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What's Your COVID Brand?

Just when you thought you had that whole employer brand game figured out, along comes a pandemic and tosses that EB playbook right out the window. Expert Neil Harrison joins the boys to discuss brand strategy in the age of COVID. Needless to say, it's a masterclass in how to resuscitate your employment brand and give it a much-needed vaccine shot right in the arm.


  • Will making vaccines mandatory kill a brand?

  • How do employers recreate a sense of community?

  • Will your talent/employer brand be more important than ever before?

  • Can the vaccine be seen as a civic duty or is it too late?

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INTRO (1s):

Hide your kids! Lock the doors! You're listening to HR’s most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheeseman 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 (19s):

Oh yeah. Dooby, dooby, dooby. What's up everybody. It's not Neil Patrick Harris is on the show, right?

Chad (28s):

No, it's not Neil Patrick Harris. It's Neil Harrison.

Joel (32s):

I've been told a handful of lies today. Welcome everybody. I am Joel Cheeseman joined as always by my cohost, Chad Sowash. This is the Chad and Cheese podcast. Chad, tell him what he's won today.

Chad (46s):

Well, Neil Harrison, what you've won is the opportunity to talk about stupid shit on the Chad and Cheese podcast and/or really cool shit as well. Today we have not Neil Patrick Harris. We have Neil Harrison, who is the lead consultant for NH237. This reminds me of remember Oaktown three, five, seven. They had like a couple of like juicy was one of their songs back in the nineties.

Joel (1m 15s):

I thought it was an area code for New Hampshire. Is that not NH237?

Chad (1m 20s):

It could be, but, but anyway, Neil has a very long list of pretty much areas that he's worked. He was in TMP worldwide. Now the new, what Radancy? Is it Radancy now? Or is it I can't remember. Anyway, he's head of employer, brand and insight there for like 12, some years. Neil, tell us more about you. What are we missing? Give us that long walk on the beach kind of Twitter bio.

Neil (1m 51s):

So you don't want to hear about how I met your mother.

Joel (1m 55s):

Oh, that's not bad. A little British dry wit to start the show. That's nice.

Neil (2m 3s):

I thought I'd start with, for me to go on. So hi guys, it's really nice to be here. So I've been working in the field of employer branding for a good chunk of time, actually. The last 15 or so years, as I said, as you suggested working as head of employer, branding and insite at TMP, not the ones who've been rebounded Radancy, Radiancy, whatever you want to call it?

Chad (2m 25s):

Oh really?

Joel (2m 25s):

No raid and C? The Capitol. The Capitol writers were saying that.

Neil (2m 34s):

And I guess my work involves a number of facets in terms of really focusing on EVP. So an organizations, why. At normal event, normal times that non COVID times, we're dealing with a lot of very competitive employment marketplaces. So organizations have to be objective standard aside and understand what is it that good candidates respond to? What is it about this organization that they have to join? And I do a lot of that work in terms of speaking to senior stakeholders, to talking to the key employee audiences and trying to understand what's different, what's unique about the employment experience they're bringing to life.

Neil (3m 19s):

And I've been doing that for a number of years, left TMP about three or four years ago, and set up a NHS, NH237 consulting. It's fairly obvious what the, the word stands for. So I won't spend too much time focusing on that.

Chad (3m 33s):

Are you 37 years old? I mean, what's the 237 for? It's not that obvious, Neil.

Neil (3m 39s):

Well, let's highlight it's for Neil Harrison because our listeners aren't that bright. They might not.

Chad (3m 44s):

I can accept that. Okay.

Neil (3m 46s):

Is it the number of the number of women you've had in your life? Like what is the 237? Neil Patrick Harris, as you well know, doesn't have that many women in his life and I'm a little bit disappointed. So no, 237 is it's a very complicated algorithm that relates to talent acquisition. You probably know, you guys, I wouldn't insult my audience by going over that again. So, yeah. NH237, I worked with organizations domestically in the UK and more internationally, again, trying to understand what is it about the essence of an organization, how it's ties in with organizations, vision and its missions, its values, and trying to bring a why and employment, why to different audiences.

Neil (4m 34s):

It's a fascinating field for my <inaudible>. I really, really enjoy it. And it's good to come here and talk to you guys,

Joel (4m 40s):

Neil, I'm sorry. I'm going to play stupid. I don't know the algorithm of 237 and how it plays into employment branding.

Chad (4m 46s):

It's on the employment brand periodic table. Joel.

Joel (4m 54s):

All right. Let's just put this in the show notes. We'll talk about after the show, let's go into the state of the world. COVID has obviously turned employment branding on its head. It's sort of reformed what companies need to talk about and what they need to offer folks. We've certainly talked about on the show, how companies like Chipolte are offering, you know, mental health benefits that weren't there, but so what are companies doing? What are the questions they're asking you and what are some of the answers that you're giving them?

Neil (5m 21s):

Yeah, there's very little positive come out of COVID and the lockdowns and what have you. But in, in an odd way, there's a simplicity and a clarity that COVID is delivered to employer branding. So the way an organization, any organization is treated is its people, its employee base, since this onset of COVID effectively is their talent brand for the next several years. For me, it's really hard to come back reputationally if an organization's treated it's people in an unsupportive uncommunicative manner. I think for a lot of organizations, there will be a slight temptation to see the current marketplaces as a buyer's market and maybe disregard the employment experience they provide.

Neil (6m 3s):

I think that will rebound on them significantly. And certainly in the UK marketplace, we've seen a real kind of polar divide. So some organizations have been exemplary. The example you gave is fantastic. And what we've seen organizations reaching out, being supportive, listening, really caring for the employee wellbeing, that whole mental process. And just as a slight tangent, I've got a horrible feeling there's going to be a, a mental scarring that attaches itself to an awful lot of us, as a result of what's happened, in COVID and the lockdowns.

Neil (6m 43s):

And that'll be fascinating to see how the better employers support their people. Whether it's that supporting them at home or supporting them in a new office environment that.

Joel (6m 54s):

Say a little more about the mental scarring is that loneliness, depression. What are we talking about?

Neil (6m 60s):

Yeah, it's all the good stuff. So it's going to depend entirely on how people react to potentially being alone or indeed potentially being in a house, a flat with a partner. You don't want to be, with a whole bunch of small children making an awful lot of noise. It depends entirely upon your environment. But I think for the better employers, there's an ability to reach out from screen to screen, my daughter, for example, she's an engineer she's battled home living with us. Her employer couldn't have been better, an international organization, Canadian owned, and they've been supportive.

Neil (7m 42s):

They've nurtured, they've listened to people. They've sent little packages home. They've been fantastic. And you know, as a father looking at how my daughter's doing, you know, couldn't have been, I can't be more positive in terms of endorsing what they'd been about. And there'd been other organizations who've just done the opposite who've frankly, or they put their people on furlough and make them redundant and treated them really abysmally. And that's the essence of, for me of their employer brand for the next two or three years. So in the stories that an organization's people tell over the next six to 12 months, that that's the definition of their employer brand, and it's going to be really hard for certain organizations to come back from that.

Neil (8m 29s):

And they have to be openly, have to be honest about maybe some of their favorite failings. And again, it's about how they tell those stories.

Chad (8m 38s):

We've done a shitty job of telling stories thus far, though. That's the biggest issue. And I'm not just talking about companies, you're talking about countries, right? The United States in itself has done a very bad job in selling that this is a health that has impacted the economy, not the other way around, right? So that's number one. Number two. Now we have in, in Ohio a state that's just next door to us here in Indiana, 60%, 60% of medical staff and nursing homes have declined to take the vaccination, the employers, and the States, and the federal government need to have a brand around this to ensure the only way we're getting back to work Neil is to be able to get the goddamn shot if you're an essential worker, but some of these essential workers are turning it down.

