Alex Her Employer Branding post-COVID

Today on the RecruitingDaily podcast, I have a friend of the firm on the show, Alex Her. Our topic today is “Employer Branding grows up in a post-COVID world.”

So we’re going to talk about employer branding, and we’re also going to kind of dig into what we think it looks like in a post-COVID world, plus maybe some of the things we should be doing now to get ready.


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William 0:33
Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. I have a friend of the firm on today, Alex. He’s actually with Acoustic, and he’ll tell you a little bit about his job and all the stuff that he does. But the topic we’re gonna be talking about today is about Employer Branding grows up in a post-COVID world.

So we’re going to talk about EB but we’re actually we’re really kind of dig into what it what we think it looks like in a post-COVID world and maybe even some, some of the things we should be doing now to get ready for that. Alex, would you do us a favor, do the audience a favor and both introduce yourself but also introduce Acoustic?

Alex 1:13
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Thanks, William. You know you, you’re one of the biggest names in the space. So it’s an honor to even be on the podcast with you so thanks for having me. As you mentioned, I’m Alex Her, I work for Acoustic. We are one of the top marketing companies out there. Previously a spin-off of IBM so very, very much if you want to call it a start-up and go from there.

However, I run the employer brand and talent attraction on a global level. So I’m here building up the shop. The whole ground up, the EVP, working on the recruitment marketing. This really worked to galvanize the culture and share and tell that story externally.

But aside from that, I also sit on the board for the Talent Brand Alliance. So a bunch of other folks like myself, you know, connecting with thousands of others across the globe, handling the marketing and I also sit on the group of leaders for the Employer Brand Wagon out of Australia.

William 2:18
Very cool. So when you’re building there, are you building a practice for Acoustic? I mean I know you do the work. Your team does work for Acoustic but do you also help the clients?

Alex 2:30
Um, so I just sit on the Employer Branding side. So yeah, Our folks, they work with us to provide different marketing solutions, whether it be with content. Yeah, no, all the good stuff that goes with that. But sorry, I sit more on the talent acquisition side working with our internal and external folks.

William 2:52
Right, right. Well, it’s funny, because with some agencies, you know, the, you’ll find the folks that do the internal stuff and do the brand. But then you’ll find people like Craig Fisher did it for Allegis, where he would go out and do EB for clients of Allegis. So that’s why I wanted to make sure I understood exactly where you sit and what you’re doing.

You’ve been doing EB for a long time, so you’ve kind of seen the cycles of technology, and even awareness and things like that. So let’s talk about COVID. And what’s happened during COVID from your perspective in EB, and then we’ll pivot and get into what we think is going to happen post-COVID. So just give us the high level of what you’ve seen over the last year.

Alex 3:43
Um, you know, what I’ve seen over the last year, which feels like a couple of years actually.

William 3:49
Yeah, dog years. Yeah.

Alex 3:51
Yeah. So I feel like it’s been there’s been a huge shift, right? The whole work from home phenomenon, which people thought was going to happen five years from now. We were suddenly able to make the switch in 48 hours. But people are embracing that. There’s a there’s a change in your work from home culture versus the office culture.

So people are embracing that, okay, this actually should be one thing and not siloing your remote workforce or your workforce that actually doesn’t live in the same country. So that has changed. More than focus on like you know, and there were companies that were great about this before. But the focus on okay, you have these great products right, like we have great products at Acoustic

We had great products at Informatica when I was there, you know the Facebooks, the Googles, all these other companies. But what real-life problems and challenges are you fixing and solving? That matters to people now. So that matters, the kind of content you put out there matters quite a bit too. The whole content marketing.

Also, the stats are going to take as it relates to a lot of the social issues we were having, either prior to COVID but more importantly, when during the times of COVID with social injustice. Just, and I think it’s it’s easy for folks to look at, okay, hey, let’s celebrate, like, you know for myself being Asian American, okay, let’s celebrate Asian American month. Okay, well, you know what, that doesn’t cut it anymore, right? Where, what was your stand on BLM at the moment? What is your stance on Asian hate crimes? Like that does matter.

