Why You Need to Approach Talent Marketing like a Political Campaign
By Andrew Bleeker
Your employees get a vote every day: stay or go. The employment contract has changed and the talent has the power. In 2021, an average of nearly 4 million Americans voluntarily left their job every month, topping 2019’s record-setting monthly average of 3.5 million. And the trend is persisting: 4.5 million workers left their jobs in March 2022. Top talent always has a choice, but in this economy, it’s true for everyone.
It’s not just talent that has noticed. Customers, investors, and regulators are more focused than ever on how companies treat their employees. Brands claim to have fully received the message. They are raising wages, offering new benefits, and embracing hybrid work. But it’s clearly not enough — voluntary turnover is still likely to jump nearly 20% this year.
It ultimately comes down to the BBQ test. When you meet someone new and they ask what you do, how do you answer? Do you demure and say, “I am an engineer,” or do you proudly offer, “I work at XX — we’re trying to save the planet.” The companies who pass this test — the ones that align with their brands with the aspirations of their workforce — will win the war for talent and avoid the high costs of constant turnover.
Conventional employee communications make two fundamental mistakes:
- Companies focus on THEIR brands as employers, NOT on how they contribute to their employees’ own brands. Forget ‘ask not what your company can do for you’ — that’s the whole point of the transaction. Yes, brands must provide interesting opportunities, supportive management, and competitive pay. But they must also reconsider how their brand aligns with that of their employees — and what that brand says to their friends, family, and future employers. This need not require a fluffy version of corporate purpose. Working at Patagonia says something different than working at Goldman Sachs, but they both mean something intentional.
- Companies believe that they can adequately reach their employees through channels they control. We have email, intranet, and signage — we already speak to our employees every day. Internal communications have become boring, irrelevant, and/or so difficult for employees to access that they’ve stopped paying attention. You need to be sending the same messages on external channels to meet talent where they are and demonstrate your commitment to the message. From an employer perspective, external channels can seem scary — you feel like you have less control. The reality is, everything is public anyway, and you have already lost control. You might as well ensure your message is part of the conversation your talent is really having.
It’s time to rethink employer branding. Let us introduce Employee Identity — BPI’s solution to winning the war for talent. Our approach has three main components, all of which stem from our political heritage and have been honed alongside our work with Fortune 50 companies.
- Enlist their support. Just like in a political campaign, the messenger matters. Both current and prospective talent will be highly skeptical of what you have to say about how valuable your own objectives are. With talent, brand purpose can finally be more than a moniker. When we invite the team to be a part of the mission, they can carry the message with a passion that is genuine and contagious. After all, when President Kennedy asked what he did, the janitor at NASA famously said “I’m putting a man on the moon.”
- Show don’t tell. If you want your team to believe you are serious about something, you can’t just say it to them. Your words are empty unless you’re also putting them into action. If you claim to support new parents, are you investing in paid leave and creating flexible policies? If you say you care about equality, what are you doing to lead beyond changing your logo during Pride month? If you claim to be the best of the best, how are you supporting your talent to continue to innovate? Communications cannot succeed without substance.
- Reach your audience where they actually spend time. Just like targeting voters, this requires finding where your actual employees and prospects — and those who influence them — spend time. Spoiler alert: Think social media, not your intranet. It’s critical that they see your message in the external world — and have their peers see it as well. But this is about more than the channel; it’s about the message itself and the timing of the delivery. If the message is wrong, it won’t matter if you’ve reached the right people in the right place. Likewise, you can’t ignore the context of the world your employees are living in outside the walls of your workplace. Mastering each of these factors is the only way they will both believe you are putting your money where your mouth is and feel more confident advocating it to others.
The best part, of course, is that the war for talent is inherently quantifiable. Most organizations already have great measurement of the ultimate talent metrics like attrition, acceptance rate, and productivity. But they can rarely tell why these metrics shift, just blaming everything on the macro environment. Treating your own employees as your brand’s most important reputational audience — and communicating to them with the same rigor of optimization you would any external audience — starts to unlock insights immediately to shift your trajectory.
In fact, as an audience-first agency, we start every conversation with this key question: Who are you looking to reach? Typically, clients say customers, media, or influencers. Today there is rarely an organization that does not start with talent and recruits. This makes sense at a time when the biggest internal discussions are no longer benefits policies, but rather questions about the role of the organization in society.
In an age of choice, where do you think your best talent wants to be?