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Will Employer Brand Exist After COVID19?

How does Employer Brand survive a crisis like COVID19?

Employment branding pros are not immune to the wave of layoffs happening throughout the world.

Will a employer-controlled economy (more people than jobs) need a great brand to land employees?

To say the future is uncertain is an understatement, so we brought on EB extraordinaire James Ellis to help us sort out what the profession looks like in a post-coronavirus world. We also discuss the vendors who will thrive, and who will dive, in this brave new reality.

This EXCLUSIVE brought to you by NEXXT, better ways to get the right candidates.


James : I think every company walks out of this crisis with a story, and that sort of story is either amazing or terrifying. And they're going to have to grapple with that because that story is their brand.

Intro: Hide your kids, lock the doors, you're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls, it's time for The Chad and Cheese Podcast.

Joel: What's up boys and girls? You're listening to The Chad and Cheese Podcast. I'm your co-host Joel Cheesman.

Chad: And I am Chad Sowash.

Joel: And on today's show we are honored to have the great, the honorable James Ellis.

Chad: Who?

Joel: Employment branding expert on the podcast. James, welcome.

James : Get my agent on the phone. This is not the podcasts I agreed to.

Chad: That's how we get you.

Joel: You're in Chicago, right?

James : It's true. I am live in Chicago.

Joel: Right. What's the COVID-19 update from Chicago?

James : I don't know. My wife only lets me go out of the house once a day, once a week rather, to get groceries. We hunker down, for real.

Joel: Smart.

James : Yeah.

Joel: Good for you. Good for you.

James : Yeah. Though I am making my own home-made masks out of T-shirt sleeves. That tells you the state of America these days.

Joel: Nice. James, for our few listeners who don't know you, give them the elevator pitch.

James : Okay. Well, first off, what's your problem exactly? How? How? How?

Chad: It's what I'm asking.

James : Exactly. No. I'm James Ellis. I am a self-described employer brand nerd and I feel pretty confident saying that because if you Google employer brand nerd, I am anywhere from seven to four of the first 10 results. Google said I am, therefore, I must be, as we all know to be true. Ah, gosh. I run a podcast called The Talent Cast. I have a weekly newsletter called Employer Brand Headlines. I talk about employer brand, I think about employer brand, I write about them, and build, and launch, and sell employer brand stuff. Really, that's all I do.

SFX: Hell yeah.

Chad: Did you research the actual keywords for employer brand nerd to know that you could own those words?

Joel: Everybody's searching that term.

James : Oh yeah. It's a hot commodity. If I tried to pay for that, it would be astronomical. No, it was purely happenstance, as is most of my marketing, where I just realized I was a nerd about this thing, put it in. And then once I went, "Hey, I wonder how hard it is to find me if I type in keywords," and there I was. I went, "I

guess I own this one now."

Chad: Let's jump into this real quick, because we are hearing left and right from employer brand professionals everywhere that employer brand matters more now than ever. My question is, is employer brand even going to matter after COVID?

James : Yeah. That's a great question because ... And it starts with this idea of, what the heck is an employer brand? I always joke that anybody who talks about an employer brand without defining an employer brand is clearly trying to sell you something, and doing so by grabbing you by the ankles and shaking until the change falls out of your pockets. I don't to be that guy. I'll happily sell you stuff, but well, it's not today.

Chad: Joel is that guy. Yeah.

James : Yeah. Joel is clearly that guy. Excuse me. Pardon me. Take two. Joel is not that guy. I'm not pandering at all. Employer brand is this idea that what one person thinks it's like to work at your company based on a myriad of different touch points and experiences. Called into customer service, had a great experience, yay. Read a news story that one person sexually harassed another person, boo. Has the story that the CEO is screaming at an employee, boo. All the stuff that happens. Recruiter is a spammer, boo. Recruiter's great, yay. All those things add up into a perception of what it's like to work there, and then you aggregate that amongst all of your talent pool, and that's your employer brand.

