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Marketing and HR – successful partnership in employer branding

While HR and marketing strive to create a brand that people want as part of their everyday lives, marketing focuses on customers, while HR supports and develops employees.

With employee engagement in the US steadily declining from 36% in 2020 to 32% in 2022, marketing and HR need to partner now more than ever, not only to identify what the brand is, but also how it manifests itself. both the employee and customer experience. According to US specialists, in today’s war for talent, employee satisfaction far outweighs benefits and PTO. It requires an employee to truly believe in a company’s purpose and have the tools to act on it.

According to Shelby Hawker and AdAge, an effective purpose will not be something held exclusively by marketing as a customer promise, nor will it be held exclusively by HR as an expression of your values. Rather, brand purpose should be a north star that is equally meaningful to employees as it is to current and potential customers – linking the growth agenda with the talent agenda. An effective purpose is something that employees would say is for them as much as it is delivered by them.

According to Hortensia Nastase, Vice President Creative Service Lowe Group, in the group she represents they have always had this mantra: Happy People Make Happy Clients. How has the client-agent-employee paradigm changed and why now? Because we are dealing with the phenomenon called The Everything Shortage. Where does it come from?

“Paradoxically, precisely from the fact that we live in the most affluent times in history. We are coming off relentless economic growth, but we are also experiencing shortages in all aspects of life: shortages of nails, shortages of soya beans, shortages of gas and, yes, above all, shortages of labour. Why? Because we are at a turning point, when Gen Z are entering the labour market, so they become an important target for employers in all industries,” said Hortensia Nastase.

In the battle for them, the difference is the employer brand: the organisational culture, the internal vibe that creates the external reputation, the EVP. Building these is the prerogative of a task force made up of management, HR and marketing teams, whether in-house, external agencies or mixed. And where does the difficulty come from? From the fact that Gen Z, at least in Romania, is a generation that has known nothing but affluence, wealth, upward mobility.

Hortensiei Năstase, Vice-President Creative Service Lowe Group, despre politica de marketing si HR

“This is a generation that does not know the concepts of lack, hunger, scarcity. It is neither the merit nor the fault of this generation. It’s just the result of the evolution of society, on a macro level. Today, we are preparing for difficult economic times, we see big tech companies laying off 10% of their workforce just as a precautionary measure, it is hard to believe that a recession is not coming, so this is the first real crisis this generation is facing, which sociologists have called the snowflakes generation, because of their fragility and sensitivity,” explained Hortensia Năstase.

With tools in hand

Their creative agencies, Mullen and Golin, already have experience of many employer branding campaigns with notable results for clients such as Electronic Arts, HTEC Group, Schwartz IT, Sphera, Telus International, Groupama, Accenture.

According to their own statements, the difference between them and other agencies offering this service lies in two pillars: The suite of data tools they analyse and through which they find out the behaviours of the target in any sector, their stereotypes and the most important touchpoints, and then extract the hottest insights which they turn into relevant campaigns especially for that specific target, and the involvement of a team of specialists with experience and expertise in this area of employer branding, made up not only of specialists in communication, PR, creative, digital, but also from the areas of HR, strategy and business management.

They don’t throw any bullets in the dark, everything is built on a well known internal playbook that allows the focus to be on new creative solutions.

Raluca Marinescu, Head of Employer Branding & Integrated Communication Division GMP PR

At GMP PR, according to Raluca Marinescu, Head of Employer Branding & Integrated Communication Division, as consumers, they do research before investing in things that matter to them and will impact their lives in the long run, such as homes, cars, technology and holidays.

“I, for example, have been hovering over a phone that won’t cooperate for half a year, and after so many months of research, I’m still having a hard time deciding. Now let’s imagine we’re looking for a job. Isn’t that at least as important as how we spend our vacations or how we choose any other product we hope will change our lives? After all, we spend half of our time in a job that not only provides us with financial support, but can influence our whole existence, our well-being, our relationships with others,” said Raluca Marinescu.

It is therefore natural that most job seekers do research about a company before considering applying for a position. For many, it matters less about a higher salary or a host of benefits and more if the company has a bad reputation.

