Employer Brand Planning: From Reactive to Proactive

proactive employer brand planning

Employer branding is a niche discipline that takes a seasoned practitioner to architect a proactive employer brand strategy. It’s been about 25 years since it was first popularized, but in the last 10 years, it’s really taken off. There are global conferences and awards and most major brands have at least one or two people on their strategy teams that are dedicated to employer branding. However, for many other companies, it’s still a burgeoning area.

For employer brand practitioners, it can be frustrating and isolating to feel you are the only one at an organization who ‘gets it’. That is the reality for a lot of employer branders. You are a team of one, tasked with creating change with no budget and very little sponsorship. Even having one or two influential people on your side is often not enough to move at the preferred pace. A major impact of this is a disjointed and disorganized strategy. Annual planning for employer brands can feel more like an exercise in wishful thinking than a legitimate guiding force for a cohesive strategy.

Let’s take a look at a side-by-side comparison of an ideal timeline for planning an employer brand strategy, versus what most years look like in the life of an employer brand practitioner. The point of this is not to become discouraged; it’s to understand that these challenges are faced by many people within this discipline. Once you have a notion of the blue-sky vision you are striving for, it’s easier to identify gaps in your current process and move your planning process from reactive to proactive.

The Ideal Employer Brand Timeline

  • January: Launch approved a roadmap for the year. You have already processed and reported on learnings from the previous year.
  • End of February: Integrated said learnings into ongoing initiatives, strengthening them and creating continuous exposure.
  • March: Your first new initiative/program/platform is well underway and you produce your Q1 report for leadership.
  • During April and May: Finalize and launch your early talent/campus employer brand strategy, while keeping a close eye on ongoing initiatives.
  • Summer is notoriously a ‘slow’ time, but you don’t let that stop you. Your evergreen platforms are creating a continuous flow of awareness and education while feeding your pipelines with qualified talent. You produce your Q2 report and start to proactively work on planning for the next year.
  • End of August: Campus/early talent campaigns are wrapping up and you are putting the finishing touches on your roadmap for the following year, and starting the stakeholder process.
  • Fall is filled with activities that set up campaigns to take you through the holiday season. Lots of great content is the name of the game here. Maybe you are engaging with your employee advocates to produce impactful, EVP-themed stories to post on your company channels, or working on employee spotlights. You create your Q3 report and share it with partners.
  • End of October: Planning for the upcoming year and a full content schedule to take you through to the end of year. November and December are reserved for meeting with partners and collaborators, scheduling important meetings for the New Year and working on you annual report highlighting wins, losses and learnings.

What a beautiful dream!

If this doesn’t even remotely describe your employer brand calendar, please don’t feel bad.

A Year in the Life of Most Employer Branders

  • January: Still in the process of gaining approval on the year’s strategy. You create a business case and competitive insight.
  • February: A new stakeholder group has emerged. You have another meeting, adjust the business case and add some more competitive insight.
  • March: Gained partial approval for a ‘proof of concept’. You run with it as fast as you can.
  • April: Ready to launch your proof of concept. You bring it to all your stakeholder groups, but the last one, you can’t get to because they have a dire business situation that delays your meeting by three weeks.
  • May/June: The campus team is knocking on your door looking for ‘quick wins’ to open the pipeline of early talent. But, surprise! They have no budget. You scramble to pull something together that focuses on featuring campus hires from last year and beg the marketing team for space on their channels to post the stories. This takes the whole summer.
  • End of August: The green light to launch your proof of concept (finally). You hit the ‘go’ button before anyone changes their mind.
  • End of November: 10-weeks of a new campaign, just enough to scrape together a report that says, ‘Look at this! We achieved these results with a tiny budget and no time! Imagine what we could do with a moderate budget and a little more time!”

Somehow, against all those setbacks, you still produced results. That’s why you are amazing and the employer brand discipline is run on patience and passion.