William 5:27
Yep. It’s gonna matter more. Especially, you know, we’re pivoting a little bit, but where you know, the generations that are younger, they care about that stuff more than we do. They’ll ask those questions in the recruiting process that I wouldn’t have. You know, the generations before, they might not have brought up social issues in an interview, or even pre-interview, they wouldn’t have brought those things up. And now it’s table stakes. There. Yeah. Go ahead.

Alex 5:58
I agree. And I think it could a matter of Okay, hey, that was common practice not to ask those things, right. Or, you know, now you actually have people out there, you know, people who were like voices of change, saying things. I know, for myself growing up, early on in my career, I was not allowed to do that.

You know, you pretty much had to stick with the status quo and not say much. But I think last year, I know for me, personally, it gave me a chance to. I saw a lot of people who I respect in the space who were like, you know, they’re gonna say something about it.

They are that confident in their own personal brand and the work that they’ve done. That, okay, hey, if it doesn’t work out here at Company A, Company B will be there. People will stand out that this is, it’s not just a trend, this is something that you believe in. And you can say something that’s true, but also to your point that, the next group of workers coming in, I mean, they’re gonna look at that and say, it’s great, you got these foosball tables and break rooms. You give me a hot, you know, a sabbatical and free beer, but what are you doing for me? That does matter.

William 7:00
Right. So EB in the past has been a lot of different things for folks. But it’s generally it’s been kind of, how do you market culture and values, and behind the veil, the work. What gets done, etc. With remote kind of destroying the idea that work has to happen in a box and at a place. How do you, how do we market that in the future? Like, what are we going to be? What do you think are gonna be the anchor points of employer brand in the future?

Alex 7:39
Well, I think what you need to look at it and it’s good you raise up those points. You know, it’s not just to be pinned down to one location. It’s going to be okay, hey, well now you can work from home. Okay, what’s the benefit? Like are we still offering internal mobility? Because, you know, I would say prior to that, you need to be the most super social person and proactive to really make a difference, if you’re not in the office. The watercooler conversations make a difference.

But aside from that, it’s okay, hey, yes, you can work remotely but what else are we giving you? Are we going to offer you a brand new desk? Because you know, desks were pretty premium early on in the pandemic. You couldn’t find anything to save your lives. I mean, the stuff that you and I use now, I honestly didn’t do a lot of this stuff that I’m doing now with podcasts and webinars. And it was a pain in the butt to find this stuff.

So simple stuff like that will actually come across really well under EB if you say, Hey we’re a company,  so what we are going to, not just give you the ability to, to grow with us and stay remote forever. We’re gonna actually to give you a Yeti mic and an amazing webcam. And we’re also going to give you two screens, a stand-up desk, a pad underneath your, your chair, so you can stand up, sit down. Like those things are going to matter.

And I don’t think we consider those things, but not just that. It comes down to Okay, hey, you know, maybe we’ll even give you a free Netflix account, you know, to balance things out. Or a learning subscription to LinkedIn Learning. Which, you know, it could be good for some. You know, people have different opinions on that. But access to other programs. Ways that it really can enhance that process or the culture, if you want to call it that, while you’re at home.

Because in most cases, people are not going back to the office. That’s just, I know there are some articles that have come out in the last couple of weeks where they’re saying, hey, companies are investing back in the office. But a good majority of companies are not doing that. If anything, they’re making hybrid offices. And you know, it’s something to consider.

William 9:47
Yeah, it’s interesting how people are going to evaluate commute in the future. Now that I mean, COVID, it’s unlocked this for us, right. And again, a silver lining to so many people going through so much pain is that we used to think nothing of an hour commute. Or something like that. And such, especially in some of the bigger cities is like, yeah, it’s just, it is what it is. Yeah, the job is there and you commute. So what. You know, listen to or learn a language, whatever. But I think it’s interesting. I think as we talk post-COVID and employer brand, I think the commute is going to be huge for people.