“Just as through marketing consumers become attracted to products and are convinced of their usefulness, by building a good employer reputation companies will attract the right candidates and increase retention of existing ones. Hence the effectiveness of this type of collaboration between HR and marketing and communication departments, which contributes to a brand’s image, a company’s reputation,” said GMP PR representative.

Moreover, according to her, marketers already have the necessary expertise and tolls at their fingertips, combining them with the expertise and resources of HR departments can create the best strategies, both to increase satisfaction and engagement of existing employees and to build the image of the employer externally. And when internal and external communications meet, the two departments can ensure they build brand reputation effectively. 

“For a successful employer branding strategy, the key elements are a strong EVP, a great creative and communication strategy and constant performance measurement. Employer branding, by its simplest definition, is the mix of how a company is promoted to job seekers, and what employees say about it as a place to work.

Therefore, the role of marketing and communication experts intervenes right from the definition of the Employer Value Proposition (EVP), from the first steps of this process, from data collection and analysis, to measuring internal and external perception, to building the employer brand and promoting it further internally and externally,” added Raluca Marinescu.

Incidentally, GMP PR’s employer branding department has been on the market since 2018, in response to a specific need that the agency’s representatives felt at that time in their clients. In the meantime, this need has grown, as more and more companies, from all fields, have started to be interested in the topic. This was certainly also an effect of the pandemic, when companies realised how much their employees needed support, balance, a constant in their lives.

“After that episode, coming to recent times, once people regained their balance, things took a different turn and other challenges arose: from the great resignation, to quitting, to employees having two jobs at once, either part time or even full time. And with this turn of events, the challenges have also increased, both on the retention and recruitment side.

As an agency that has already consolidated its position in the area of employer branding, we have been in great demand this year to support companies and find the best solutions to manage all these challenges. We have had requests both from brands with whom we were already doing employer branding and who are now constantly working on maintaining their employer image, and from companies for whom we were offering other types of services and who in the current context felt the need for a refresh in terms of their perception on the recruitment market,” added Marinescu.

Moreover, as Ioana Mucenic, CEO of Minio Studio, points out, employees are no longer simply part-time workers. They have become brand ambassadors, official and especially unofficial. Their energy can make or break a project, a team or even an entire company. As we automate more processes, as routine and repetitive work becomes increasingly rare, human value, energy, creativity, innovation, empathy, leadership – all become more important.

“The energy of people can make or break a project, a team or even an entire company. So it’s natural to see them as just as important as consumers. Every company is responsible for the happiness of its employees, and it does this through company culture, work environment, processes and other tools that agencies don’t have an impact on. If a company is not healthy internally, no agency initiative can change things,” said Ioana Mucenic.

As agency representatives, Mucenic believes they have objectivity and know how to distill large amounts of information into clear and empathetic communication.

“We manage to formulate an EVP well, connect multiple communication initiatives into a cohesive platform, identify strengths or weaknesses in how a company to employees or potential employees, see opportunities to address internal tension.  Often companies don’t see the forest for the trees, they don’t have objectivity or clarity and it’s perfectly natural that this should be the case.

Communication in the area of employer branding is very sensitive, as it’s like having access into the belly of the beast. You have to tread very carefully, build trust, be able to access real people and not just questionnaires, take internal sensitivities into account. It’s a tougher job than talking to consumers,” added Mucenic.

Pandemic changes

It’s no longer news to anyone that the pandemic has brought about a number of changes in how employees relate to the workplace. People have become much more aware of their needs, of the importance of flexible working hours, and the possibility of working from home or in a hybrid system is no longer seen so much as a benefit as a necessity.

Anca Catarambol, Chief Talent Officer la Publicis Groupe România

On the other hand, “the labour market has to adapt not only to this new reality, but also to the challenges brought by inflation and the ongoing conflict across the border with Ukraine. Employees need security now more than ever, and as hard as it may be to believe, it is precisely this need for security that may drive many of them to change companies more often and more easily.

Recent studies point to a worrying phenomenon. If until recently we were talking about ‘quiet quitting’, now companies around the world are facing what we call ‘quick quitting’ – more and more employees are choosing to resign within a year of employment to try new jobs and opportunities,” said Anca Catarambol, Chief Talent Officer la Publicis Groupe România.