So if that's true, and I'd like to say that it is, not that I invented it or anything, employer brand is a function of, what's your culture, what's your leadership, what's your policies, and what's your options, what's competition option sets. If you break those four ideas down, has your culture change in COVID-19? Well, gosh, I'm sitting in my dining room, you're sitting in your various living rooms, I hope, and not the smallest room of your house, because if so, I don't want to be on that podcast. Because we know what happens there. Everybody's in a weird world of hurt. Everybody's on various telev-conference conversations and phone calls and video chats and all this stuff. And your culture naturally changes because all the informal touch points around the water cooler, the coffee, the lunch, the pop in on your boss ask a quick question, kind of conversations. Hearing when everybody's talking about The Bachelor for whatever reason, or I guess in this case, Tiger King. Getting that level of ... Is that a secret word? Thank you. Thank you very much.

Joel: Joe Exotic always gets an applause on this show.

James : Okay. Fair enough. Again, employer brand in King. So the culture changes. The employer brand has to take that in account. If you have to ask the question of what happens next? What happens when this is all over? Do we all go back to the office? Should we go back to the office? If we don't, what happens? The culture is taking some pivot, so it does impact employer brand. Leadership. How did leadership respond to the pandemic? Did they say, "Go back to work," and, "What do you need a mask for?" Or did they say, "Everybody go home, take care of yourself, take care of your families and figure it out. We'll figure it out together." Those things are going to impact your employer brand. To quote one Mark Cuban, who I am

known generally to quote, it's going to impact your employer brand for decades. How you responded. A candidate is going to walk up and say, "I'd love to work for you except I have one simple question, what happened when the chips were down?" Did you care for your employees or did you not care for your employees? That's your employer brand.

Joel: Chad wants to leap into a post-COVID world. I want to have a little bit of context in what we're dealing with six months ago and what we're dealing with now. Because I think a lot of people's perception is, employment brand manager is a nice to have, it's not a must have. I think the perception is, when the economy's great, let's get some employment brand people, things are good. Then things go in the tank, okay, we're not hiring, so the contract recruiters are gone. And I think most people think the next person to go is the employment brand manager. Is that a wrong person perception or is it correct?

James : If your sense of employer brand is just recruitment marketing, with a little bit of polish on it, then yeah, probably. If you're not hiring, you don't need that person. That's a completely valid approach. I think it's a wrong approach because I think it's the wrong way of perceiving the value of that person. First off, the reason why we needed employer branding was yes, it was a function of higher competition. The fact that we're competing with more and more companies, more and more places, more and more times, meaning you needed an edge to compete and a brand is a great way to get that edge. If we move into a COVID world where the competition shifts, I don't think the competition goes away even if unemployment skyrockets, which let's be fair is happening right now.

Chad: Yeah.

Joel: Yeah.

James : There's need for quality talent change.The fact that it's there, doesn't mean you're going to take the fastest. Recruiting and hiring managers has shown over and over again that even when you bring them three amazing, talented candidates, the hiring manager four times out of five says, "Let's ask for one more person. Maybe there's someone even better out there." Right? That's a pretty standard expectation. Employer brand says there's always better talent to find, maybe this is a chance for your company to functionally level up at different roles to say, "Okay, we could have brought in a B level candidate, but now with competition being a little different, we might look for an A level candidate. Maybe we could bring in someone who might work for one of those big companies."

But at the same time, I don't think the competition has shifted that way at all, because two things happen. One, there are industries that are hiring like absolutely crazy, pharma, biotech, manufacturing. All these companies that are going to change because of the COVID virus, they're hiring like crazy, which means the competition skyrockets. The talent hasn't shifted, but the competition has. The other element here is that, because we're in a more remote friendly world, since this has proven to every HR director and hiring manager and leader that everybody can get great work done from their dining room and living room, maybe they just stop paying rent, maybe they just close down the office and everybody works from home, or at least a good portion will. Now what happens there is, that person who is now working from home can now work at any company, and suddenly the number of options they have of where they could work

exponentially changes. They could work in Seattle and Florida and Maine and Vegas if they wanted to, if they chose to, which means they can apply to jobs all around the country, if not all around the world. Which means the competition maintains a high level. Which means you still have to answer that fundamental question of why should someone apply? And what is it like to work there? And that's employer brand in nutshell.

