Industry Watch

Dan Derosier at Three Deep’s new offices, which were designed with employees in mind.

Three Deep employees enjoy the freedom to work from Three Deep’s custom on-site bar.

Market thyself … to employees!

Tips for winning and keeping top talent

By Brian Martucci
Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lots of companies are great at selling their products, services or ideas. Far fewer are great at selling themselves. How should small and midsize employers market themselves to potential recruits? We asked advice from four experts — most of whom offer this kind of counsel for a living.

Amy Howard, Employee Strategies Inc.

Amy Howard’s boutique consulting firm is all about creating great places to work. She teaches clients to “eat their own cooking”: actually follow through on promises to prospective employees.

Candidates gravitate toward companies whose values come through on their websites, in marketing materials and via in-person interactions with candidates. These companies walk the walk — aligning words and actions.

Candidates also do their own due diligence. “Applicants are Googling you, checking Glassdoor, checking your LinkedIn page,” says Howard. “They want to know what’s happening on the inside.” That requires creating an external brand that reflects your values: actively promoting team-building days on social media, creating content that reinforces your company’s sense of purpose and touting growth. (“Everyone wants to be on a winning team,” says Howard.)

And, like all promotion, marketing to recruits requires a great underlying product. If you become aware of a workplace deficiency through negative employee survey responses or persistent Glassdoor complaints, try your best to correct it. “That’s ultimately what’s going to change the feedback,” says Howard.

Brendon Schrader, Antenna

Brendon Schrader, whose marketing consulting firm was featured on Minnesota Business’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list in 2015 and 2016, is big on “employment branding.”

He advises businesses to ask themselves: how are we communicating with the type of talent we want? “Go beyond the job description,” he says, “and really tell your company’s story.” What do you stand for? What’s it like to work for you? Why should people care about working for you? Why do your employees love their jobs?

Create external marketing content featuring employees sharing authentic experiences and stories. And think about these questions in the context of an ongoing dialogue  with current and future prospects.

“Employment branding is a long-term strategy to attract best-in-class talent, not simply the discrete act of filling a job,” Schrader says. When employees are treated well, they tend to share their on-the-job experiences organically — carrying much of the water of employment branding.

Crucially, the actual selection process needs to bear out your employment brand. That could be as simple as communicating effectively with applicants throughout, so that they don’t feel like they’ve dropped their resumes into a black hole.

“If a candidate has a good experience, they’re more likely to speak positively about your company,” says Schrader. “Even if they don’t get the job.”

Skylar Werde, BridgeWorks

These days, recruiting and hiring isn’t just about plugging staffing gaps. It’s about replacing the 10,000 or so Boomers who retire every day, says BridgeWorks’s Skylar Werde.

Werde is an expert at bridging generational divides. He’s helped plenty of older hiring managers and executives package their companies for younger recruits.

His first rule of marketing to talent: Don’t try to become what you aren’t. “Not every company is going to be Google,” he says, alluding to the tech giant’s lavish perks. “Now more than ever, applicants can cut through standard-practice jargon, so just come out and say what it’s like to be part of your team.”

Also crucial: No matter what you do, connect it to a larger purpose. Millennials want their work to have a higher meaning, even if it’s not glamorous or highly paid. “Go beyond, ‘We make brake pads,’” says Werde, “and tell recruits: ‘Yes, we develop better brake pads because we’re passionate about road safety.’”

Dan Derosier, Three Deep Marketing

Dan Derosier doesn’t consult on employment branding or run recruit-centric marketing client campaigns. But his fast-growing company does take an innovative, three-pronged approach to its own self-marketing efforts.

First, employee referrals. “Referrals are a very productive way to get people to take a look at you,” says Derosier. We encourage referrals by clearly outlining our core values — including “team first” and “everyone is accountable” — and trusting employees to reach out to friends and associates whose own values align. The company also recently moved into a stunning new office space, another referral driver. It maintains an “open, transparent culture” that gives employees skin in the game — and makes them more likely to talk up Three Deep.

Second, community involvement. Three Deep relentlessly seeks out local and national events to build its brand and cultivate thought leadership. The company actively recruits employees and clients through teaching and speaking engagements at local universities, for instance.

Third, social media. Per Schrader’s suggestion, Three Deep regularly promotes extracurricular (and in-office) activities on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It also allows employees to promote their own activities and opinions on social media, merging personal and corporate branding — and further boosting Three Deep’s visibility to recruits.

“Our employees’ friends and acquaintances see [those posts] and say, ‘Maybe this is a company I’d like to work for,’” says Derosier.