And this, Catarambol believes, is where the contribution of marketers can best be seen, which has become increasingly necessary both in the process of attracting new talent and in retention. Because, now more than ever, the companies that enjoy outstanding results in this area are those that best understand that the employee is also, in a way, a customer.

“As marketers, we come with a broad perspective. By the very nature of our business, we are used to looking at a situation from multiple perspectives – in this case, the company’s and the employee’s – and we have the context and tools to understand both perspectives. I don’t think I can over-emphasise that it is vital for employers, in dealing with their own employees, to eliminate double standards. What is mandatory to have a happy customer is equally important to have and keep a happy employee,” said Anca Catarambol.

Thus, through the Data tools that Publicis Group owns, through the experience gained from so many campaigns, it can quickly identify the shortcomings behind problems in retention, for example, and come up with creative solutions for them, developing the right experiences for the companies’ employees, so that any perceived gap between what is offered to customers and what is reserved for employees can be improved or even eliminated.

According to international experts, marketing and HR need to partner now more than ever – not only to identify what the brand stands for, but also how it manifests itself in both employee and customer experience.

“When we do employer branding analysis, we see a dissonance between how the company is positioned externally, how consumers see it, and how it communicates internally. This gap, between external and internal positioning, is more the norm. Sometimes they even diverge – companies with friendly communications, who want to be fresh and humorous, are very strained on the inside.

We’re already seeing that we’re in the midst of a revolution, the biggest in decades: work from anywhere, militant Quit Quitting movements, full-time dual-job employees, focus on well-being, massive automation, 4-day week. Managing all these changes requires focus. It can no longer be one concern among others, managed in between two recruitment meetings,” said Ioana Mucenic.

That’s why “we are also seeing the rapid growth of dedicated teams, these employer branding teams that bring together marketing and HR expertise. This new expertise – employer branding – shows that more and more companies understand that the era of funny posters and office parties is over. The future of work is increasingly complicated.  It takes new skills and 110% focus to build a company from within that people want to work for. Employer branding campaigns are a hot-topic now,” said Minio Studio representative.

In addition to the projects it already runs for clients, the agency has won new projects and is even in a regional bidding process. Ioana Mucenic has noticed that the specifics of the requests have changed, as they are now much more complex.

While some time ago it was one-off campaigns, recruitments, internal communications, now they receive large requests to do communication audits, to develop a medium-term employer brand building plan, reconfigurations of junior programs, integrated internal & external campaigns. “We are talking about much more strategy and planning and not just responding to one-off needs,” said Ioana Mucenic.

According to GMP PR, the employee’s experience with the company is as important as the customer’s experience with the same brand, with both perspectives contributing to the brand’s image. When implementing a campaign to improve the perception of a brand, multiple methods, tactics, activations and channels are used, and communication starts internally and continues externally.

“An employer branding campaign works in a similar way, starting with a communication strategy that reaches multiple audiences and continuing with implementation through communication tactics that start from internal audiences and then extend to external audiences. In both cases, the aim is to ensure a consistent and appealing brand image,” said Raluca Marinescu.

Moreover, the experience of agencies in implementing brand and communication strategies is extremely advantageous and supports HR departments when it comes to applying the same methods and principles of product branding to an employer branding strategy.

Starting with positioning, developing with key messages, the graphic and creative side, and ending with the tactical side and implementation of the whole strategy, all this expertise will be found in communication agencies.

“And if the agency can cover all these services, the partnership with the brand becomes all the more advantageous and can guarantee the desired results, from the impact such a strategy will have on the internal environment, to the impact and perception in external environments.

Companies today understand that people are looking for a strong brand culture. Job seekers want to make sure they apply for a job in a company that is aligned with their core values, they want to have as many benefits as possible and they want to know how it can improve their daily lives. They pay attention to work-life balance and want to know that the company values mental health,” added the Head of Employer Branding & Integrated Communication Division of GMP PR.

According to Anna Catarambol, what’s on the inside reflects on the outside. A strong brand starts and builds from the people inside. Day in, day out.

