Human Resources Today

Order to chaos. A 10,000 piece puzzle. Moving mountains. Herding cats.

These are all sentiments I’ve heard clients use when they were trying to build an employer brand for their organization. Sounds fun, right?

Developing an employer brand is so much more than popping up a Facebook careers page or writing an employee value proposition (EVP).  When done right, it’s a strategy, not a project. A way of life, not a one and done deal. And that’s what can make it so daunting. I know, I’ve been in your shoes!

There are a number of key things to consider when building an employer brand. Once you’ve decided to begin, and you’ve decided that an external partner should be part of the journey, the real fun begins.

To RFP or not to RFP?

Getting started often means checking in with your procurement team. Depending on your organization’s policies, budget size, or other requirements, you may have to issue a request for proposal (or RFP). This often starts with a request for information (RFI) where you ask a large number of firms to declare their interest in your work. Then, based on their answers, you narrow it down to a few (usually 2-5) firms you want to receive formal proposals from. It’s an important decision, so here are a few things to consider:

Why choose to select a partner without an RFP?

  • It takes less time both on the selection and the decision-making front

  • You’re not required to evaluate for criteria that procurement requires

  • You often have more flexibility in what you ask partner candidates to provide and in what format

  • You can still research and interview partners, check references, and share a brief, but on your own terms and timeline

Why choose to select a partner by launching an RFP:

  • Your organization requires it

  • You have the time and want to carefully consider partners against a matched set of criteria

  • You want to involve stakeholders in the decision-making process

  • You want help in the decision-making process (procurement has the experience in evaluating prospective bidders)

  • You want to see how partners perform against each other (i.e., in live pitches)

Both options have value to them, but they also have drawbacks. It may help to seek out other employer brand professionals who have done it before and can help you think through what works for you. Most partner candidates have done both and can talk you through it from their point of view as well.

Beyond the Process

Regardless of the route you choose it’s important to remember that successful partner selection doesn’t just depend on your partner candidates, it depends on you too! Be clear and concise in your brief and your ask. If you’re too general, you’ll get wildly different offerings (and costs!) and if you ask for too much, firms may feel like the investment isn’t worthwhile. For example, we once were asked to be a part of an RFP process where ten firms were competing and the proposal required an exceptional amount of time and travel investment. Partner candidates absolutely understand the cost of business development, but if you make it too arduous, you may not get the diversity of suppliers you need to participate in the process. (<--Click to tweet!)

What are some other ways you can set yourself up for success? Consider scheduling. If you’re inviting partner candidates to pitch, spread the presentation times out and be as flexible as you can (though partner candidates should understand that with executive stakeholders, that’s not always easy). If you’re having finalists present in person, choose them as quickly as you can to allow time for booking flights or travel.

Being Clear About What You Need

Whatever you decide, you’ll want to develop a brief that summarizes your goals, needs, current state, and timeline. This brief will help you define and align the engagement with internal stakeholders and ensure that partner candidates submit the right information. Some elements to include in the brief:

  • The ask: what are you asking from partners—what is it you want them to do?

  • The results: what spells success?

  • The budget: do you have a budget or range you’re working within?

  • The stakeholders: who are the key players, what are their roles in the engagement, and what matters to them?

  • The proposal timeline: what are the steps in the process and how long will they take?

  • The engagement timeline: do you have internal milestones or deadlines to reach?

  • The submission: what needs to be submitted for consideration in the process?

Find the balance between getting the right information and asking for too much. (<--Click to tweet!) Remember, you have to wade through all of the submissions!

One Last Element to Consider

There is often a call for spec work, or speculative work, during a partner selection process. This is where you ask a partner candidate to design and develop creative work and ideas as part of the proposal process. Like many in the brand and advertising industry, I don’t support the idea of spec work. While we always respond to what is asked in the proposal process, spec work is risky, and, most importantly, can’t be done well without research. While partner candidates can share ideas of how they might activate your brand, without understanding your target audience or doing the research to determine the right channel activations, the creative is just a guess.

How can you solve for this? Ask partner candidates to not only share examples of creative brand activations, but also why they made the creative choices they did.

Questions? Don't hesitate to ask. This really only scratches the surface on the partner selection process! There’s much more to consider, so please reach out if I can help. I’ve been on both sides of the process so I have a unique view of how to make it through successfully. Talk to other professionals too—get their feedback, experience, and advice. What have you learned in the process? Share below!


Susan LaMotte (@SusanLaMotte) is the founder and CEO of exaqueo, an employer brand experience firm building employer brands and the talent strategies that drive them through research, consulting and creative and digital execution. Contact exaqueo to learn more about our employer brand innovation, workforce research and recruiting strategy offerings.


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