Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In Hiring, Firms Shine Images


Employer-Branding Campaigns Try to Attract Most-Coveted Job Candidates

Companies have long set aside resources to develop and market consumer brands. Now, some are finding that to attract the best job candidates, they need to put similar efforts into their so-called employer brands.

Unlike a company's product brands—say Fritos or Dial—employer brands target potential employees to make a company seem like a desirable place to work.

The slow job market has brought the perception that job takers are plentiful, but already companies are finding that the most skilled candidates are in short supply, and are difficult to find, recruiters say. This has prompted some companies to launch employer-branding campaigns for the first time in several years.

Potentialpark AB, a market-research firm that specializes in employer branding, has seen the number of analyses it does for companies almost double in the past year, said Chief Executive Torgil Lenning, whose clients include Hewlett Packard Co. and Credit Suisse Group.

"There's a clear correlation with the economy. As companies realize they need to recruit, they'll spend much more effort improving their [employer] brands," Mr. Lenning said.

In the past, it came down to the logo outside the building. Now, marketing for job candidates involves intensive work and research, says Brian Kropp, a managing director with Corporate Executive Board Co., a business-consulting firm.

PepsiCo Inc. launched its new employer-branding campaign last fall. The company felt its previous campaign, launched a decade earlier, placed too much emphasis on its consumer brands—which include Quaker and Frito-Lay—instead of the actual positions available.

Candidates such as chemists and businesspeople sometimes assumed that PepsiCo only had roles for individuals with experience in the food-and-beverage industry, said Paul Marchand, vice president of global talent acquisition. The new campaign aims to capture candidates from other areas, such as consulting or entertainment, Mr. Marchand said. "We want people coming right out of college to consider us just as they'd consider McKinsey or GE," he said.

PepsiCo produced a series of short videos profiling employees. The videos can be seen on PepsiCo's careers website and on its iPad app, which launched in February and has been downloaded more than 3,000 times, according to Mr. Marchand. PepsiCo's brand logos are noticeably absent from the app, which lets jobseekers learn about work at the company and find openings. The company also revised its LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts to reflect the new campaign.

PepsiCo spent tens of thousands of dollars on research and the campaign, dubbed "Possibilities," Mr. Marchand estimates. He says the company's recruiters have told him it is helping to attract candidates.

The success of employer-branding campaigns is hard to measure. Unlike marketing for a particular product, which can be reflected a few months later in sales, a successful employer-branding campaign doesn't necessarily result in more job applications, Mr. Kropp said. "The purpose of an employment brand is to get the best applications, but for those who aren't the best fit for you, to get them to say 'that seems like a cool company but not the right place for me to work,'" he said.

Still, AT&T Corp. says it saw the number of visitors to its careers site jump 20% after it positioned itself to appeal to the technology-savvy crowd at this year's South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas.

At the conference in March, AT&T's recruitment materials carried "quick response" codes—bar codes that are readable by camera phones and can take candidates quickly to a careers website without typing in a URL. They also handed out contact cards with "augmented reality" glyphs that when held up to a camera phone show candidates a Web video.

AT&T's director of staffing, Jennifer Terry, said that the company hopes the new technologies would signal to the conference attendees that AT&T had moved beyond its telecommunications roots. The company has a particular need for engineers, application developers and hardware and software experts.

"[Before], candidates might picture someone climbing a telephone pole to install something," Ms. Terry said. "If we focus on our digital presence, it helps recruit the right people and set the stage for the company we've become." The number of candidates who came to their careers website from the SXSW conference rose five times over the prior year, Ms. Terry said, and the company has five highly desirable job candidates identified for hard-to-fill tech jobs who found the company via SXSW.

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