“The customer experience with a company is shaped by many elements (from the actual quality of the product they purchase, to the marketing and communication campaigns, and not least the direct interaction with the employees of that company). But it all starts with the employees.

An employee who properly understands the company they represent and work for, respects it, and in turn feels valued at work, assimilates everything that company stands for much better and passes this on in what they do. Happy employee, happy customer. To achieve this, it is important that all the elements are aligned, that there is consistency and that employees feel they are treated the same as customers,” said Anca Catarambol.

In terms of demand for employer branding campaigns, Publicis has seen a growing demand in this area in recent years, which signals to the Chief Talent Officer a growing awareness of the need for change in the relationship between employers and employees. In addition, more and more events (conferences, workshops) dedicated to employer branding, as well as competitions, are appearing and it is a subject that is currently enjoying a lot of attention from companies, HR professionals and marketers.

In your own backyard

But what about in your own companies? How hard is it in 2022-2023 to recruit and retain teams in the Romanian marcomm industry today? Why?

“For the creative industry, of which we are a part, and especially for agencies, one of the main challenges has always been given by the very nature of what we do. It is a field where the average age is lower than in other industries, with many young people choosing to start their careers in agencies, where they gain experience, and then migrate to other related fields or other types of companies. What we have always strived to do at Publicis Groupe Romania has been to ensure, on the one hand, a working environment as flexible and attractive as possible for these young people but, at the same time, with clear opportunities for professional and personal development,” said Anca Catarambol.

Moreover, employees are regularly discussed on these topics and encouraged to talk openly about what they think can be improved, where they want their careers to go, and together they look for the best options.

In addition, Publicis Groupe Romania has launched a series of projects and initiatives aimed at young people who want to work in the creative industry, such as the School of Big Ideas – an apprenticeship programme designed to address the most important specialisations in the communications industry, namely Media, Creative and PR, which has gathered no less than 410 candidates for the first module, dedicated to Media.

Regular surveys are also planned for retention, finding out what employees think is good and where there is room for improvement. Of course, all this is also followed by actions to improve the minuses that emerge from colleague feedback. In addition, they have adapted to the changes that have occurred over the last two and a half years, so that they have adopted a hybrid way of working, but also the possibility, through the Work Your World programme, for every Publicis Groupe employee to work for six weeks from any country where they are based (and not only) and thus discover new places and new cultures.

And for colleagues who come to the office, there’s the famous breakfast, welcoming them each morning in the cafeteria with yoghurts, coffee and hot croissants and encouraging socialising.

“With all our experience in employer branding, we have also encountered new challenges, both in terms of recruitment and retention. Over the past two years our teams have been as fluid as they are for most employers. But it’s precisely this experience that has helped us get through these phases more easily, because we already know how to adapt, how to change what’s not working and how to highlight the strengths that position us as a good employer.

We’ve always had an ace up our sleeve, from collaborations with former employees who have since become freelancers, to expanding collaborations with suppliers on new services for both them and us, and even that coveted flexibility, both in terms of workspace and contract,” said the GMP PR representative.

For them, the team has always been very important. And that’s because they’re aware that it’s people who keep partners and colleagues close.

“We have made every effort to constantly pay attention to what our people want, listen to them, understand their needs and make sure we are there for them every step of the way, and we have tailored our benefits package in line with what we have learned from them. Today we have a super strong loyalty program, both for seniors and newer colleagues, and a constantly updated super benefits package, with which we can always compete with top multinational employers,” explained Raluca Marinescu.

The localisation programme ranges from extra days off, to participation in development or relaxation-oriented events, to a city break or a month-long sabbatical. And the benefits package is not only up to date, but also has modular parts, with colleagues having several options to choose from: a psychotherapy package or gym membership, meal insurance (we’ll even forget to worry about ordering), work from anywhere weeks (from relatives in the countryside, mountain top or exotic country, as long as we have internet access), a hybrid of agency work combined with working from home, short Fridays, insurance packages and special vouchers for colleagues who are parents.

