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Britain’s go talent (and UK businesses want it)

Do you remember David Rowe? No? He was the graduate so desperate to find a job that he donned a sandwich board advertising his experience and qualifications in an attempt to secure employment when sending out hundreds of CVs hadn’t worked. It was an arresting image and covered in every major news outlet as evidence of the impact of the economic downturn on the jobs market.

But that was in 2009. It’s now 2015 and with the continued recovery of the economy, the tables have turned in the jobs market. Recent data from the Association of Graduate Recruiters showed that graduates are now in a position to be selective about the roles they are offered, as 14.4% of graduates have turned down at least one job offer and nearly half of graduate employers had at least one unfulfilled graduate position in 2014.

This is great news for people looking for a new role but for businesses it means there is greater competition for the brightest and best candidates. It’s no longer a buyers’ market and securing the best talent is essential to the success of any business model. Despite this, many companies are still struggling to identify and communicate the reasons why they should be recognised as an employer of choice in this competitive environment.

More and more, we are seeing businesses positioning themselves not just as successful growing commercial entities, but also as desirable employers through their corporate PR programmes. But as so many companies are trying to differentiate themselves in the jobs marketplace, it has become harder for organisations to identify a communications approach that will cut through and have real media impact.

So what should your business consider when planning their PR activity to ensure they are seen as a genuine employer of choice?

Identify (and then play to) your strengths

What makes a great place to work? Or specifically, what is your business doing particularly well? Just as businesses will identify key commercial strengths, it is essential to take an honest look at the strengths and weaknesses of your offer to prospective employees. Is your business really committed to creating a supportive environment for women in the workplace? Great, but how many women are actually on your board…? Ensure that the same level of scrutiny is placed on this SWOT mapping process as you would for a commercial PR campaign.

PR activity should then focus on communicating the areas of strength that set you apart from the crowd. Are there interesting comparisons you can make with your working culture in the UK and in international markets? What data do you own to support the strength of your USP? Can you share an ambition to become even stronger (while reinforcing the quality of your current offer)?

Who is doing this well?

Amongst those companies who stand out, BT consistently highlights its investment in high quality training across the business through the media – from thought leadership to announcements of new apprenticeship targets. PR activity has ranged from comparing the number of apprenticeship applications to the number of Oxbridge applicants to a recent announcement of 1000 more graduate jobs and apprenticeships.

Who are your storytellers?

As with every PR campaign, understanding what matters to your audience is essential when seeking to position your business as an employer of choice. Smart people want to work with other smart people who will drive them forward and support them to thrive in the workplace. While an engaging and intelligent CEO profile in the media can help to paint a picture of your workplace – there is an expectation that a business leader will be articulate, successful and extol the virtues of the company as a great place to work. Looking across the business for people at all levels who exemplify your core values is an essential step in building authenticity when communicating your strengths as an employer.

Providing first hand experiences will help position your business as an aspirational place to work as well as highlighting the high quality of your current workforce. It is the equivalent of sending a postcard with ‘Wish you were here?”

If your strength is your commitment to internal advancement, then identify people who have risen through the business to tell their story through case studies in the media.  If your USP is a significant focus on mentoring, then write a “two sides of the coin” comment piece from both mentor and mentee to bring this to life.

Who is doing this well?

One of the high performing companies using this approach is Visa Europe, which has mobilised its apprenticeship intake to give a first hand view of the quality of the training they offer. This approach is consistently adopted across relevant PR activity. Alongside the news announcements on the opening of new applications, quotes and profiles of current apprentices are featured and they also have a Twitter feed devoted to the thoughts and first hand experiences of apprentices.

How do you measure up?

Third party validation is a powerful tool when positioning your company as an outstanding place to work. There is a reason that Oscar winning films rebrand all their marketing materials the day after the Academy Awards to reflect the win – objective opinions are seen as the most trustworthy.

There are many awards and league tables devoted to measuring and comparing different elements of a workplace environment that enable businesses to evidence their claims as well as providing a media platform for you to showcase your thought leadership around specific issues linked to a company’s core strengths.

Award entries should be clearly linked to the points of difference your business is seeking to communicate. If your strength is your approach to diversity and equal opportunities then identify the most influential voice within this arena e.g. Stonewall and focus on inclusion in the Workplace Equality Index. This activity provides a consistent evidence point to support all PR activity and adds credibility to news announcements and commentary.

Who is doing this well?

Those who are really optimising the potential of this tool include Google, which consistently wins awards for its working culture; Lloyds which is the highest rated private sector employer in the Workplace Equality Index and TGI Friday’s which is the Sunday Times best big business to work for. All these organisations have mapped their award entries to support and reinforce their core strengths.

Through implementing a focused PR strategy in this way, it is possible to position your business as an employer of choice and attract the most skilled and talented people. However,the more subtle corporate PR impact can often be overlooked. Communicating the strength of your company’s workplace to prospective employees will also reach wider corporate audiences. Asserting that the brightest people are currently, and will continue to be, working within your business will reinforce the understanding of your commercial strength, Smart people not only want to work alongside other smart people – but they want to buy from and invest in them too.