Hi, my name is Georgiana. I am the CEO and founder of Beaglecat, and soon you will be listening to Employer Branding: The Inside Podcast. In this podcast, I regularly talk to employer branding managers and acquisition managers, and human resources managers in tech companies in Germany, Romania, and the US. For more content on employer branding-related themes, go to employerbranding.tech or beaglecat.com. Stay tuned!
As the holiday season approaches, we’re closing up 2022 with a special 7th episode of #EmployerBranding: The Inside Podcast (season 6). We have the opportunity to speak with Bryan Chaney, co-founder of Talent Brand Alliance. We talked about #TalentBranding, #storytelling, the massive layoffs phenomenon, employer #blanding, trends happening next year, and a lot more.
What you’ll learn by listening
- An overview of talent branding, the holistic story of what a company is doing
- Why do companies fear of telling unique, realistic stories?
- What is employer “blanding”
- How to fight for the truth in employer branding with stories from real people
- Key insights into the massive layoffs phenomenon of 2022
- Is it possible to lay people off and lose your employer brand reputation?
- Job descriptions vs job ads – the key differentiators
- What’s next for employer branding in 2023?
About Talent Brand Alliance
Talent Brand Alliance is a community and event organization where recruitment marketers and employer branders can collaborate and learn.
We are an online community and event for employer branding and recruitment marketing professionals sharing knowledge, best practices, and collaborating to help push the talent branding profession and recruiting industry forward.
Your talent brand is the honest story of life as an employee inside your organization. Talent Brand Alliance was created for the talent attraction professionals who tell this story every day.
Podcast link – Enjoy listening on Spotify!
Podcast transcription – Employer Branding T.I.P S06Ep.07
Hi, everyone! This is Georgiana with a new episode of Employer Branding: The Inside Podcast. It’s the end of the year. And it looks like I’m talking to more and more interesting guests. As this podcast ages or advances, or I don’t know how to put it anyway, it’s exciting to be speaking to my guest today. I was thinking a few days ago, about who are the best people to invite to this podcast.
And I was fortunate and lucky enough to have almost all of them. And today I’m speaking to Bryan Chaney. He is royalty, in my opinion, no pressure there, Brian. He’s one of the founders of Talent Brand Alliance. He has so so much experience when it comes to talent management, not just Employer Branding. I’m sure you have a lot to share, Brian. But first, before we get into our topics, and our questions, please let us know how you got into Employer Branding. What made you stick to employer branding for so long? And how do you keep on learning and keep on being one of the best out there?
Well, I will say that I never stopped learning. And I really appreciate that warm introduction. I’ll try to keep it interesting. I’ve been doing this work for a long time, since 2004, actually. And what got me into the space was a job doing web and graphic design. So I’ve been a marketer for a long time. And I accepted a job at a recruiting agency doing web and graphic design work. And two weeks later, they said congratulations, you’re now in sourcing. And what that really meant was you have to source your prospective candidates for a list of clients that we already have. And you’re going to be launching recruitment marketing campaigns for them. So I fell into the practice of employer branding, recruitment, marketing, or talent branding, depending on where you sit in the world.
That’s interesting for me to hear because I think we have sort of a similar background. Of course, my story with employer branding doesn’t go as far back as yours. But I also started with digital marketing, then I transitioned into recruitment marketing. And yeah, 2004. Well, that’s such a long time, you basically saw I think the field developing itself. And that brings me back to one of the points that I discussed in other podcasts with other guests. The US is five steps ahead of Europe when it comes to employer branding.
What’s interesting there is, I will say that the perception is that Europe is ahead of the States. And the reason is the level of maturity. While the US does things that other countries might not for the pursuit of employer branding and recruitment, marketing, and storytelling, the level of maturity and expectation for people in the role, I think has been set at a better level across Europe. But that’s my take on it.
I think you’re absolutely right. However, in reality, after speaking to people who have been in the room in companies in the US, it seems to me that the real deal is happening in the States where real budgets are used and employer branding in the States and that people who occupy these roles really have something to say because they actually do employer branding in a strategic way. Whereas we tend to see it in Europe, in my opinion, it’s more of a recruitment, marketing effort. Sometimes we combine it with social media, and sometimes with event organizing. So that’s my perception then. Well, I have worked in Romania as well for a while.
Yeah, and I would definitely say that it also depends on the size of the organization. It looks very different in a 400-person organization than a 400,000-person organization. One person doing the work does not equal, everybody else. I like to say, there are no experts. But really, there’s no one right way to do what we do. So that’s why I focus on constantly learning.
