Here at exaqueo, we had the good fortune to partner with Bari Polay, Head of Employer Brand, to build the new employer brand for MarketAxess. Their new employer brand line, “Take Us There” launched in April 2023. Recently, we took some time to reflect on Bari’s experience building and launching the MarketAxess employer brand and what it means for her personally.
Julie Serenyi (JS): Why was employer brand important to MarketAxess? What led you to start this journey?
Bari Polay (BP): Let me give you some backstory. In 2020, during the thick of COVID, our former CIO went to Mary Sedarat (then our Chief Marketing Officer and now our current Chief Experience Officer) and indicated our marketing team spends their time and money helping us acquire new clients, but that if we aren’t able to hire engineers, we won’t have a platform to market to clients. This was the motivation she needed to create the employer brand position, with the person being tasked with developing the strategy and story around who we are as an employer and why talent should come to work for us.
I came across the job by accident. It was a simple google search for ‘employer brand jobs’ that turned up the job posting because there was almost no digital footprint for MarketAxess. Everything I learned about this hidden gem of a company was through the interview process. I was excited about being at an S&P 500 company with the energy, size, and potential for growth of a start-up, but the stability of a big company - a grown-up start-up, if you will. I jumped at the opportunity to have the privilege of telling this story.
JS: Why did you choose to partner with exaqueo on your journey?
BP: We did not take the traditional RFP approach. I had a pre-existing relationship with Susan from a previous role and we stayed connected. I was really impressed by the exaqueo pitch and the focus on the entire employment lifecycle. This was a mentality that we shared, unlike many other companies that are focused solely on talent attraction. I liked the idea of a smaller company to partner with. A large agency didn’t feel like the right fit for MarketAxess. The flexibility of exaqueo’s offerings and approach was very appealing.
JS: Research is essential to our process and a key element to what makes working with exaqueo so unique and the work product so connected to your business. Can you share how the research helped MarketAxess?
BP: We had done some research in the past in order to develop our culture principles, but we did not have enough true baseline data to effectively develop an employer brand strategy. The research that exaqueo conducted allowed us to uncover perspectives that weren’t necessarily surprising, but they were authentic and validated some of our assumptions. What came through loud and clear in the research is that employees know exactly where we are heading and what we are working towards and that became a key element of our strategy. The questions that you all asked, and the way in which you asked them, allowed us to uncover employees’ experiences. These techniques helped uncover a different way of looking at ourselves, like that working at MarketAxess feels like an adventure. We are doing something that is totally uncharted; it is not going to be a smooth process; it takes a certain type of person to want to work in a place like that. It really framed the experience of working here. It was very telling for us how we could position ourselves in a way to attract the right people and turn away those who wouldn’t be successful here.
JS: How did you inform and educate stakeholders throughout your brand journey? Did anything get in the way of your journey?
BP: It was really surprising and goes back to the belief in this work at the highest levels of leadership, but we had zero resistance. Initially, we had a broad group of stakeholders that sat in, but then we realized we didn’t need everyone at every step. Instead, we brought them in at key points and educated senior leaders on various milestones and deliverables. Once we landed on "Take Us There" with exaqueo, we knew we had nailed it and had the confidence to bring it to our then-CEO, who loved it and continues to be our biggest advocate. We had so much buy-in and support, and it's been so validating for me to be at a company that truly believes in the power of this work.
JS: Bring us up to speed on where you are today. What did you choose to focus on internally and externally? How did you localize for key markets?
BP: We’ve been really intentional about getting the word out and that meant starting with launching internally. We've been really surprised at how supportive and excited people are and I think it is because of how authentic the messaging is. We are continually finding ways to embed our employer brand without it feeling forced.
We began the activation in New York, where we did a large takeover – handing out our "Take Us There" hoodies and plastering our walls, windows, tables, floors, you name it, with our new messaging and creative. We then expanded the launch to London, Hong Kong, and Singapore, where we did mini-takeovers. We hosted a global town hall that explained what employer brand is and the strategy and meaning behind it and followed it up with lunch and learns for employees that wanted to go a bit deeper into the strategy. We also held parties in our major offices, which doubled as celebrations of our 23rd anniversary as a company.
We followed up the official launch with the distribution of hardcover copies of what we call “The Little Blue Book” – a physical guidebook into our culture, values, and experience of being a MarketAxess employee, that is meant to serve as a constant reminder of why our employees are here and what we are working towards. We’ve updated our recruiting communications and email banners, our digital platforms, and even launched “Take Us There” awards at our summer Sales Kick-Off Meeting. We are also gearing up to launch our new careers website (thanks to you!), and have many other things in the works both from an internal and external standpoint.
We wanted the rollout to be organic and authentic, and I think we launched it the right way to achieve that.
JS: Your employer brand strategy is centered around the brandline, “Take Us There.” What does this mean to you personally?
BP: I talk about this a lot. “Take Us There.” ‘There’ is the BIG there - the electronification of the bond market, which is the goal of everyone at MarketAxess. Everyone can connect their own purpose to the BIG there. So, for me personally, I’m helping tell the story to recruit and retain the people who will build the solutions and expand our market penetration to help take us there. There are also lots of little theres - short term, individual goals we all have. For example, for me, that’s launching our strategy and getting it in front of our employees and candidates.
‘Take’ is so empowering and motivating. It screams action and shows that we are all having an impact on shaping the future.
So many companies frame themselves as “we,” but that can be exclusionary. ‘Us’ is really collaborative. You feel a part of the team before you even come here. It gives you a sense of purpose. Even if they are not direct, your contributions will help to take us there.
JS: What was your favorite part of the journey to bring your employer brand to life?
BP: Our NYC office takeover was installed on a Saturday and I couldn’t be there at the very beginning of the day because of my kids, but I remember standing in the lobby to head up and I was so full of nervous energy knowing I was about to see "Take Us There" on the walls. My heart was racing, and it was such a crazy and overwhelming feeling. This was the culmination of two years of work, including being out on maternity leave for six months and our launch getting pushed back. It was the first time I was able to take a brand from early days to delivery to launch and I couldn’t believe this day was finally here!
JS: If you could provide one piece of advice to another practitioner looking to build or refresh their employer brand, what would it be?
BP: Be patient. This is not a process that can be rushed. While there were times that I wish things moved along faster, I think things have a way of working out. You need to be agile, pivot, and be comfortable with doing that. It is not always going to be linear. You might need to take a step back and get stakeholders involved, for example. Be patient and know that, in due time, it will work out the way it is supposed to.
The exaqueo team wants to give a big ‘thank you’ to Bari Polay for sharing her time and story with all of us. We encourage you to check out MarketAxess and connect with them on LinkedIn. If you’re interested in learning more from other employer brand professionals, check out these posts with Allison Kruse, Global Employer Brand Leader at Baxter, and this one with Jennifer Beyer, Employer Brand Lead and Future Maker at Fannie Mae.