And again, that kind of bleeds into your hybrid workforce, workplace. Flexibility, you know, people are going to be really interested in what does work flexibility look like, and also remote. So, you know, people are gonna look at commute as one of those two, one of those things you go. Do I really want to spend 45 minutes of my life each way, or an hour and a half of my life a day in a car?

Alex 10:54
That’s true. And I don’t think it’s, prior to COVID it was a strong negotiation tactic, right? It’s like, hey, what brought you here, we’ll increase the salary. But, I mean, you saw people early on during the days of COVID with like, I’m gonna take this money from the Bay, move to Montana, and call it good. Yeah. And even afterward, when companies were taking off five or 10%, if you stayed over there, you’re still saving, you’re saving money. You’re saving your sanity, and you’re saving the wear and tear on your vehicle.

William 11:22
Yep. Yeah, that’s those are gonna be important points. What do you think candidates are going to be asking? Like I have in my mind, and again, we’re just talking about the future, so we could be completely wrong. But I have in my mind that candidates are going to want to know how companies managed COVID.

Alex 11:44
Yeah, I agree.

William 11:45
And I might be wrong in that. But it’s just in my head for some reason. Like, I just maybe I want the desire for the candidates to be that probative. In terms of like, what did you do? Like, how did you manage this? What do you think candidates are going to ask?

Alex 12:00
Um, so I can, I can speak to that from being one of those candidates during the pandemic. But also my views afterward, like yours, as well as that. When I was interviewing for roles, and you know, just having small conversations with hiring managers. That wasn’t asked, it was okay, what did at that time? What did you do during the early days of COVID? Did you support your people? Did you force them to come in? Did you actually give them some sort of, in terms of support, okay, did you help them out with stuff?

You know, because people were working on their kitchen tables, you’re going to give them a desk? Then an actual full functioning, working laptop. But aside from that, what did you do to stand up to things? Did you just, when all the social injustice stuff happened, did you simply put a Maya Angelou statement out there and call it good? Did you donate 2 million bucks to this cause as a tax write-off? That’s it let’s call it a day. That’s, you know, it is a tax write-off.

But did you change your policies internally and externally? Aside from that moving forward, you know, what have you done to change? You know, if I were applying for a job after COVID? Setting down with, okay, do you have ERGs? This should have been a question before, but do you have ERGs that are going to support people like me? People like my coworkers? Can I actually make a difference?

And then the same questions I mentioned before about, about COVD, but aside from that, you know, what are you doing? Are you just gonna, you know, revert back to pre-COVID? Or are you accepting, hey, this is the way it is now. We are going to be better about that. We’re also gonna look at the best ways to, you know, not just flights. It’s one thing to fly people all over the place.

You know, I love traveling, I travel a lot globally. But, you know, when push comes to shove, you want that balance in your life. You know, if you travel, you want to be traveling for fun with a balance of work and personal pleasure. But if you’re traveling too much for work, what does the place do to address that? And just the, you know, aside from that, the overall benefits they’re giving you. What are different than was there before?

William 14:02
Right. Right. Then we’ve seen the benefits providers get real flexible there too and tackle things like mental health. And, and, you know, again, well-being, wellness. All kinds of cool things there that I think hopefully, we’ve, we’ve learned through COVID, but it will stick, you know, post COVID. So let me give you a magic wand. And I want you to build, because I think is for the folks that are not steeped in recruitment marketing or employer branding. They, they don’t really understand it. And so I want to kind of get into that, especially post COVID. And that’s the magic wand part.

So if you were building out a brand new practice, and you could build anything, you can build whatever you needed to build, what type of headcount would you have, what type of technology would you need, and what outcomes or measurements would be important to you?

Alex 15:00
So practice in terms of like an employer branding practice?