Indeed. In my current job, I get the feeling that I’m expected to be some sort of jack of all trades. So I totally agree with you on that one. But um, uh, Brian, seven years ago, you founded the Talent Brand Alliance. Obviously, you probably wanted to give something back from all that you’ve learned. What exactly has led you to do this? And how has this organization evolved?
All the way back in December of 2012, I was having a pint with my good friend Will Staney. And we were talking about where these organizations existed. We were in similar lines of work. And we said, Where, where can we learn? Where are the people? How can we understand what’s expected of us and how we can succeed. And it just didn’t exist.
Fast forward a few years, and we decided to co-found The Talent Brand Alliance together because we knew what we wanted. And we wanted to go build it and make it available for the people doing this work. There are some first-mover motivations for doing that. We want to be the standard. We want to help define what the profession is. The bad news is that we still haven’t defined what profession is reliable. But we’re making progress. And especially over the past few years, employer branding has really risen in visibility across the corporate landscape as a means to tell the story, attract people, and manage your reputation, so that people understand what they’re getting into and what they should look for in their next career move.
And, you know, while we’re looking at your profile, I came across this term, which makes a lot of sense, but which I hadn’t seen before called Talent Branding. And I’m wondering, is it the same as Employer Branding? Is a different? And where do you feel you bring more value because you’ve worked in the in the two throughout your career.
I don’t think it’s a matter of more or less value, I think it’s a matter of scope. And when you think about what we refer to as talent brand, it’s inclusive of employer brand, recruitment marketing, but also employee communications. All those pieces are interconnected. If it was a diagram, there would be a huge overlap in the three circles, understanding what we do, how we impact each other, and how we need each other to be successful. So a talent brand is a holistic story of what a company’s doing, and the way that they would like to be perceived, which is more traditionally employer brand.
But a talent brand is really about bringing employee stories into it. So the unvarnished stories, the reputation experience, around what a company is providing for employees, and, and that is their voice elevated. So it’s not just how do I want to be perceived, but to how are the people living these stories, actually perceive their own experience. And then how is that communicated and activated and leveraged? And that’s talent brand as a holistic entity.
Yeah, that actually makes a lot of sense. And I would add to the whole talk about Employer Branding, talent branding, employee communications, I would add creative ideation, which is something that you also specialize in. And I cannot stress enough how important storytelling and, and having a strong creative ideation process in place for a company in order to better attract and retain talent. And yet so many companies fell short of doing it. Why do you think that happens?
Well, quite simply, the easiest answer to give is that most companies are afraid to stand out. They’re afraid to tell actual unique stories from the people who live them. And it’s a practice that I like to refer to as employer blanding. So what that means is, if you take someone’s EVP, or a company’s EVP or a company’s tagline, their statement, their marketing materials, the things that they put out there to tell that story. For the majority, the overwhelming majority of companies, you can pull that company’s name off of those materials and swap it with just about any other company doing a similar thing. So there’s no differentiation.
There’s no unique aspect that’s different that’s standing out and telling a true story of what that experience is going to hold for the employee. And that’s a big problem for storytellers, for people who want to differentiate, for people who want to know, why am I going to this company versus another company. And it’s because I will say, employer branding, or the act of talent branding, is relatively new, when you consider the comparison to marketing. It’s usually a few years behind the marketing trends, the marketing aspects and tactics and strategies that really push things forward.
So there’s the abyss ability to be brave. And maybe it’s because we, you know, the majority of us sit in HR, maybe we’re afraid to be brave, we’re maybe we’re afraid to take risks, maybe we really don’t understand what that differentiator is that we tend to want to say things and put posters up in the lobby of things that make you feel good, but that sound a whole lot like other safe things and experiences that other companies have said.
Have you failed, this is just something that’s crossed my mind spontaneously. Have you found yourself in the role of having to be a denture at some point? Of having to just fight for what you thought of, for what you believed in, in any of the organizations you were in. Because like you said, we’re attached somehow to HR, other times with marketing, because it happened to me. And it’s so difficult to sort of bridge the two areas.
You have to fight in a creative way, you have to fight in a fair way. And you have to fight knowing that you’re a fit, you’re effectively fighting a family member because in the end, you’re still on the same team. But you have to fight with data, with stories, and you have to have those experiences of the employees that tell the accurate story of what you offer, and be truthful about what that exchange is, we like to be aspirational a lot of times. And what that does is that puts a gap between the day-to-day experience today in where the company would like to see it go, or where people would hope that the company ends up.
