On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

What exactly is an ‘employer brand’?

It’s what it says it is.

A product brand is the totality of how a product appears to any individual: not just price and performance, but character and reputation. Ordinary people have no difficulty in responding to the question: "If this product was a person, what sort of person would it be?" That’s because we all sum up our views and feelings about inanimate objects in much the same way as we sum up our views and feelings about fellow human beings: rational, emotional, functional, instinctive, intuitive, subjective, relative, often internally incoherent, yet all bundled together in a seamless mix.

The term "employer brand" simply recognises that all enterprises that employ staff – be they manufacturers, charities, government departments, airlines, newspapers or insurance companies – will also be seen by their staff and potential staff in precisely the same way; and that, like any valuable brand, they need sensitive care and nourishment.

To earn a reputation for being an outstanding company to work for, and for that reputation to be widely shared, can be worth a fortune. Some companies believe that all you have to do is offer the most money and you’ll attract the most promising applicants. You won’t. You’ll attract the applicants who believe that the best companies to work for are the companies that pay the most money. End of. But no intelligent company will want to confine its intake to one-track monetarists. The best people like what they do, not just what they get paid for doing it. People who join for money will leave for money.

A good way to sense the value of a strong company brand is to join a group of university mates, at their annual reunion, five years after they’ve all started work. For the first three years, bragging rights belonged exclusively to those who’d snapped up the highest offer, irrespective of brand values. They were the first to flash the fancy car, the first to the Limehouse flat, the first to membership of Twinkles.

For the first three reunions, they were the noisy ones while the others simulated admiration and envy. And then the noisy ones grew quieter. Mondays weren’t much fun any more. They might have to move to Ho Chi Minh City. Their boss was a bastard. Felicity had turned out to be quite high-maintenance and there was still that mortgage…

The gratifying thing about a really positive employer brand reputation is that it’s formidably hard to fake. If you’ve got one, you almost certainly deserve it; and once you’ve got one, you know its value, so you want to keep it. You won’t think you can preach pride and practise pusillanimity because you know you can’t. Somehow, always, the truth seeps out.

Are you, I wonder, unhappy in your work?

My boss has vetoed the delivery of personal online purchases to the office, saying that the burden on the post room is too great. Is this short-sighted?

I suggest you draw his attention to the question immediately above. In company management, it’s almost always the smallest things that are the biggest giveaways; and that’s true for both the positive and the negative.

A handwritten note, in ink on paper, from the right person at the right time, tells you more about a company than a self-congratulatory 75-deck PowerPoint presentation. And so does prohibiting people from having personal stuff sent to the office. Good management would sound out the post room and see that they were compensated for any extra workload.

It seems that each new social media platform has its own rules and regs for advertisers, and this helps agency margins as they can employ well-paid specialists who can be justified to procurement. Did this happen at the birth of magazines, and how long was it before rationalisation came?

Magazines started selling advertising space in about 1820, before there were any advertising agencies. Rationalisation began in about 1864 with the birth of media brokers such as Carlton Smith.

But it was all a bit before my time, I’m afraid – unlike social media, which came a bit after.

‘Ask Jeremy’, a collection of Jeremy Bullmore’s Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10.Telephone (020) 8267 4919
Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE