen’s Don Draper. I work with words, I’ll say, as I light another Cuban and tuck into today’s liquid brunch with a knowing swagger. Ok, but in all seriousness, the enigma surrounding my profession is now further compounded when I add in the employer and education marketing factor. ‘So like advertising?’ ‘Yep’. ‘For like, people?’ ‘Uh huh…’ However, when it comes to our creative raison d’etre in the industry, I like to think of it as a real step up the integrity ladder. I’m no longer peddling mere commodities, but dutifully representing the organisations and institutions behind them - some of which are doing pretty incredible things. So, what is this employer/education lark when it’s at home, you ask?
While I’m not exactly an industry ‘old timer’, I have worked for all manner of businesses throughout my professional life. All boasted their own unique quirks, flaws, and charms. And culture-wise, within the comfortable confines of their (usually) four walls, all were very different. We’re talking different planets - worlds apart, speaking different languages with different political and social systems, but 9 times out of 10, orbiting the same objectives. So, think of it this way: a great employer/education brand, will give your planet an identity, and its own gravitational pull.
Among my various professional conquests, I’ve worked for start-ups, and found myself on more than one occasion in the thick of endless debate, conjecture and flip-flopping about brand image - and the issue always came back to one burning question: ‘what do we actually stand for?’ or put another way, ‘what are our values as a business?’ And this is where we are truly of service. Getting our fingers on the throbbing pulse of every business and pinpointing their truths. Because, ultimately, these determine everything else.
Millennials, Gen Z, change agents, delta force disruptors - and sundry, call them what you will. In today’s digitalised world, they’re nothing if not discerning. They are looking to see that authentic declaration of values, identity and culture that resonates with them. Career choices are suddenly less about ‘which company I want to work for’, and more about ‘who do I want to represent - are they ethical? Are they inclusive? Are they adding value to this chaotic world?' Suddenly branding is not just pretty packaging, a catchy ad slogan, a viral campaign – it’s heart and soul.
Emotion-led marketing is the little black dress of the industry; it never goes out of fashion and every brand is trying to find one that fits. Talent attraction is no exception - half the job is finding that emotional ‘hook’ that says ‘This means something. You can get on board with this’. Good education and employer brands know that students and professionals want more than a means to an end or a day job, they want to be part of something. Data finds out what, emotion (aka us airy-fairy creative types) find out why. And it’s vital that we get it right.
That’s because the Internet doesn’t forget, and it rarely forgives. Social media and review platforms like Glassdoor provide an instant, merciless peek at the inner workings and perspectives of companies from the frontlines. Everything is suddenly open to public scrutiny and in some cases, irreparable condemnation. Businesses who claim inherently harmonious and collaborative work environments can have their reputations shredded like a latter-day Banksy - as employees past and present place discrepancies and misdemeanours under a spotlight as unforgiving as kebab shop lighting. Honesty counts.
So, standing for something is less about what you want to stand for (we’d all love to claim we stand for saving the world) and more about recognising what truly differentiates your business from your competitors. This might mean putting those aspirations of glamorous go-getters or planetary defenders aside and embracing the unsung hero or delightfully quirky nature of your business. Everyone has their strengths.
Of course, working on an employer brand for a company who actually are downright decent, or who are genuinely making a difference is always pretty awesome - there’s nothing more satisfying than working to bring these qualities to light. After all, integrity goes a long way. People will boycott brands based on poor marketing decisions, political leanings, work ethics, unfair pay, bad interview techniques, the list goes on. And rightly so. Take Nike - they took a calculated risk by featuring Colin Kaepernick in their campaign, knowing full well it would alienate a large percentage of their buyers. But it was worth it, because it reinforced their reputation with the other half, and of course, drove their sales skywards.
All of our employer brands are the product of thorough research and finding the common ground amid a mass of often discordant voices - because, unsurprisingly, it turns out people’s perception of a company or institution can differ vastly from leadership level through to intern. My job? It’s honing in on those characteristics which all agree are fundamentally 'them'. It’s using those findings to compose your unique anthem, and getting all your people singing it from the same sheet. It’s hitting all the high notes and hopefully not breaking any windows in the process. And ok, there might be some metaphors involved.