“I consider the recruitment process to be as easy or complicated as we make it. Yes, it can be difficult to find the right people, but that very much depends on how much you’re willing to invest in the process, be it resources, energy, time or finances. As for retaining teams, it can only seem hard if you don’t have that right formula, the right man in the right place.

It sounds cliché, but in order to keep a person on the team it is extremely important to have chemistry all the way through, both between that person and the rest of the team, and between that same person and the brand or brands they work for. So if the right person is in the right place, then retention is not a real problem. And in order to achieve this perfect formula, I believe that it is the recruitment process that makes the difference,” concluded Raluca Marinescu.

Ioana Mucenic 1

And although Minio Studio employees say in internal reviews that the best thing is the team, according to Ioana Mucenic, for them, recruiting is difficult, often joking that they choose people like they do for NASA.

“We’re not picky, but we’re looking for specific profiles, certain attitudes towards life, work and clients. And we know that whenever we find that profile, that person will stay with us longer, integrate easily and perform. In 2023 we will expand the team with roles we haven’t had before, so we are excited, we hope to find the right people with us, with the right skills. We expect it to be a tense year – clients are negotiating more and more intensely amidst shrinking budgets, while employee demands are increasing given the inflationary context,” said Ioana Mucenic.

In the Lowe Group, retention and recruitment have always been the main focus and this is where all business planning started. Of course, they are no exception to the rule, and the volatility in the labour market affects them. But they’re always trying to stay one step ahead of the industry, to stay the best place to work, and to provide employees with a work experience that makes them better people in every way, and for potential colleagues, to be a step ahead and help them grow.

“We have reinvented ourselves in the Work-from-Anywhere paradigm, a long-term, committed model for our group whereby we have the flexibility and all the resources needed for performance, efficiency and productivity.

We were the first group in the industry to set this standard, which involves a number of benefits for employees such as: short and exclusively remote Fridays, through the Light Friday Forever program, which we were happy to see other agencies in the industry have adopted; the Remote Weeks program, where we can combine weeks off with remote work weeks from anywhere in the world; or Graduation Days, which means days off in addition to the standard ones, according to the years spent in our team,” said Hortensia Năstase.

Furthermore, from the beginning of 2022, they have extended the extra pay packages with a number of financial benefits, including a monthly allowance to partially cover work-from-home expenses, daily vouchers for lunches served at the office, and home-to-office transportation.

What would they like to change? “To make the advertising industry great again. Because today we are seeing a decline in the younger generation’s interest in this industry where you work hard and constantly and you have to be really passionate to get into it and, more importantly, to stay in it, when there are plenty of offers from related industries or start-ups. And this cannot happen without the involvement of the new generation.

Gen Z & Alpha come with a different perspective on life, on the urban narrative, on communication in its essence – and I am confident that many of them will fall in love with this industry, understand that the impact they can have on people’s lives through communication is huge and want to get involved,” concluded Hortensia Năstase.

For her part, Raluca Marinescu would like more and more companies to understand the importance of employer branding and invest more in positioning themselves from this perspective. This awareness comes with smaller and bigger recruitment problems, but also with the moment when the sign of equality is put between client and employee.

“While the ideal mix for employer branding is collaboration between HR and marketing and communications departments, unfortunately there are still many companies where this dynamic is not working. So what I would like to see in 2023 would be better cross-departmental collaboration, because only this will ensure the best results.

There are still too many organisations that don’t have a dedicated employer branding expert, and even if they do, that person often works alone and separately from recruitment or communications, or at least doesn’t have the same goals. In an ideal world, every company would have such an expert in-house and a team to be part of and support them to achieve common goals,” said Head of Employer Branding & Integrated Communication Division of GMP PR.

“This is not something I want to change, but on the contrary, to continue long into the future. It is a process implemented at Publicis Groupe Romania level, where every manager becomes a talent manager.

Based on the belief that united teams, with an efficient way of working and where each member feels appreciated and useful, have coordinators who put people at the centre of their concerns, a programme dedicated to leaders has been started, through which they are helped to develop the mindset and skills necessary for this. It is a programme designed to complement all the other measures taken at Group level to attract and retain talent,” concluded Anca Catarambol.


Source: Biz Magazine