News happens when you least expect it. Over the weekend, McDonald’s announced it was firing its CEO for a consensual relationship with a coworker. The relationship violated company policy and Steven Easterbook, the now-former CEO, walked away with an estimated $70 million package. He also stepped down from his seat on the Walmart Board of Directors. The value of the package was justified by the company’s Board after they determined this offense was not egregious and his termination was “without cause.” But public opinion varies on the topic.
If you’re an employee, it’s hard not to react in some of these situations. After all, his compensation was estimated to be 2,000 times more than the average employee. However, as employer brand leaders, we are responsible for the health and stability of the organization’s employer brand and when crises arise or news breaks, we have to be prepared.
Whether it’s goodwill, business news, or a damaging incident, every story has an affect on your brand. In the past, HR has relied on our colleagues in PR to promote the company’s good news and leverage damage control for any of the bad news. To have a pulse on today’s talent, we need to think about our role as employer brand leaders in these scenarios and avoid missing out on the immense opportunity they present. How? Here are three key things to keep in mind:
1) Measure Brand Perception
When news like this breaks, it’s important to know how it’s affecting brand perception not just from customers but from candidates and employees too. After all, if you’re in a big hiring season, trying to meet key hiring goals, or even preparing for hiring events, knowing how and to what degree news is affecting or driving sentiment can be really important to your strategy. One way to do this? Measure employer brand perception on a regular basis. If you have the measurement set up and running regularly, you can easily pull the data and proactively address.
2) Arm Recruiters and Hiring Managers
Candidates ask questions — and when news breaks, they can’t help but ask recruiters what it means or how it might affect the business. And even when they don’t ask (often afraid to do so), they are still thinking about it. It influences both their decision-making process and the influence they have on others when they talk about their job search and candidacy. An important step when news breaks is to have a communications plan to arm recruiters with talking points, FAQs they may expect, and key messages to reinforce. Train them as well as hiring managers on how to address controversial and challenging topics.
3) Evaluate Current Media
McDonald’s current employer brand strategy features headlines like “Bright Futures Start Here” and “Ready to Be Made at McDonald’s.” Headlines and advertising, especially with engagement and commenting opportunities found on social media, can result in message takeovers in these scenarios. There can also be existing media buys and ads with messaging that conflict with headlines and news. It’s always a good idea to quickly review what’s out there and make sure you’re not setting yourself up for audiences to use the messaging as unintentional. After all, that $70 million compensation package? Mr. Easterbrook certainly was made at McDonald’s.
Employer brand often struggles for resources and respect. Situations like these can be your chance to flex your strategic muscles and prove the importance and value of employer brand. All in all, these news scenarios and PR challenges don’t happen often, but they happen more often than you think. And the only way to respond is to be prepared.