Joel: Does the EB manager at Applebee's or Chevron move over to Eli Lilly and Pfizer? Or do those organizations keep EB managers, but do they focus more on the state of the current employees and the people that are getting fired in terms of keeping a good state of affairs with them and making sure that Glassdoor doesn't see an influx of tanking reviews? Does the role change or do they just go to another company?

James : I think the role does change a little bit, but I think the role has been changing for a long time quietly. If you think of employer brand is purely a top of the funnel, fill the pipeline kind of role, it's a very limited perspective on what the role can do. If everybody knows why they work somewhere, it changes retention, it changes morale. I think that if you really embrace what employer brand can do, you don't see it as a recruiting function, you see it as a corporate function. That marketing of the brand is marketing's job and comms's job and employer brand's job and investor relation's job that are all talking about the same brand, seeing it through different perspectives. If that's the case, yes, Applebee's, I think Applebee's is an interesting conversation because yeah, there's going to be a glut of cooks and waitstaff ready to get a job the second they start opening those doors, but again, should you be elevating your talent? Should you be looking for better cooks and better waitstaff? Should be you not be willing to take any high school dropout who's willing to fill out that application and say, "Great. Congratulations. You're a busboy and now eventually you're going to make to be a server," or are you going to take people who are good at this, who love doing it? At the same time, why do people want to stay there? Because why people stay there feeds why people want to be there.

Chad: Here's the thing though, we just came out of a candidate really powered environment, where the candidate really, they're the ones with the

James : They're driving.

Chad: The decisions to make. They want to make the change. They can make the change. Now we're flipping over onto the employer side, and as from a branding standpoint, we were really focused on what? User experience, nurturing candidates, being able to really focus on trying to create that relationship. Now, don't you think that's all going to go away because the employers, they have the power. And employers only really give a shit, I'm talking about the vast majority, not all of them, about the experience when they can't find people. When they can find people, they don't give a fuck. They'll pay them less and they don't care what the experience is. "Yeah, take 30 minutes to fill out the application. Oh, you don't want to do that? Screw you. You're not going to work here," because there's so much talent out there.

James : Yeah.

Chad: Don't you feel like that is what we're going back to?

James : The talent is out there, but the talent is applying in every company everywhere. So you still have to create an experience as to why. Now I will quibble and I will ... I think you and I probably agree on this a little bit, that the concept of a candidate experience is what you do when you have nothing worth saying. If you have no real good story to tell, you focus on white glove service and speed of application because what the heck? I got nothing else to talk about. I think every company walks out of this crisis with a story, and that story is either amazing or terrifying. They're going to have to grapple with that, because that story is their brand. Candidate experience, I don't think is all that important, unless you have a crappy story to tell. If you talk about how your CEO said, "Everybody has to go to work," "What do you need a mask for?" "There's no lunch breaks anymore," and heck, we can even make the joke about God said we had to keep the store open.

Chad: Hobby Lobby.

James : Thank you for good catch. That's the story. That's going to be their employer brand. That means certain people are going to say, "I'm never going to work here ever again." So you're going to have to get someone to work there. I don't know that we're ever going to get to the point where, maybe it's the point where you can put any idiot in any job and it'll be fine, but I don't think that's the case. I think companies for the most part, value talent on some level, even if it's not as high as I would like them. Even if once they look at it deeper, they understand how important talent can be. I think they will want better talent. I think they will use this opportunity to level up who they hire, who they bring in, because they are still competing against the biggest companies in the world all around the country.

Announcer: We'll get back to the interview in a minute, but first we have a question for Andy Katz, COO of Nexxt.

