Employer Branding

The State of Employer Brand Management

The phrase ‘The Employer Brand’ gets over 400,000 Google searches per year and is known to management teams globally. What’s special for me is that I had the chance to sit-down with the creator of the idea – Simon Barrow.

Have a listen to the conversation below or continue reading for a full summary of this important session, and don’t forget to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

What issues did the idea have to surmount in the early years?

Well, I’ve got here ‘The Employer Brand“, by Tim Amber and Simon Barrow from the London Business School, July 1996. I picked out some key findings, which I think may be of interest. Number one, the introduction of marketing terms was a terrible problem for HR and internal communications, A, for the meaning, and B, for what they meant deep down. Somebody said, ‘Don’t bring that marketing flim-flam here.’ There was no recognized language available in management speak for covering the combination of culture, brand and reputation. Indeed, when we introduced corporate culture and employer brand as a concept, people were, ‘Well, it’s the same, isn’t it? What’s new? It’s just corporate culture.’ Well, clearly, they didn’t know much about brand management.

Is employer brand a nice-to-have?

It would be lovely if everybody said, ‘This is a basic way in which we run a business,’ but we’re not always as perfect as that. So often, people are pitched into doing this stuff right, when something bad happens. You know, we’re losing people. We cannot recruit X and Y. Why did we fail to get so, and so, and so? Some sort of failure, in my experience as a consultant, is what often drives the first call. It’s not the best way, but it’s more often the usual way, compared to saying, ‘How do we run this business in an outstanding way?’ One client once said, “Simon, how do we make this ship move faster through the water?” Well, that’s a very big, broad question. I think the employer brand might be a way. That’s why we want to talk.

Did you expect the employer brand to take off the way it has?

I always had a belief in it because it was logically so strong, but it was a slow start for the reasons we unearthed with the LBS study I was quoting just now. It is good to see the growth in the number of employer brand managers within organizations. It’s good to see the continuing conferences around the world, the books and articles and the number of Google searches on this subject is a good indication. 

What makes employer brand management so important today?

Well in 1985, tangible assets, that’s plant, machinery, buildings, and cash, formed 56% of corporate assets. Today, that is just 20% of value. So 80% of value is in intangibles, what used to be called ‘good will’ in brands, in your ability to attract, engage, retain, and motivate great people. That’s critical. That’s what’s driving the importance of EB thinking. It used to be the case in client services businesses, that the key success factor was the ability to win clients. Doing the work was not the difficult bit. Winning it was difficult. I fundamentally disagree with that. In my view, if you run a service business today, it’s the ability to win and engage great people. Start with them.


What companies do you rate as outstanding employer brand managers today?

With one exception, none of these have appeared yet in the employment brand management awards:

  • Goldman Sachs: An outstanding employer brand. It’s tough. It’s truly diverse. It’s unforgiving. It offers potentially life-changing earnings. And it has fantastic alumni. Will you find any of that in whatever they say online? Maybe not, not in the way I’ve just said it.
  • Hiscox: The insurance business, they have transformed a dull industry. The senior management involvement in the employer brand, the as-good-as-our-word, which applies absolutely internally as well as externally, their creativity and their teamwork.
  • COOK: A frozen food brand. 850 people making outstanding frozen food in Sittingbourne, Kent. Employer brand leadership ticks all the boxes, including one special mention, which is that the Managing Director was the Human Resource Director.
  • Unilever. A great world group with its heart in the right place. Note the reaction inside and out to the Kraft approach earlier this year. Note its commitment to sustainability. Decency maybe an odd word in a commercial context but they have it. I respect them.
  • McKinsey: It’s tough to get into, but it’s a personal brand for life. It’s a true academy company. Just look at their alumni.
  • John Lewis: The U.K. retailer with 80,000 or so partners, measures itself on their happiness. One of the founding beliefs, the happiness of our people. And the boss who gets a bonus, exactly the same percentage of his or her salary, as everybody else. It’s distinctive. It’s compelling.

Connect with Simon via email and check out his website

By Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO of Link Humans, home of The Employer Brand Index.