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Episode 50

Employer Branding & Its Role In Recruitment

Whitney Cornuke
Senior Vice President of Marketing at TalentLaunch

Employer branding is essential in today’s competitive job market. It not only creates a positive impression of your organization, but also helps attract top talent.

Employers who invest time and resources into their employer brand will likely see higher levels of employee retention and productivity.

“Just like you market your product or service to customers, you need to continuously have a brand identity for your workers. They are also constituents in who you are and what you do. That’s the idea behind employer branding.”

Experienced brand marketing professional, Whitney Cornuke, answers common questions about employer branding. Listen now to hear ideas and get inspired.

This episode of the Leader Generation Podcast is hosted by Tessa Burg, Chief Technology Officer at Mod Op.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • What is employer branding
  • How important is it in recruiting
  • Benefits of employer branding
  • How employer branding differs from other marketing
  • Impact of employer branding on consumers
  • Examples of companies with great employer branding

Watch the Live Recording

Full Episode Transcripts

Tessa Burg: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Leader Generation brought to you by Mod Op. I’m your host Tessa Burg, and today, I’m joined by Whitney Cornuke. She’s the SVP of marketing at TalentLaunch. And we are going to dive into the role of employer and brand marketing in staffing and recruiting. Hello Whitney, thank you for joining us.

Whitney Cornuke: Hi Tessa, glad to be here.

Tessa Burg: And in case anyone is watching this video, it is Halloween, and I am dressed as a vampire. And if you are not, then you’re pretty lucky, because my makeup’s wearing off, and I don’t look as awesome as I did earlier today, that’s fine. Whitney, what are you being for Halloween?

Whitney Cornuke: Well, on Saturday, I was a devil, tonight I might be a pumpkin. It’ll be a game-time decision.

Tessa Burg: And do you pick your own costumes or do your kids?

Whitney Cornuke: I pick my own costumes. I will say I aspire to do the family costume, but I have never managed to pull it off. And so mostly, I’ve just focused on getting them what they want, and then I’m like the afterthought, and I just dig through the costume box and see what I’ve got in there. Put something on.

Tessa Burg: Yeah. Yeah, we also always wanna do the family costume but we can never agree, so it just goes their own way.

Whitney Cornuke: Yeah, just a hodgepodge of things.

Tessa Burg: Yes, so speaking of a hodgepodge of things and people trying to test and see what works, we’re in the midst of a major employee and staffing shortage. Just this past weekend, I was super bummed to find out that one of my favorite places to eat closes at 5:00 pm on a Saturday, just because they don’t have enough people to work. And it’s not just in dining and restaurants, we’re seeing this across the board, from manufacturers and warehouse workers, shipping and delivery is down, retail, staffing, you name it. People seem to be having trouble, finding good-quality candidates. So, you work at TalentLaunch, tell us a little bit about TalentLaunch in the sort of unique lens that you have on this challenge.

Whitney Cornuke: Sure, so TalentLaunch is a network of staffing and recruiting agencies that are all across the country and specialize in different industry verticals. So, we have businesses that focused on manufacturing and production, IT, healthcare, professional services like office and administration or accounting and finance. So, we really have a unique viewpoint of what’s going on in the market in any given geography or industry. And what I will tell you is that is a tight candidate market across the board, and there’s a lot of reasons for this. It’s no one thing, I know during the pandemic, everyone blamed the stimulus check so no one wants to work. But the truth is that there’s been a lot of changes to the economy that have influenced why we’re so tight on labor. The pandemic did encourage people to retire early. So you know, there’s some people at the experienced end of the market that exited. Some of them have now come out of retirement, but that was certainly a piece. There’s been the rise of the gig economy. If you think about all the delivery services, Uber Eats or Uber drivers, Instacart, those are all relatively new, and they’ve pulled people away from other types of hourly jobs like dining and retail. And then there’s also a skills gap. So, there’s open positions, and people don’t have necessarily the right skills to fill them. That’s obviously less of an issue at the entry-level end of the market, but in some of the higher-level positions. So, all these add up to a fierce competition for talent.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, I love this as an opening, because I will say we heard a lot during the pandemic that it really was just the stimulus checks, and I’m like, “Man, as soon as we stop giving those away, we’ll get a lot more workers.” And it was almost like nothing happened. Like still no one, like, and everyone keeps saying, “Come back to work,” but to your point, people are working. They just might be working differently. So, what can employers do to compete with these different styles of work when people are seem to be valuing flexibility, a lot more kind of doing work on their own terms as a business and especially as a larger business in multiple occasions, how do you compete with that?