So there’s this gap in experience. And if you’re talking about where you want to go just about where you want to go and less about where you are, what you end up doing is you end up attracting people who get disappointed, get disengaged, and ultimately leave the company because they were sold something that was never delivered. And I think that’s a big part of the gap. And the thing that you have to fight for is the truth. And you have to use stories from real people to be able to substantiate that truth, and not just what the marketing team may want to represent along their own narrative.
This is a very encouraging perspective because I feel that most of us working in employer branding have to fight our way through most of the time. And it helps to know that it you know, it’s the case for everybody, that we’re not alone.
The challenge is you have to fight and you still have a fan on the other side of that competition when you’re done.
Exactly, exactly. I stumbled upon a very interesting quote on your LinkedIn profile. You have a lot of very educational and informative content. But this one attracted my eye because in the end, I think Employer Branding is essentially about humans. And you were saying that the humans we build relationships with will outlast all companies that we may represent, we should act accordingly. How does this statement apply nowadays a lot with all this madness that we’re witnessing all of these layoffs, everyone just writing messages and then posting on LinkedIn on how they’ve been fired the day before? How can we still navigate this in a civil manner? How can we not hate everyone in the company that just let us go?
I think that’s important to talk about layoffs because most people who are laid off are done so by little to no fault of their own. It’s a decision that the company has made for business interests. It’s not a decision that your direct supervisor made or even their supervisor. It’s something that the company has decided to do either because they actually need to do it and have that restructure, or they’re taking advantage of the market and the perception of all these companies doing layoffs right now.
And they’re hopping on the bandwagon to try to cut as much of their costs out either before year-end before reconciliation, or because they’ve overhired and made decisions that were not right for their time and growth previously, and they’re trying to correct for that. So all that said, I think it’s really important to know that you have relationships with the people that you’ve worked with. And those relationships will far outlast overwhelmingly far outlast the relationship that you have with the company, because how many times have you come across someone, and you worked with them three companies ago.
And, and I say that because I’m, I’m a little bit older. I’ve been doing this work for, as you said, a while. But one thing I’ve learned over time, as I’ve seen a few of these downturns is the relationships will outlast the employment. So if you understand that, then you can grasp on to the relationships with individuals and understand what they’re able to give you, what you’re able to offer them in return. And take that for the actual exchange, the actual value, the currency that you’re getting from those relationships. Yes, it helps you pay your rent or your mortgage, yes, it puts food on the table.
But the real earnings, the real value that you’re getting is the relationships that you’re able to build as a result of those working environments. And that’s the currency. That’s the exchange. That’s the capital that you’re building up over time is the people who know who you are, know what you can deliver, and know your dependability, your character, all the things that you stand for. Those are the people who are going to help you above and beyond what some company may offer you at a point in time when it suits them.
I absolutely agree. I think this is very encouraging if you like and a very warm touching perspective because it emphasizes the human side of working in employer branding and seeing people as assets, which really are the most important asset of a company. But now if we were to put ourselves in the perspective of the company, do you think it’s possible to lay people off and not lose your reputation, your employer brand reputation that sometimes you work for decades to build?
I do absolutely think that’s possible. I think it’s rare. But I do think it’s possible. In a recent instance, I had a chief people officer ask me, we’re about to go through some reductions. We’re about to go through a layoff. How do we protect our employer brand? And my response to them was you take every single resource, every single dollar every single ounce of effort and creativity, and you want to drive your employer brand and protect that reputation.
And you give it to the people that you’re about to impact. Because that is the way that you safeguard your employer brand is by using the means that you have at your disposal to ease that transition to help support them, and to also communicate to them in an effective way. You have everything from zoom layoffs, to email layoffs, to things that were done, in, in retrospect, in poor taste, and maybe even ahead of time it was poor taste, and they made the decisions to do it anyway.
But if you think about that experience, it’s going to align a lot with your candidate experience or what you prioritize in your in the way you treat people. And you can protect your reputation, it’s going to take a hit. It’s you’re gonna get some ratings and reviews that don’t align with who you want to be. But overwhelmingly what’s going to happen is people are going to understand the investment that you made in helping them make that transition, whether that’s outplacement support, severance, whether that’s how you communicate with them, the resources that you provide, even as little as the message that you send to them to let them know why this thing is happening and going to impact their world, the tone, the voice, the words, and how you want to support them and refer to them after they’re gone. That’s going to protect your employer brand, that is going to help you move forward because people understand that how you react in the worst situation reveals your character.