Chad (9m 38s):

What can employers do to be able to help? Because they're going to have to mandate that these shots are taken, if you're coming back into the office. Right? What can they do?

Neil (9m 48s):

Yeah, I think it's a massive issue. I know you talk about mandating and make it and making it obligatory certainly in the UK that's, that's not, that's a non-starter. I think it's about education as much as anything else. I think too, I think there's a war being won, certainly looking at our media, I'll be fascinated to see the balance of how they're playing the virus and up until the beginning of this year. So come March and April last year, there was lots of focused on hospitals, people on ventilators, lots of doom and gloom kind of scaring people. If you like, then as big kind of lockdowns.

Neil (10m 29s):

And then the whole thing eased up. And for me, there was too much easing up of that in the media. So all the health issues weren't really being played front and center, that's changed since the beginning of this year. So we're back to seeing a whole lot of people struggling in hospitals and actually those people who are patients and obviously really, really struggling. They're actually, on-camera talking about that kind of battles with breathing. And I think that sense of education and seeing very ordinary people who neither 80 plus not overweight normal people do normal jobs having caught that through no fault of their own in that situation.

Neil (11m 11s):

I think that there's a sense that Pete, that the tide has been turning down. And certainly as far as the UK is concerned, those kinds of stats that you're talking about probably don't necessarily exist. And you know, we've probably 10% of people have already got that, that first jab. And we'll see how that the rest of that goes. But you can't mandate people. You can't force people because if you force people to try and do something that a lot of them are just going to do the opposite.

Chad (11m 41s):

The problem is if you don't mandate it, then how are you going to get them back into a scenario where there's huge risk that could be associated with them coming back to the office? We're talking about people dying. We're not talking about somebody perspectively getting a fucking paper cut for God's sakes, right. And on LinkedIn, they actually did a poll that had about 80,000 respondents. And the question was, should employees be required to take a COVID-19 vaccination before turning to a returning to the office? Only 36% said, yes. I mean, that to me is a corporate branding issue as well as a country branding issue.

Chad (12m 26s):

And this is going to be different as I, as I think you, you just, we're talking about from Europe to the United States and if you're a multi national type of an organization, you need, it sounds like you have to get a Covid brand ASAP.

Joel (12m 43s):

We Americans don't do well with mandates. Neil. I didn't know if you knew this about us.

Neil (12m 48s):

I'm kind of assuming. No. Yeah. And I, the UK, are we any different? Well, probably slightly more inclined to, to say that to stand in line, but I think it's the way it's like any story, it's that it's the way it's told. And you have to talk to audiences about how to play that. And what's acceptable. What's not, do you scare the ass off people or are you much more conciliatory? Do you have a lot softer notion, a lot softer Tony gas people, but I mean, 80,000 is a massive kind of study. I'll tell you a little piece of research I did three or four months ago. So I researched a bunch of people who were in candid audiences, but we're currently working.

Neil (13m 34s):

So they weren't desperate for a new job. So ask them to ask a bunch of questions. And one of which was you've got a choice. Okay. So your next job, would you prefer to move to an organization that had treated these people well during COVID, but which had some kind of challenges or would you like, what do you next job be with an organization that's doing really, really well, but haven't treated its people well during COVID? The response to that was fascinating. So 93% of people would rather go to an organization that supported, was there for its people, even if it might have some challenges ahead, rather than the other way, round, just 7% of people wanted to work with an organization that might've been doing really well, but we treated these people really, really poorly.

Nexxt PROMO (14m 22s):

We'll get back to the interview in a minute. But first we have a question for Andy Katz, COO of NEXXT. Andy, if a company wants to actually come to Nexxt and utilize your database and target texting candidates, I mean, how does that actually work? Right?So we have the software to provide it 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 by obviously by geography, by function, any which way some in sometimes we'll even parse the resumes of the opted in people to target certifications.