Whitney Cornuke: So people have definitely, changed their relationship with work in a number of ways. And obviously, every business is a little bit different. Some jobs can’t be done remotely, healthcare workers have to be in person. Although the rise of telehealth certainly, has grown during this time period too. So, I should actually rewind that, but many healthcare workers need to be in person. And I think what employers need to do is really think about what matters to their audience. And this is where, I know, we’re going to segue here where marketing comes in because it’s not too dissimilar to how you think about catering and advertising yourself to your customer base. You think about their problems, and how your product or service solves it uniquely. It’s not that different for employer branding, and marketing yourself to potential candidates. So, really thinking about what matters to them, whether it’s pay rate, whether it’s flexibility, whether it’s professional development and growth, whether it is a certain type of culture, whether it’s being purpose-driven, that’s a huge thing that we’re seeing rise in importance that especially among the younger generation, they wanna be part of something bigger than themselves. And so, it matters to them what role the company is playing in society. So, not just about what you make or sell, but how are you doing business in a way that does some good or has a higher-level purpose. So, all these things can add together and you sort of think through, well, what do you need to do, what do you need to live in order to attract and differentiate for candidates.

Tessa Burg: So, before we met on this topic, I had actually never heard the phrase, employer branding. So, you know, and maybe that’s because I didn’t start in marketing, but for other people who might be listening that might be new, what is employer branding and how often is it occurring? Like, does it always mean the collaboration of marketing in HR or is it its own thing that sits outside those two verticals?

Whitney Cornuke: It’s probably done in many different ways, is the truth. But the idea behind employer branding is this idea that just the way you market your product or service to customers, you need to continuously have a brand identity for your workers. So, they are also a constituent in who you are and what you do. And I think, I don’t actually know how long that philosophy has been around, but it certainly has risen in terms of importance and popularity more recently, because people have choices. It is definitely a candidate market, and so businesses need a way to stand out in order to attract that talent.

Tessa Burg: So, one of the trends that I saw when looking at ways we could solve this challenge is, Gen Z really values being a part of something bigger than themselves, and they’re more likely to trust recommendations on a workplace or on workplace’s culture from a friend or a current or former employee. Are there any tools or ways that an employer can either become a part of that conversation or at least monitor it so that they can learn from what their current and former employees may be saying about them?

Whitney Cornuke: Sure, so similar to all the review sites on products and services, you go to Amazon and you search for whatever and then you look at all the reviews. Sites like Glassdoor are a great example of where people are leaving reviews on their employers. And that is a place that many candidates go to look for, you know, what do other people think about this company and how does that influence my views or what questions should I ask during an interview in order to have something explained to me? You know, they’re educating themselves. So, that’s one place, is sort of those third-party review sites. I think, the other thing people are doing, are turning their own employees into brand ambassadors, and there’s a lot of different ways to do that. So, one simple way is on their website, including testimonials from their current employees talking about what it’s like to work at a company or a certain type of role is like, kind of a day in the life type series, what they love about it, what’s special about it? So, these reviews from current employees, even if you don’t know them, can be really meaningful, because it puts a human face to the company, and gives some specifics around why that company would be great to work for, and whether it’s a good fit, so people can evaluate for themselves if this is something they see being a part of. So, those are two examples that I think are pretty low-hanging fruit. I think, the other place that people definitely go is LinkedIn. So, they want to see who in their network might be connected to someone else that works at that company. And there can be different ways, you know some people might choose, kind of the informal reach out way to learn more information, the traditional cold email, if you will, but can also look and see, well, what is the company posting about on their LinkedIn profile?