William 15:03
Yeah, you’re going to a brand new brand. So pick a favorite brand. Patagonia. And they’ve been, they’ve done nothing there before. And they are, you know, a wonderful company, but they’ve done nothing there in employer brand. What do you do, and the CEOs tell you, hey, listen, we’ve done nothing here. You’ve got a blank check, build it.

Alex 15:25
Okay. Ummm.

William 15:27
In a post COVID world, by the way. In a post COVID world, so no restrictions.

Alex 15:34
So, I always refer back to actually the team that got me into EB in the first place, because it was one of the first teams even available. So that was the mix of, you know, what I have in mind. But I would say it would be one person, myself, leading from the top. And then I would have a few recruitment marketing strategists. As well as a few folks who are focused as employer branding strategists, and then two social individuals.

One that would be focused on the different events. And like you said, it’s a COVID environment. So it’s going to be both, in a post COVID environment. So it’s going to be physical events as well as virtual events, and then a full-out social person who would run out the strategies, working with the recruitment marketing and employer brand strategists to push up the strategies.

And then along with that, let’s see, I would also have a few Katrina Kibbens on my team who would actually go through and fix the job descriptions. Because that’s, that’s always something that we’re tasked with do and with the other million things we have to do. And then let’s see,

William 16:55
Who’s managing your career page? In that instance.

Alex 17:01
So, in this instance, I would have one person dedicated to doing that. Because I’ve seen so many situations where that falls back on an agency, right, and that stuff that you want to get done two days ago, takes a few months. So.

William 17:15
Right, it needs to happen more real-time, because things are happening in real-time. So so you have somebody that manages the career page, and it’s. So for the audience, that’s, you know, we’ve thought of Career pages historically as a static place where we just put jobs. And the employer branding, you know, experts like Alex, they look at those things as like, as an opportunity to put content in front of an audience. And not just jobs. Jobs, jobs are important, but jobs are not the only thing that gets listed on a great careers page. And so, okay, so I think I understand kind of strategy-wise, what’s the technology? You know, what, what what, you know, obviously, you’ve got LinkedIn, Facebook, you know, Glassdoor. You’ve got different places where you have to manage your brand. But what technologies do you think are important for people to consider?

Alex 18:07
Um, so technologies, um, let’s see here, I would say definitely, and I know these could be hit or miss. But having some sort of a chatbot on your career page with ATS would be super key. I also would, I would work with Clinch. Who, Clinch is amazing, I was really turned on to them by ultra night Foundation medicine because they gave you one of the best abilities, where just like in your shopping experiences when you go out there looking for clothing.

They still, you know, they’ll go back and content market you. Sorry, not content market. It’s been a while since I’ve done my agency days, but they’ll go back and track you with cookies. One thing that I have not seen a lot of TA technology companies drop into, you know, into their products. And that’s something that they offer right off the bat.

William 19:01
Yeah, for the audience Clinch is, what’s basically classified as a CRM, candidate Relationship Management application. So like an Avature, like a Smashfly, and there’s going to be at least 100 of these that are really good. The point is, is there’s a way once you’ve sourced candidates to then market to candidates. So when Alex is talking about recruitment marketers and strategists, those are people that basically are thinking about the different personas, and the different jobs and funnels that need to be built. And they’re using CRMs. Clinch is a fantastic example of that, but they’re using CRMs, managing content to candidates, so that candidates ultimately take the action, which is to apply for a job.

Alex 19:48
There you go, couldn’t sum that up better myself.

William 19:50
Is it uh, is it social technologies that you really love? Because you’re gonna have some social folks in there that are doing programming. Do you have–Do you have some social technologies that you just really love that are just kind of table stakes. That you have to have?