Nexxt PROMO (15m 6s):

So we really can dive really deep if they want to hone in on, you know, 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 a, you know, yes, no text messaging back and apply. For more information, go to Remember that's next with the double X, not the triple X

Joel (15m 43s):

Let's talk about carrots and sticks for a second. Where are you on incentives, incentives or punishments in turn? Like, are you for giving cash bonuses? If you get a shot before coming in, or there's some sort of a punishment, if you don't get a shot in some way, or where are you, where do you fall on that?

Neil (16m 5s):

Fascinating question? I mean, a lot of it is going t be market driven I suspect. And if you're a situation where the market, the labor market is really tough, which is on both sides of the Atlantic, then effectively the power. Power is maybe the wrong word, but employers have the whip hand that. So they have the effectively that the power, whether that's unspoken or spoken power to exert that kind of thing, I think they've really, really struggled in so many marketplaces. And you talk about the Dutch and those guys are out rampaging on the streets because they don't want to be locked down anymore. I suspected if you, if you introduce that kind of thing, there'd be even more rioting.

Neil (16m 48s):

I don't think people can use the stick in terms of getting people back in the office. I think it's about presenting the office as safe. And for me, there's a whole different subject there about how do employers recreate that sense of community back in the workplace. So how so for a lot of organizations, isn't it, you've got empty offices. There's, community's completely broken down there. So how do you recreate that? And there's lots of different facets to that in terms of physical, the physical office space, the health and safety, they have to have a sociological that kind of giving people the confidence to go back into the workplace.

Neil (17m 28s):

How do you manage workflow? But also just literally making it very clear that this is a safe place to return to. Now, where do you do that in terms of saying, look, to come back into our office, thou shalt have this injection, whether you like it or not. I think it'll be interesting to see for some organizations have direct customer contact, because if I'm a customer, do I want to go to a workplace that has that I'm going to come into contact with people that haven't had the vaccination? Probably not. Could you see some litigation down the line? So if I catCovid and you guys got, I've been in touch with you guys, I may be getting a hamburger from you guys are buying a shirt from you guys and you haven't mandated that you guys have a vaccination.

Neil (18m 21s):

All of a sudden, am I going to be suing you as a result?

Joel (18m 23s):

It's pronounced cheeseburger, Neil not hamburger. So I want you to put the carrots and stick away for a second. I want you to bring out your crystal ball. Let's go three to five years in the future. Do we go back to the office? Do we stay at home? Certainly we've talked about on the show of companies are never going back. It's too expensive to have commercial real estate. They're saving so much money at home. Is it like the young people go to an office for awhile? And the old people show up sometime? What, what does this thing look like three to five years from now?

Neil (18m 58s):

I think there's been a natural reaction to say it's the end of the office, it's the end of the workplace. Who needs it? You know, we're doing okay. We've made the best of a bad situation, absolutely Dorsey point about age. And again, going back to my poor daughter. So she's 25. What does she want to do? She wants to meet people in offices. She wants to go out for beers with people. She wants a whole sense of fun and collaboration. And that whole vibe there. Does a considerably able to father want to do that necessarily to a far lesser degree. But having said that just from an ideas perspective, just in terms of generating thought processes, there's nothing like interacting, even in scenarios like this, there's nothing like contact with other people to just spark thoughts, to come up with different concepts and ideas.

Neil (19m 48s):

And that sense of collaboration. I think a whole bunch of people have missed. Not to go back to the office. I don't, I don't think that it's not binary. People talking about. I presented working solution whereby in, it might go back two days a week, you might go by three days a week. You might work one week and off the next week. I think organizations will find their own way through this. Again, it often goes back to your own personal situations. If you're living in a nice house with a nice garden, you've got a nice personal relationship there. You might want to spend more time at home. If those things aren't in place, you're not possibly living in the nicest of home environments from all sorts of different perspectives.