Tessa Burg: And amongst those tactics, and I think those are all really good. And I love what you said that, you know, “Think about your perspective, employees are trying to educate themselves.” So, almost what kind of tools are you putting out for them online? And I feel like that’s fairly new. I still see a lot of career fairs, but I don’t see a lot of people actually going to the career fair has more of what candidates are looking for today, and that educating themselves and evaluating, has more of that moved online or do we think the pandemic maybe or maybe just the behavior of younger generations, has changed this in-person recruiting tactics for us?

Whitney Cornuke: I think it depends at what part of the market you’re participating in. I definitely think at the professional end of the market, it has shifted much more online. That’s obviously the end of the market that also is embracing remote work at higher rates, both companies allowing it and people seeking it. I think, at the more hourly end of the market, a lot is still happening more in-person, and maybe whether it’s through career fairs or maybe through even community type organizations that might arrange meetings or connections between local employers and potential employees. So, I think there’s a lot of ways that this happens, but obviously, with the rise of more online resources, naturally, it becomes a way to self-serve, and to educate yourself again, especially, at that more professional side of the market.

Tessa Burg: So, there’s a lot of different benefits that employers can put together for potential candidates. They can offer flexibility. We see commercials from Amazon about offering paid leave and really high wages. When we think about the best package for a specific employer, how do they go about determining? What are the benefits that will work best for the people they’re trying to hire?

Whitney Cornuke: I think that there’s a couple of places. One, they can look at their own data and see what do people take the most advantage of of their existing policies. They can also survey their current employees to see where there are gaps. They can look at their competitors to see what do they offer. I think, one really great example of employer branding that was also a way to invite other companies into the conversation around a specific benefit, specifically, around paid leave was, the Skim did a campaign around show us your leave. So, what they advertised, was their paid parental leave policy and then they on LinkedIn, and then they asked other organizations to do the same. So, it became this broader movement around communicating, “Hey, we really value parents and making parenthood something that’s easier for our employees, and we care about their total well-being, during this time of change.” And it wasn’t just, “Hey, we’re going to advertise what we do,” we’re going to sort of challenge others to show what they do. And so, it almost became, well, who didn’t speak up, and therefore what’s their paid leave? And as a candidate, you definitely might question that or now, you can look up the #ShowUsYourLeave, and see all the companies that participated and what their leave policies were. So, you brought up Amazon, they have been running TV commercials about their paid leave and it’s in a testimonial style with hourly workers talking about having access to paid leave and that being really valuable for them at a given time with their family. But another way is to sort of trigger a bigger conversation that when you’re well-positioned, you’re forcing your competitors to show their hand and they may or may not be able to match you. So, that’s an interesting way in as well.

Tessa Burg: It is really interesting, and all of this is happening online in the exact same place that our customers are researching and engaging with our brand and product. So, what is the, or is there an impact of employer branding on your customers, your customers’ behavior and how they perceive your company and services?

Whitney Cornuke: I’d say now more than ever. So, not only do younger generations want to workplaces where they are part of something bigger than themselves, and subscribe to a higher purpose, but they also wanna buy products from companies that are trying to make a bigger impact on society. So, at the end of the day, you have to remember we’re all people. So, whether we’re customers or employees, we’re people and the things that we care about don’t necessarily change whether we’re purchasing the product or working for the company. Obviously, yes. Do I care if a company offers remote work in terms of making a decision to buy something from them? Probably, not. So, it depends on what element you’re talking about but they are very intertwined, and also, your company identity can only flex so much. You can’t have one identity for one group, and a different identity for another group. It blends particularly online, because you don’t have the benefit of distinct channels and perfect targeting where, “Okay, only the people that I want to know about this will see it online.” You know, everything is much more accessible. And yes, of course, there’s more precise targeting online to find the people that care about your message, but it’s also out there for anyone else to see too. So, the line’s very blurred, and I think at the end of the day, it’s really about deciding who you are and what you care about as an organization, how you live that through your product and services. And that’s obviously traditional marketing, and then how you live that through your culture and what you offer your employees, and that’s employer branding.