Chad: Andy, if a company wants to actually come to Nexxt and utilize your database and target texting candidates, how does that actually work?

Andy: Right. We have the software to provide it in two different ways. If an employer has their own database of opted in text messages, whether it's through their ATS, we can text on their behalf. Or we have over eight and a half million users that have opted into our text messaging at this point, so we can use our own database, we could dissect it obviously by geography, by function, any which way, sometimes we'll even parse the resumes of the opted in people to target certifications. We really can dive really deep if they want to hone in on, just give me the best hundred candidates that I want to text message with and have a conversation back and forth with, versus going and saying, I need 30,000 retail people across the country, and that's more of yes, no text messaging back and apply.

Announcer: For more information, go to Remember, that's Nexxt with the double X, not the triple X.

Chad: well, here's a great example. Amazon, before this, did not have a great employer brand, people pissing in trash cans, haptic bracelets, all that shit. Now, during COVID [Crosstalk [00:14:24.21]

James : They're the safest.

James : They have 10 locations. They have employees saying, "Hey, we just want to work in a safe environment." What does Amazon do? They stamp that out. They fire the dude. They call him inarticulate. But yet during this whole thing, they've hired 80,000 people in the snap of freaking infinity gauntlet, for God's sakes.

James : Pretty much.

Chad: You would think that if we're looking at the employer brand matters conversation, that these guys would have issues trying to fill those positions, but we also have to take a look at the economic impact. My question is, if a shitty employment brand like Amazon can do this, all these other companies are going to be able to do it too.

James : I think Amazon is a great example, but it tells a slightly different story. Yes, everything you said is factually true and we can even ... Many of us remember the article that came out in the New York Times about what a horrible place Amazon corporate was. Everyone was crying at their desks. Everybody's really brutal. Everybody's obsessive, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I remember at the time talking to someone at Amazon and saying, "Hey, look, just between you and me, how accurate was that article?" And they said, "It's a hundred percent accurate. We just frame it differently. We see those things as good things. We see ourselves as the kind of people who push ourselves." Which to me says, Amazon understands a little bigger picture than just how everybody put the butts in the seats.

Now, to go to your point. Yes, all those things are factually true. Yes, there are some horror stories that comes out of this process for Amazon. At the same time, without Amazon delivering groceries, more of us would be sick. More of us would be living with our kids going, "I don't have a workbook to give my kid to help him or her get through school while we're stuck here." Amazon on some level is also the savior as well as the villain. They have a very complicated story they can be telling depending on who they tell it to. Managing that story, being able to ... Think about anybody you've ever dated, they've never been saints. They've always been some good and some bad, and you've had to manage expectations of what's okay. What am I okay with? Am I okay with the snoring in bed? Am I okay with a bad tipping? Am I okay with ... What am I okay with in this person and still lets me feel like a good person for being with them? These are the

kinds of complicated relationship-driven conversations Amazon, and let's be fair, every company is about to have, and that's still their employer brand. Employer brand just isn't as simple as, what's the poster? What's the tagline? What's the hashtag? What's the social post? It is a deeper, more meaningful conversation because to be fair, jobs are ways of life. Jobs are how people identify themselves and think about themselves, so they have a level of depth of thought that, what cereal do I buy? What laundry detergent do I buy? Doesn't ever get into.

Chad: This feels like an ongoing political campaign, where it's a constant spin for these brands. We have the four year cycle and obviously we're watching presidential candidates spin the shit that they've laid into, but this feels like a political cycle campaign that just is going to continue to have to run.

James : Yeah. And I think there's, it's interesting because in the US, where presidential campaigns are considered, it is usually a split, I pick A or I pick B. I pick this person or I picked that person. Those are my only choices. I'm not going to throw my vote away on a third party candidates, so to speak. That's the joke, right? Jobs, there's no AB, there are literally 18 million businesses in North America alone I could apply to. If you go to any big old job board, I don't have to name any names, and I type in my job title, there are hundreds if not thousands of jobs around the country, many of whom offer remote opportunities I can apply to. And that's where things get more complicated, the competition is much higher. So you do get, like in Europe, where you have small parties and third parties and fourth, these coalitions of parties that come together to form the governing body, we don't have that same kind of split. Though I think the conversation of an ongoing campaign, a perpetually never ending, always evolving, always changing with the times, always responding to the news is a hundred percent accurate. I think that's really interesting.