I agree. And you know, there’s a lot of talk about how Employer Branding is about honesty, it’s about the truth, and the truth will get you the furthest. It’s always important to not lie, although everybody lies, right? You’ve come across this statement many, many times. But still, what’s your perspective on it? How important is honesty? And how can we all make use of it without fearing looking vulnerable? Because I think in the end, ultimately, that’s what companies will fear. If I say too much, if I show too much, who will apply to work for us?
Well, to respond directly to your question, if you show too much, who will apply? The people who are ready for what you have today. Those are the people who will apply. They might not be the people that you thought you were going to be recruiting. But if you tell people that you have very little stability, that you have a lot of challenges from an organizational structure, that there are uphill battles that they’re going to have to fight, and that there’s a lot of systems that still need to be defined, you’re telling your potential candidates who are looking for that level of challenge, who have built that thing, who have climbed that mountain. You’re telling them that you have a chance for them to do it again.
For a lot of channels, honesty tends to be about how we feel, or the experience that we have, or our opinion. So honesty, so much in that expression is really more about telling it from our own perspective and being true to that. It’s not necessarily about facts. But I would say that being honest and telling the honest story from the perspective of employees and what they’re going through and what they’ve been through, I think is absolutely essential to be able to do this work. Because if you’re not honest, you’re creating a problem six to 12 months down the line. And you’re doing it for the sake of a short-term game that won’t yield what is driving the reason that you decided to tell that lie or to be dishonest. You wanted to do that so that people can come in and help you solve those problems. And if you do that, then they’re not going to be around to do what you need to do long term.
So that brings us to the very expression of a company’s brand if you’d like, or the very expression of what is expected of someone. And that is expressed usually in a job description, which nowadays, sounds like every other job description. On top of that, they will present these very unrealistic requirements and demands that just put people off and I’m wondering what kind of advice or practical tips would you give companies that publish job ads out there?
Well, I would agree that a lot of job ads sound the same. And back to the employer branding, or should I say employer blanding, it’s understanding that you have to tell unique messages. The job description, job ad or job posting. Notice, notice there’s a distinction. And I’ll call out the fact that if a job posting says that you need to be able to lift 20 kilograms and, and pivot during the day or squat. It’s a job description. It’s not a job posting or an advertisement. It’s a legal document. And so the people writing legal documents are needed, but they’re needed in legal and HR.
So when you think about what a job description should be, as it goes to an external market, a job posting or advertisement should actually be speaking to the things that are absolutely essential for success in the role, and talking about the unique differentiators the things that they’re offering, that aren’t in any other job. What does this person care about? And hiring teams know this. So you have to be digging into the stories with them. Because they’re not thinking about, necessarily, what is the most compelling, they’re thinking about what will sell it. And there are two different things. So you have to be able to listen to the hiring teams or the hiring manager, you have to be able to distill the most compelling pieces of that job alongside the things that are most critical for the person to do.
If you see a 38-bullet point list of job requirements, you did not sit down with that hiring manager and have a frank conversation about what was really needed. Excellent communicator? Great. Do we really need that in the job description? No, but it was in the last crappy job description. So we decided to copy and paste it and put it in this one. That’s most of the time why something exists in a job description is because it was pulled from the previous job description that nobody took enough time to write. And I think that’s really important.
There are a couple of things that I’ve learned in my last role, about how a job description should be formatted. And you have to put the thing that’s most close to the experience for the job seeker, the candidate, the applicant, whatever word you want to use; the thing that’s closest to them, is what the job will mean to them, it’s about them. And it’s not about the company. So if you look at your job descriptions or your job postings, and you start with the company, you’re gonna lose them. And we actually did this, I tested some data across 1000s and 1000s of applicants in job descriptions. And we flipped it on its head. So we had started with the company. And we went all the way down in the description to talk about the person – you, at the end, the job seeker or the candidate. And we realized that we needed to try flipping that.
So we changed the order. So we started with you. And then we ended with the company. So the person knew they were able to say yes, at the beginning, because they met those qualifications. If they don’t know what’s going to apply to them first, and what’s going to directly impact their day, they’re either going to get disinterested, or they’re going to not understand how they relate to that job, or how the job relates to them. So changing up the order is super important. And also understanding that you only put things in the job description that are absolutely critical to doing the job. The more people see all the bullet points, the more they have a chance to disqualify themselves for the role.
That is a very valid point. Indeed. Since we’re approaching the end of our discussion, and the end of the year, at the same time, I’m wondering if you can name any potential trends that will become facts or real practices in 2023, when it comes to employer branding?