Tessa Burg: And I think you brought up an interesting point, how you can’t target things differently for one party to see it and not another. But we do see some companies advertising benefits that either one, their target audience doesn’t want or that doesn’t really get to the heart of who they are as a brand, and it comes across very inauthentically. Is there a way for marketers or HR people to double-check or make sure that what they’re putting out there, what their leadership wants them to put out there is, in fact, authentic and that they’re living what they’re saying?

Whitney Cornuke: You have to have ways to back it up. So, I’ll give an example. DE&I is a huge topic of conversation. It’s something that many candidates care about and it’s something that organizations are trying to figure out how do they talk about? But it’s one thing to say, “Oh, we care about diversity.” Words are cheap, but what are you doing to actually embrace diversity and inclusion? How are you changing your hiring policies? How are you thinking about days off, and being inclusive for all different kinds of holidays? What programs do you have where you’re trying to lift up marginalized groups? So, you really have to have something to talk about behind saying, “Oh yes, we value DE&I.” So, and that cuts across any of these examples of things you might want to say about yourself. You have to be able to show how you’re living it. And then, of course, the proof is really in the pudding, and what do your employees say about you? Do they believe it, and would they go on camera and talk about it, and can you put that out there? So, versus it coming from the company. If it comes from an employee, it’s more meaningful and believable.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, I agree. And I think right now, we’re in Q4 of 2022, I don’t know where the year went, but we’re in a space where a lot of marketing budgets are being paused. I feel like there’s a lot of wait and see, what should we be spending on is that there are a bunch of inflation or recession coming, lots of questions. But one of my mentors, and I won’t say his name in case he wasn’t ready for this, but he said something very genius, which is now is the time to really invest in your brand, and self-reflect and say, “Who are we?” And a lot of the things that you’ve said, Whitney, don’t cost any money. Going in and looking at our own data and seeing what benefits are most used, starting to gather that feedback from your existing employees, doing some internal soul searching, and looking for, you know, what are the bright spots that we want to start amplifying? And there is a crossover to products and services. So, there might be some traction that companies can get heading into 2023, not just with recruiting, but also with starting to build a different slice or a different view on their brand with their customers. Have you seen anyone who’s doing this really well where you think, yeah, they got it?

Whitney Cornuke: That’s a good question. It’s a little bit hard to answer because if they’re looking internally, I obviously, wouldn’t know because I’d have to work there to benefit from that. But I think that honestly, when you look at the more mission-driven companies, so companies who really put their mission front and center, that sort of say, “Hey, we’re in it for not just profit but for something else.” So, if you think about a Patagonia, that’s an example that comes to mind. And they’ve been doing this a long time, always living their values, around the environment and sustainability. But I have to imagine that if they were in a position where, “Hey, we’re hurting for talent, you know what do we do?” Doubling down on your current employees and to retain them is kind of the first place to go. So, you know, whether it’s, I’m trying to think. I think, it was actually REI who did the blackout on Black Friday to have their employees go out and enjoy the outdoors, that wasn’t Patagonia, it’s REI, but another outdoors brand. You know, an example like that where it actually was a benefit for their employees. So, it was not for their customers that they were closed on Black Friday, it was a benefit for their employees. But what it said about them communicated who they are and what they value, which connects them to who shops at their stores. So, you know, and that did cost them something on that day, but I would say, it was a very successful campaign for them, because it came back for them tenfold, when they reopened Saturday or for Cyber Monday purchases. So, that’s an example where companies can take a look at well, how can I do something that benefits my employees but publicly state it so that it reflects on who we are and what we value as a company in a way that our customer base also cares about and makes them more loyal or somehow more attracted to buying from us? And it’s going to vary for what industry you’re in, is the truth. So, being closed on Black Friday for REI had a big impact. It might not have the same level of impact for another company.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, I love that example because I wonder, and I’ll have to go look this up, if REI also let their employees post about it. Because then it gets to allowing the advocacy where I remember, back in the day, when I worked for a larger company, we were not allowed to do anything on any channel about really any activities, because we weren’t, it was like held close of us, even the good things that were happening internally. Like, social media is a big scary arena to allow employees to speak. But I think, today, you know, they’re speaking, it’s happening. We don’t have a lot of influence or control around what’s on Glassdoor. So, it’s really about if you are a company that’s living your values and being authentic, be a part of that conversation and let others be a part of it and advocate on your behalf as well.