Joel: We're undoubtedly going to lose some people in this profession through this downturn. In many cases, I've been through two of these professionally, and a lot of the recruiters that recruited don't come back to recruiting. They go sell software or something else. Do the people who get laid off come back to employment brand? Do they try to get a job in marketing? Do they go do something totally different? Are the jobs there in six months to a year? What's your take on the unemployed?

James : Being an employer, brand person is a job only insane people take, and I number myself among those numbers. Because, I can't think of another job in which you have the entire company on your shoulders, right? What the leader does, what the customer service does, what the product selection is, what the marketing campaigns are, who you hire, how you hire, the candidate experience, the recruiters, all of that stuff impacts the employer brand, which you are ostensibly owning. However, you have no control to change any of those things, at best you can be an influencer for those things. Those are some really weird skill sets that are going to play in a lot of different places. I think there are opportunities to move to marketing. I think there are opportunities to move to other spaces. But I think employer brand is still a weird insular instinctual. We all know each other. We all understand where the jobs are. We look, we're a club, and once you get into it, it's possible to find new opportunities. The trick is, it's the people who were junior recruiters who had a "flare for marketing", who are elevated to employer brand specialists to run the event and maybe tweet occasionally. Those people are not coming back, because they were never really in it and of it, they were just doing the job they were given. I get that and it's a valid way of seeing new roles and that's the way it should be, but I don't think they're the ... Maybe one out of 10 come back because they found a way to fall in love with it.

Chad: Don't you feel like this is really employer brand's opportunity, their window

James : Yes.

Chad: To be able to focus on business and how this experience and everything that an employer brand does, internally from a retention standpoint, externally from a candidate, not to mention also touching all of those customers to be able to bring a business case and business terms to the C-suite to say, "Hey, in a crisis, this is exactly why you [Inaudible [00:20:47.06]."

Joel: Prove value.

James : Yeah, exactly. And we've seen that case for a while in bits and pieces here and there. Wells Fargo, after they get sued into the ground, what's the first thing they do for the marketing campaign? Meet the tellers, who had nothing to do with screwing you out of a whole lot of money and making a bunch of accounts. These are the people with the jobs. Papa John's, he's a schmuck. Great. Let me show you the people who own the franchises. These are the good people who are bringing you pizza.

Chad: Yeah.

James : Employer brand has been the go-to crisis PR move for four or five years now, we just never really labeled it as such. And now as more companies see that and can understand how to tap into that, they absolutely will. And there is a very clear business case of how you can do that. But I think the real opportunity, and I think I'm starting to see it in places, is seeing the brand as a holistic idea, not as, this is the part that's owned by marketing, that's the part that's owned by comms, that's the part that's owned by recruiting, It is one brand. And to be fair, businesses need to mature to be able to understand and grapple with the conversations around that. They can't just jump to that. They can't say, "Great. We've got a holistic brand. Yay." You got to get your butt kicked. You got to do things wrong. You've got to figure out how to see employer brand beyond putting butts in seats and filling a pipeline. It's got to be about, how do I make the case that how a person does their job is a reason why people buy the products? Marketing loves that, once they realize that, and they love to jump in on that. I think you're 100% right. This is the chance for smart brands to say, if I take this a little more holistically, there's a huge opportunity to market both the products and the talent that creates the products at the same time.

Joel: Really cool. We have a lot of vendors and solutions providers that listen to our podcast. And right now there are a lot of them that service the employment brand community. There's some software obviously, video, agency-wise. Just like employment branding is sometimes a nice to have, the products around employment branding are nice to haves as well, and those are going to get cut. If you're able to put your vendor hat on, what would you be pivoting to? How would you be changing what business are most at risk

in this environment?