Neil (20m 31s):

Do you really want to spend additional time there? I'm guessing, probably not. So it will depend on so many different facets there. Let me see. Well, what we were started in the UK about, what's why we started no at all, but pollution levels drop like a stone as soon as no one was going to the office. So no one's getting in cars and buses and trucks. And what have you, it's all of a sudden the sky is a clear, the air is nice to breathe and what do we want to do? We want to go straight back to that and all of a sudden, but actually because public, nobody really fancy public transport bought for office reasons. People then realized that actually, if they got in their cars, then they wouldn't be sat next to someone they didn't really fancy sitting next to, they didn't have a mask on.

Neil (21m 19s):

And, and so all of a sudden we're back using our cars again. So do you know what? It's really not clear, but people, people like people, people want the company that sense of company and for a whole generation to miss out on that, I just don't think it's gonna have to happen at all.

Chad (21m 38s):

Isn't it important that companies start engineering that whole idea now on what they're going to do? The actual street strategy on getting people either back in the office, either in a hybrid scenario or what have you so that they can build a brand and a talent acquisition strategy around that? Because if talent acquisition doesn't know in next year, let's say 2022, whether they're going to be a back in the office type of organization, an at-home home organization or a blended organization, it is hard to be able to sell what you don't know.

Neil (22m 16s):

No, exactly. And I think that applies to so many different things. I think people as much as possible want clarity, want a sense of what the next six to 12 months are going to look like. Now for a lot of organizations, absolute clarity in that, in that circumstance is, is impossible. But people want a sense of what it's all about and what ultimately they're working on, what they're contributing to that sense of direction. So just to say, we're just going to play it by ear for the next six months we hope to go, right, but who knows? It isn't really the clarity and reassurance that people are looking for. They want to have a broad idea of what the future is look like and where they're going now, whether that's then an organization pivoting and changing, what it's businesses like or how it goes about its business, or once you're suggesting where it goes about that business that's one thing, but organizations that just leave that, leave that open, I think are going to, are going to be at disadvantage.

Neil (23m 12s):

And that's, I wrote a blog just this week, actually about ripples and, and how organizations, whether it's a global organization, those ripples reaching effectively around the world, or actually just those ripples reaching people's individual houses and flats is another thing. And the importance of internal communications and delivering the people run the talent brand, whatever you want to call it locally, or indeed globally is more important frankly than it's ever been before. And just to neglect that and assume people are okay or assume that because unemployment figures are going up, then actually, do we really need to engage with our people?

Neil (23m 57s):

Do we really need to look out for them? Certainly organizations, some organizations are taking that option is absolutely wrong. And again, going back to the start of this? People's employer brand people's talent brand is being forged as we speak by the decisions they're making in terms of support, nurturing community and communication. So if you're not getting those ripples as magic ripples of communication out to your folk, whether it's in individual laptops or it's to whole countries, then you're going to be at a disadvantage. And whether it's about the office environment, whether it's about vaccination, whether it's about engagement levels, whether it's about really making sure that people are being listened to and their voice is heard, all of those things apply in equal ownership.

Joel (24m 47s):

No, you said most people like people are people like people and, and I actually hate most people, that's a separate podcast.

Chad (24m 56s):

Join the club. `

Joel (24m 57s):

Yeah. So, and, and I hate, I hate people more ever since I've been only talking to Chad for a year, but I want to talk about some of the technologies that have come out and as Chad and I talk about companies and startups that have been funded over the last year, they are very focused on the work from home phenomenon, right. And whether it's video recruiting or, you know, chat bots or job fairs online, they're all trying to solve this problem of, we're not going to get back together again for a while, if at all. So I'm curious your take on technology, you know, companies that want to, you know, build engagement at a work from home environment companies that are, you know, whether it's video.

Joel (25m 40s):

One thing that, a story that I, that came to my mind was that culturally or like women feel like they aren't heard as well on Zoom calls because they're less likely to interrupt people to get their voice heard. So I'm curious, are these technologies going to be longstanding or are they going to fail in building engagement and actual nuances of human engagement going into the future?