Alex 20:05
Yes, I mean, I’m always big on organic just because I think you get the best reach that way. However, having to run an employee advocacy program, I would say like a Bambu or EveryoneSocial, it all depends on how extensive you want to get. And then from there, you can also use Hootsuite to push out content, you know have that all timed up and queued ready to go. So–

William 20:34
And you know, for the audience, just so Alex, I’m translating, because Alex, some of the audience might not understand some of these terms. As you’re pushing out content, it’s not just jobs. So so just for the audience, for our edification, it’s not just that you’ve got a software engineering job that you’re trying to fill. You’re putting out content that’s related to and important to that audience. Because you’re trying to engage that audience, both in the content but also in jobs. I mean, ultimately, your measure, you care that people care deeply about your brand. But they love your brand, because of its content, what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. And then they want to come work for you. Because they’ve had a positive brand experience.

Alex 21:22
Exactly. And, and to your point, if you’re simply just selling them on the jobs, “Hey, we’re hiring! Come work for us.” And engineers, they’re going to get sick of that right? Just like from consumer brands. Your job should be to tell that story, share you know, share the story of your culture, your people behind the scenes, and you know, bring them into their daily lives or you know, and not just their daily lives where you know, whether it’s inside of a building, inside where they are remote. Tell that story. And from there that’s going to capture their attention.

William 21:52
I love that. I love that. Okay, the last thing I need to ask about is the measurements of the future. Because everyone was curious about this. Yeah, ten different Employer Brand specialists, you’ll get 10 different answers, at least 10 different answers. What’s what do you think the measurement of Employer Brand is in the future? How do we know that we’re doing a good job at this?

Alex 22:11
Um, so you know, if it comes down to just the typical measurements, I mean, you’re gonna see a lower cost per applicant and cost per hire. All that good stuff. But I think it just comes, to me, it comes down to brand sentiment. You know, what are people really thinking about your brand? Because I can always throw out metrics, you know, to you, the rest of the audience right? Now, my peers, but what do people really, really think about you? And that’s something that it’s really tough to quantify.

William 22:44
Oh, it is. It is. I used to tell people when they asked me that question, I’d say, listen, at the end of the day, hirings easier. That’s how you know your employer brand is doing/going well. Because hiring is just easier. When hiring is not easy, there’s a bunch of other things that could be at play, but definitely your employer brand, there’s something, there’s sentiment.

There’s something else that’s in the way of people wanting to work for you and work with you. So again, you can look at all of those statistics. But if hiring is easier, like you put up a job, and you’ve got you’ve done all of the these, like you just went through 10 different things. You’ve done all the pieces and you’ve done all that work, you got a great careers page, you’re really active in social building funnels and building great content for people. Hiring is just easier. Just easier.

Now, how do you quantify that? Well, I think it is some of those older statistics and older metrics of time to fill and things like that. I think some of that stuff, we’ve written it off. But I think as it relates to employer brand, especially in the future, we can bring some of those ou, dust some of those things back off. And go, you know this is why these things, these numbers are lower. It’s because of sentiment, unaided brand recall, things like that, because of these things, people care about our company and want to work here. And thus, that helps us reduce the time to fill.

Alex 24:11
Exactly. I would say–Uh, sorry.

William 24:14
No, no, no, no, what I wanted to get you to the last thought, what’s your–

Alex 24:17
Yeah, so I would say on top of that, right, the other indicator is do you have people internally who really care that much about the brand and that are willing to go out there out and share, to refer, to recruit? If they are, that tells you that hey, you’ve got that happening. I mean, you know, your biggest ambassadors will be recruiters because, you know, you’re pretty much dressing them up here.

They’re stylish, you’re helping them out, strategizing for them, but the other people who don’t work in recruitment, are they really, you know, I guess drinking the Kool-Aid? If they are and they’re just going out there on their own without very little effort from you. Once you get the machine up and running I think you’ve now, you get a strong employer brand from that point.

William 24:59
I love it. Brother, you and I could talk about this stuff for hours. I so much appreciate it. I know you’re busy, man. I just really appreciate you carving out some time and schooling on us on employer brand. And we’ll get another one of these scheduled.

We’ll talk about some other things because I want to dig more into the careers page and how we can do that more effectively. So thank you, Alex, thank you so much for carving out time for us, brother.

Alex 25:23
Thank you.

William 25:24
And thanks to everyone for listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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