James : I'm a deeply cynical, black-hearted human being. I think you all know me well enough to know that that's 100% true. Thank you. Thank you so much.

Chad: Join the club.

James : I appreciate the studio audience here. That's really nice that you put that together.

Joel: Yeah, no problem.

James : I'm a cynical bastard, no question. I think that people spend money when they have no idea what to say. That the vendors are often a crutch for some ideas, but if you have a vendor who can help you understand what makes you different, what makes you special, who can co put together a holistic, comprehensive idea of why people should want to work for you. I talk to lots of companies who say things like, "Oh, the reason why people should work for us is because we're innovative and we make an impact." And I say, "Okay, great. Let me show you the top 10 companies in your industry, and they all say the exact same thing. So explain to me how you can differentiate on that." If you have a smart message, the channel selection, the software, the tools, the marketing campaign on top of it, I'm not going to say it's not useful, I'm simply saying a smart, well understood, well-defined message is the beginning of everything. If I have no money at all, I focus on my message and how to get it out organically. And then as I get any money or any vendor budget whatsoever, I figure how to amplify that message. But it starts on what makes you special? What makes you different? How do you tell that story?

And maybe it's because I come from a content marketing background that I think that way, that money is secondary, that budget is secondary. That's how I approach it. I think there's plenty of ... Every vendor who tells you that they are the employer brand solution is lying to you, they are a employer brand. I think Glassdoor spent a lot of money and a lot of time trying to tell everybody in the business that your rating was your [glassd[00:24:34.07]] with your employer brand score. I think we've all gotten pretty wise to that, that's not completely true. In fact, they actually have gotten wise to that. They're not talking about that anymore. Anybody who tries to position employer brand as a thing is not right. Anybody who says this is a way to push your message to a given audience and that's the exact audience you want to reach, great. Spend the money there. In terms of how you do it and what companies are going to be best positioned to do great work, I couldn't tell you. I think it's about your depth of getting to see some consolidation. I think they're probably way too many players in the space right now. All kinds of scrambling for what seemed to be a lot of recruitment marketing budget last year, back when there was a lot of budget, there's not going to be the same kinds of budget. It's going to be a focus on why, who, who are you, what's the message and the core baseline stuff.

Chad: Well, James, the reason why this show is so special is because we have special guys like you on, answering the hard questions [Crosstalk [00:25:25.11]

Joel: We love you James.

James: And by special, you mean on the short box? That's valid too.

Chad: Well, I don't know that you're supposed to say that anymore, but okay.

James: Is that not cool?

Chad: I don't know.

James : It's fine.

Joel: Thank God I didn't say it.

Chad: That's usually reserved for a Cheesman comment.

Joel: We're going to have James on as a guest way more often.

James : You acquainted me with Joel? Oh, I feel bad. You're right. I've made a mistake. I've made a horrible mistake. My apologies.

Chad: All of our listeners who, they're, they're not subscribed to The Talent Cast and they want to learn more about James Ellis and all this cool shit that you do, where would they find you?

James : The Talent Cast is or anywhere you get podcasts. And the newsletter that comes out every Monday morning is called Feel free to subscribe. It's a kind of a no pitch zone. It's really about how do I help the industry and people in it stay smart by distilling lots of news stories into a five minute read it. Really, that's what it's all about. That's probably the best way. Otherwise I'm on LinkedIn, Twitter, and blah, blah, blah.

Joel: James Ellis, everybody.

James : Thanks everybody. Thanks guys.

Chad: Excellent dude. Thanks for joining us.

James : Thanks guys.

Joel: We out.

Chad: We out.

Announcer: This has been The Chad and Cheese Podcast. Subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts, so you don't miss a single show. And be sure to check out our sponsors because they make it all possible. For more, visit Oh yeah, you're welcome.

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