The Employer Branding Debate: Who Owns It?

When it comes to the employer branding debate, it’s not so much about the brand itself. Perceptions and feelings people have toward a workplace exist with or without actively managing them. The debate is more around how an organization is structured to support it. Many responsibilities fit distinctly under specific functions within the organizational chart. Benefits administration aligns to human resources, business development sits within sales, and helpdesk support falls under information technology.

For employer branding, it's not as cut and dry as you may think.

Here at exaqueo, clients have asked us, “who should own employer branding?” Maybe you’ve asked yourself the same thing. From an organizational perspective, typically the question is whether to position employer branding ownership within HR, communications or marketing.

Why the debate? We believe it’s because a strong (or weak) employer brand not only affects attracting and acquiring talent, but many other impactful areas: retention, on-boarding, employee engagement, productivity, internal communications, corporate culture and even consumer marketing. Few positions have the cross-functional influence employer branding can have. Even less impact the entire employee life cycle—from pre-applicant to alumnus.

Before you decide, strategize.

Knowing your company’s needs and objectives is critical to placing the employer branding responsibility in the right place. Only then can you strategically make the best organizational structure decision. Begin by asking yourself and your leadership team pointed questions, such as:

  • Why is employer branding important to our business?
  • What do we hope to achieve by actively managing our employer brand?
  • What are the intended outcomes? Which of these outcomes has the greatest potential to help our business?
  • Do we see that employer brand affects the whole employee life cycle (not just recruiting) and are we prepared to support that?
  • Will the employer brand position have responsibility for talent attraction and/or retention, employee communications and/or engagement? Which departments currently have ownership for these responsibilities?
  • Is there alignment (or desire for alignment) between our consumer brand and employer brand?
  • What role will consumer marketing play?
  • Who has the budget to support headcount, provide training, and obtain the tools and technology necessary for success?

In many companies, HR knows employees best and the primary purpose of employer branding is for attraction and recruitment. In that case, ownership under HR is the clear choice. However, if your employer brand function or practitioner(s) is/are expected to develop and execute employee communications and engagement campaigns, then internal communications may be the better fit. And, if your organization wants to ensure all brand initiatives are strategically aligned to the master brand, marketing may be the right place.

A holistic, strategically aligned employer brand strategy impacts talent attraction and retention. “What we’ve seen work well is when employer brand and HR are aligned with communications,” shares Susan LaMotte, founder and CEO of exaqueo. “HR has to own the employee experience and communications has to support that. Many leading companies prefer that HR owns the employer brand because employees are their audience (just like customers are marketing’s audience).”

If siloed, employer branding cannot be effective.

Regardless of where the role sits within your organization, it’s vital whoever is in the driver’s seat effectively collaborates across the organization. The employer brand manager and/or team needs to effectively navigate your company’s matrix, build trust and a network across geographies and departments, and demonstrate value to:

  • C-suite Leaders by demonstrating the value and impact of a strong employer brand strategy to tie bottom line.
  • Human Resources by helping to improve the candidate experience, applicant tracking system, recruitment goals, employee value proposition, etc.
  • Marketing by supporting social strategy and aligning to the overall corporate brand.
  • Communications by engaging employee resource groups, amplifying awards and recognition programs, and supporting change management initiatives.
  • IT by partnering to improve the career site user and mobile experience, and implement new HR/recruitment technology.
  • Legal by acknowledging trademarks and employee policies.

“While I know ownership decisions can be difficult, it’s really important to have a unified front behind the brand,” affirms LaMotte. “Several Fortune 500 companies are beginning to merge internal communications with the employer brand team—because they’ve realized that the brand comes first and communications builds on that.”

We know there are many perspectives on this subject. So tell us, where do you think employer branding belongs?

Shannon Smedstad (@shannonsmedstad) is a Lead Consultant & Project Manager for exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps organizations build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about our employer brand innovation, workforce research and recruiting strategy offerings.

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