Well, I think what’s going to happen is that people look at histories very differently histories of companies, and histories of candidates very, very differently due to what’s happened over the past three years. We’ve had massive movements and changes, we’ve had layoffs. And to understand what’s going to provide that consistency, what’s going to provide that story. I think that the emphasis, and we’ll talk a little bit differently about what’s going to happen in the States versus what’s going to happen globally. I think the focus in the States has been more on the company and less on the individual.
And I think that’s going to change I think what’s happening is there’s going to be more around the individual and the gravity of their relationships and the work that they do. That’s actually going to change the attraction of candidates that we seek. We think that we can talk about a brand and have that brand do all the work for us. And it does some of the work. But I feel like the difference and the influence that a brand ambassador is going to make as to what they bring to the role, to the team, to the initiative. I think that’s going to change and I actually feel like the role of not just the employee referral, but the actual brand ambassador is going to change, because that’s where the weight of relationships lies.
And that’s the sphere of influence. Brands have continually lost the power and the resonance that they’ve had with candidates, with customers, especially when it comes to messaging, they don’t believe what a brand has to say, largely; mostly in comparison to what somebody that they know, like, and trust has to say. So I look for the rise of the influencer, in the employer and talent brand space. And I feel like there are going to be some technologies and some platforms that allow that to happen and allow someone to function as a recruiter, without ever being a recruiter within talent acquisition or HR.
You know, what I find really, really interesting is that I was speaking to a friend of mine who’s in HR over lunch today. And she was telling me, she had to fire five people of her team a few days ago. And she said, you know, Georgiana, what I think right now, she’s Brazilian, she also worked in the States for a while. And she said, what I’m experiencing right now is that companies in Europe are starting to have the same approach to hiring as companies in the US.
There’s this firing happening from today to tomorrow, whereas, you know, in Germany, laws were very restricted and very protective of the employees. And not many companies would have taken this approach. And I look around me in Berlin, and even in Romania, nowadays, it’s happening more and more. So I think that there’s a shift, and I’m not sure it’s for the better, in my opinion, and I’m looking forward to see how this phenomenon evolves next year, because what’s happening right now is only gonna generate the great resignation, once again, once the economy stabilizes, again, I think.
And that’s the piece that we’ll come back to is that this will happen again, and it’ll happen again, and it will keep happening. And the companies and the people at those companies that recognize that it is cyclical, and that you have to treat people well, because you can treat people poorly. And they’ll keep coming to you because they have to. But when you treat people well, they’ll come to you because they want to. And they’ll come to you because they want to whether the times are good or bad, or somewhere in the middle. And I feel like understanding those cycles will help you lean on those relationships more.
And I hope that the trend that you’re seeing is wrong. I fear that it’s not. But I hope that we can take away from that the need for people to do the right thing, instead of just companies having to do the right thing and treating people well. And thinking about the transition and thinking about employee rights. I feel like we have to stand up as individuals and say what’s right and not take for granted that the company is going to do it for us.
And just to conclude, do you think there’s anything that could have been done to prevent what’s happening right now? I mean, of course, there are a lot of factors involved from societal to economic to whatever, what could have been done from the company’s perspective to avoid this massive wave of layoffs?
I think it’s really systemic around understanding what drives the economic engine in your company. And understanding that growth for the sake of growth is nonpositive. And changing those expectations. We’ve had some decades where growth for the sake of growth has been the indicator of success. And we’re seeing now that there has to be a balance. And so it’s understanding where that line is drawn. And understanding that not only is unfettered growth is dangerous, but unfettered spending is also dangerous. When we think about borrowing and we think about lending and we think about the cost of creating and doing business. It’s been pretty inexpensive.
So understanding the true cost of doing business and understanding where your actual performance lies for your company, I think that could have changed it. I also feel like that is very widespread. And that’s why you’re seeing not just the tech companies making these changes and laying off 1000s of people. You’re now seeing companies like Pepsi Cola, and others who are reexamining their strategy, their practices, in line with this. So because of the nature of information, we are all now keenly aware that these things are happening, and it’s making people reexamine how they’ve done business. So do I think that there’s one thing that could have fixed this? No. But I do think that we’re in the process of fixing it ourselves. And unfortunately, a lot of people have to suffer at the hands of that learning.
This has been very nice, just as I expected, a lot of content to digest, a lot of useful information. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. And I wish you all the best, Brian. Thank you.
Thank you. I really really enjoyed it. Appreciate the context and very insightful questions. Thanks for the time.