Whitney Cornuke: Absolutely, it’s actually more meaningful coming from your employees than coming from your corporate account. Yes, and you’ll have a different reach. But you know, it’s obviously, it’s the same idea of like, oh, talking about yourself versus someone else, singing your praises.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, and we even see that in social analytics for clients, when something comes from a corporate account, it gets sometimes a third of when it comes from an actual employee. And I don’t think or maybe the algorithms are doing that on purpose, but I think it’s simply because people like to engage with people, and the algorithms are crafted around engagement. So, if you want the most visibility, and the most engagement, then it only makes sense to have the employees be a part of that because that’s–

Whitney Cornuke: Absolutely. That’s where the amplification happens for sure.

Tessa Burg: So, Whitney, this has been a fantastic conversation. Thanks so much for joining us today. Is there anything that you think the audience should know that we didn’t cover as it relates to employer branding and the impact branding has overall on employees and potential customers?

Whitney Cornuke: I think the only thing is, we started to touch on it, just the relationship between marketing and HR, and what does that look like? You know, I run the marketing team that is really advertising externally to customers and to candidates. Obviously, our business is unique in that we already have two stakeholders, candidates we are trying to attract in order to apply to the jobs that we offer and place them at our customers. But then we do have this third group which is our internal employees, and I actually do not own the relationship with them. It’s another team that’s internal communications, obviously, HR controls benefits and things like that. And that’s where a partnership is actually really important, because for example, the team that runs the skims, social media pages, are not the same people who do the hiring. But that show us your leave campaign, was really a collaboration between the two. And they chose to not talk about the skims product with information, and like their email newsletter and things like that. But they chose to use that real estate to talk about who they are in terms of what they value, that showed up in a benefit. So, having bring in HR partners, bring together marketing and HR, especially, when you want to double down on employer branding is really a good place to start. ‘Cause they’re really owned by two separate functions in most places I would think.

Tessa Burg: Yeah, I’m glad you brought it back to that. Because I think we get caught up as marketers, especially, in B2B, always thinking about this marketing sales alignment, and you know, where we’re at now is we really need alignment as marketers not just with sales but with tech. What’s the most efficient way to bring these experiences to life and HR? How are we being authentic? How are we leveraging what we know about our target customers? We may also be employees to reach them in ways that are meaningful and significant. So yeah, I think this is, you know, you said that and I thinking to myself, I’ve never collaborated with HR, so it’s probably like a lot of people in that boat.

Whitney Cornuke: To be honest, this is the first role in which I’ve collaborated with HR. Coming from CPG, they were totally distinct groups.

Tessa Burg: Mm-hmm. That’s awesome. Well, thanks so much, Whitney, for joining us. If people want to reach out to you directly, if they have questions or want to connect, where can they find you?

Whitney Cornuke: They can find me on LinkedIn for sure. Whitney Cornuke is a pretty unique name, so I think I’m the only one, but that would be the easiest place to find me.

Tessa Burg: And then what about TalentLaunch? If they want to learn more about TalentLaunch and–

Whitney Cornuke: Yeah, so mytalentlaunch.com is the corporate website. You can see who we are and what we’re doing as well as all the different staffing and recruiting brands that we own, and what markets or industries they specialize in.

Tessa Burg: Fantastic. Well, we’ll talk to you again soon. And if you want to hear more Leader Generation episodes, you can find our showcase page on LinkedIn. Just search the Leader Generation podcast, or you can visit Mod Op at modop.com.

Whitney Cornuke

Senior Vice President of Marketing at TalentLaunch

Whitney has fifteen years of experience in driving businesses through strong P&L management, financial analysis, product innovation and go-to-market strategy, brand strategy and multi-media communications, team leadership and people development, and retail strategy and partnership. She is also passionate about coaching and developing talent to build high-performing teams.