By Jim Lanzalotto
Employer branding is the kind of business program that companies focus on when times are good.
But when an economy goes south like it has for the past few years, employer branding and its functional brethren, such as training, travel and promotional programs, are treated like children at family holiday gatherings -- off to the satellite table in the foyer.
So now that the U.S. economy is starting to eke its way out of the worst economic downturn of the past seven decades, it's time to dust off your employer brand as well as your preconceived notions.
Because it's time to fine-tune your employer brand to include your contingent workforce as an audience.
I'm sure the end of that sentence sent HR purists and their lawyers into a veritable tizzy and put their shorts in a bunch. But the stark reality is that for many companies, contingent programs are the source of as much as 25 percent of their traditional workforce. And unless companies wise up and learn to engage their contractors, consultants and freelancers in the fundamentals of their business, they stand to lose those valuable resources to other companies in the long run.
The reasoning is simple. When staffers -- regardless of their classification -- know, understand and can communicate a company's value proposition, customer-facing programs become much more effective, because the employees become champions of the company. And that's more important than ever, because the continual organizational changes that have plagued firms for the past few years have fragmented relationships with traditional and contract employees. Internal marketing can connect all parties with common goals and values.
Now, I'm not promulgating that companies dump their arms-length relationships with contingent workers (just lose the inane term limit requirements, which we know do not mitigate co-employment issues). Nor do I think you should ever consider dropping your staffing relationships. But when it comes to your employer brand, it makes sense to expand it to engage this large source of potential employees.
And the best part is you already have an infrastructure in place to make it work.
Plan of Attack
First, work with your marketing leaders (they're the ones with the cool toys in their office) to better understand the messages behind your external communications plans. Then, in concert with your internal communications team, develop a program that packages all of your company's core messages into a straightforward presentation that can be delivered to contingent workers of all kinds.
Because communicating with customers with an identical voice improves the potential success of campaigns and enhances the return on marketing investments, internal programs should focus on the messages that you communicate to customers.
Now it's time to engage your supplier organizations in this program. Start with your MSP and the people who manage your on-site operations. Work with them to make sure that your company's key messages come across loud and clear and are communicated consistently by all contingent workers.
This kind of work can begin in an orientation session and continue in quarterly or other regular meetings your on-site teams have with contingents. There are other tools, too -- from webcasts to Intranet sites -- that can help continue that communication. And don't forget promotional products like posters, screensavers or desktop tchotchkes to help remind your stakeholders of those messages.
Remember, the goal here isn't to ruin the transparency of your programs with your MSPs. It's more to make sure that everyone who works at your company communicates the same messages when they're interacting internally and externally. Quite simply, everyone who works in your business needs to know why they're at work and why what they do makes a difference to your customers.
It's very easy to forget fundamental things like that, especially in today's far-flung work environments, in which entire teams rarely meet face-to-face. And, because many teams are made up of a mix of company employees and contractors or consultants, an expanded employer branding effort will go a long way to making workers of all stripes feel like they're impacting the business in a positive way.
Jim Lanzalotto runs Scanlon.Louis, a strategy and marketing outsourcing firm that helps companies grow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610.212.5411.