Neil (26m 7s):

I think as going back to that original question about, you know, blended working, we're working at home, we work or we're working in the office, it's going to be a combination thereof. And I think some of the, some of the innovation and that's one of the really, really positive things again about what's happened is, the guy who owns Microsoft. You know, he's talking about, there's been two to three years worth of technological development in two to three months. He said that, last year, when they were into the COVID period there, and for better or worse, it's accelerated so much, you know, take the vaccines for example, that the progress has been made in terms of vaccines, which would have taken what 12, 14 years normally it's happened over the course of a year, it's absolutely staggering because there's been a will and there's been money invested in it.

Neil (26m 56s):

And I think that the same thing for a lot of technology that necessity to drive, whether it's video interviewing, whether it's video conferencing, whether it's going to virtual events, I think there will be a sense of blending. I think there will be a natural reaction as, and when people feel it's safe to go to physical events. I think there will be a real desire to go about meeting people and laughing at people and laughing at people's funny names and shaking hands because we've missed all that. So, yes, I think those technologies are here to stay and what's happened to take soon, for example, this isn't a so you've obviously, but I've, I've had several Zoom calls today, as I'm sure most people listening to this that have done that and have probably had pre COVID have had probably as many as I have in a week normally now.

Neil (27m 50s):

So we've embraced, there's been a sense of embracing technology. I think we're quite discerning about it. And I think we were, you know, there've been some video conference facilities, for example, which were around pre-Zoom, which all of a sudden we didn't really like they weren't, they were a bit clunkier and unintuitive. So yes, it's great that people are harnessing new technologies, that those technologies have been accelerated as a necessity of COVID. I think we're more discerning as users in terms of thinking, do you know what to great idea, but it's bit clunky and actually, do you know what I'd really like to go and meet people in person again, because we can do that. And you know, six, nine months down the line, who knows, but will those things be dropped entirely?

Neil (28m 32s):

No, they weren't because they're massive labor savers. Do we want to be jumping on planes? Like we did to the, to a certain extent, no, we won't be doing that. Like everything. I think the solution is probably somewhere in the middle

Joel (28m 43s):

I love that you said laughing at people, instead of laughing with people.

Neil (28m 48s):

Yeah. My mistake.

Joel (28m 49s):

I want to party with you.

Chad (28m 52s):

Exactly what he was thinking. So I'm glad he said it. I'd like to, I'd like to just say to all the listeners out there and, and it, that we have done this before. If you remember, in the 1950s, the polio vaccine. We provided, I know in the US we actually built a brand, it had a mascot, it was a civic duty, right. And companies got behind that and everybody's got their vaccination. So we can do this. We don't have to use the word mandate, but God damn it. These things have to happen. But we overall companies, the employees, we have to get a better idea of how we get there. And Neil, we appreciate you taking the time to talk to us about this.

Chad (29m 36s):

If listeners want to find out more about you, where would you send them?

Neil (29m 42s):

You would go to, a bit of a mouthful, I do apologize. Plenty of information on there. Plenty of blogs, which you might want to listen to about subjects like this, right across some acquisition, EVP space, come along and have a look at their website.

Joel (29m 59s):

Love it.

Chad (30m 0s):

Excellent. Really appreciate it, Neil.

Neil (30m 3s):

Thank you guys. Really good talking to you.

Chad (30m 5s):

Another one in the can, Joel. We out.

Joel (30m 7s):

Well, we out, all right now, best band from Liverpool, not named the Beatles?

Neil (30m 12s):

Echo and the Bunnymen.

Joel (30m 14s):

Fair enough.

OUTRO (30m 38s):

Thank you for listening to podcasts with Chad and Cheese. Brilliant! They talk about recruiting. They talk about technology, but most of all, they talk about nothing. Anyhoo, be sure to subscribe today on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. We out.


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