Changing Perspectives Takes Time

All of history’s greatest innovations have taken decades to really catch on. What we understand as traditional, consumer-facing marketing has it’s roots in 17th and 18th century Europe. It took centuries for it to become the household concept that every business considers essential. Relatively, employer branding is still in its infancy. We are only a few years from a time in our workforce history when providing employment and ‘giving people jobs’ was considered all you needed to do in order to add value to employees’ lives. The tides are turning and we are now in a time when employer branding is more accepted as an essential strategic practice than ever before. However, simply knowing this does little to quell the frustrations many employer branders face in trying to get what we know to be essential initiatives off the ground.

How to Begin Shifting from Reactive to Proactive

Here are some tips and practices to integrate into your approach to help save your sanity, stakeholder with more confidence and overcome hurdles in getting to a stage where your employer brand timelines moves from reactive to proactive:

  1. Ask questions and lead with curiosity. Try to remember that your senior stakeholders are bound by their own set of accountabilities. Without having immersed themselves in employer branding, it’s difficult to wrap their head around how it works. Practice patience and proactivity. If you know that business cases and competitive insight are what works to frame employer branding strategically, prepare in advance. Instead of trying to convince or persuade, go into stakeholder meetings with the intention of having an open discussion and making incremental progress. A great trick from the renowned sales professional Daniel Pink is to ask the question, “On a scale of 0-10, how ready do you think we are to explore employer branding?” If the executive answers 0, you have your work cut out for you. But, more frequently, they will answer something like a 2, 3 or 4. Then, you can ask, “Well, what made you say 2 instead of zero?” That inevitably leads to a conversation wherein your stakeholder is listing all the reasons we are ready to explore employer branding.
  2. Manage expectations, especially for yourself. Most new employer branding ventures are not going to turn astronomical results in the first year, especially if they are organic and content-based. Explore metrics that speak to the incremental growth of awareness, do YoY comparisons and understand that in the current world of social media, it takes time to build a following and visibility when you are launching anything new to the marketplace. Conversely, understand that there may be a groundswell of attention when you first launch an employer brand initiative – it’s called the ‘new kid on the block’ effect. Know that this is temporary and once that effect has worn off, you may need to work harder to maintain that level traction.
  3. Let passion and patience guide you. Know you are an early-adopter and you are driving something forward that is still relatively new. Make sure you go easy on yourself and if things get de-prioritized, de-funded or questioned endlessly, it’s not your fault. The key is to focus on incremental, intentional progress and focus on what you can feasibly change in a reasonable time period. Don’t shy away from advocating for yourself and be realistic when you are selling to your stakeholders. Provide an honest perspective on what can be achieved and develop that ideal timeline you are continually striving for. Stay on message and stay the course… meaningful change takes time.

Lean on Your Community

One of the best resources we have as employer branders are each other. There is a passionate, global community within the employer brand discipline and we are always ready to lend an ear, validate experiences, share tips and tools and talk shop. A great way to mitigate the frustration and stress of being a solo employer brander in your organization is to cultivate your network and reach out to other employer brand practitioners for support.

You can start today by following the Drift LinkedIn page, following us on Instagram or connecting with us online to learn more about our consulting approach when it comes to employer branding!


Related articles:

How To Create Internal Momentum for Your Employer Brand

How To Achieve Success in Your Employer Branding Role


Chelsea Howard

Chelsea Howard

I believe in creating culture strategies for companies who love their employees and people who are looking for real fulfillment in their careers.

People are seeking more from their employee experience and companies need to move swiftly and deliberately to stand out and deliver. Work-life boundaries, intersectionality, belonging and a genuine commitment to every aspect of wellbeing are critical levers that will make or break your employer reputation.

Since 2013, I have been partnering with organizations to build employee experience and employer brand programs that are human-centric and deliver real value for employers and employees alike. From the development of a unique employee value proposition to the delivery of segmented recruitment marketing campaigns, my focus is to ensure a consistent, compelling narrative that captures a company's essence.