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3 Inspiring Employer Brand Ideas from RecFest 2023

3 min read.


Lois Payne Lois Payne



Employer Branding

RecFest 2023 was a wild ride - and we don't just mean the Ferris wheel and the precarious-looking mechanical bull.

We’re talking about the smorgasbord of fresh ideas, insights, and expertise on employer branding from some of the greatest brands and minds in the industry. Whether you attended talks in the various tents dotted around Knebworth Park or not, we’ve got you covered.

Here's a quick round-up of some impressive thoughts from the day.

1.“Kintsugi People” with Wagamama

Wagamama’s culture was defined by its “Kintsugi people”, Kintsugi being the Japanese art of piecing broken pottery back together with gold leaf. The philosophy behind this practice is that the pottery is more beautiful for its imperfections.

From researching and interviewing staff at every level, Wagamama realised that its workers, some being refugees, had all faced their own challenges and hardships, and were more impressive as a result. The idea of a Kintsugi workforce was all about embracing their cracks and imperfection and helping people to find greater meaning and purpose through their time with Wagamama.

Watch Wagamama's Kintsugi video here.

When the pandemic hit, however, it changed the game for a lot of brands by warping culture and shifting talent's priorities.

Many felt that the original identity that made up their employer brand had been lost, or drastically altered, and the EVP that once fitted the organisation to a T no longer rang true.

Wagamama was no exception to this. Suddenly, their original resource pool was gone and a third of their teams were now under the age of 21.

Matt Hudson, People Director at Wagamama, said: “It was very difficult to recruit for the old things that we relied on. Our Kintsugi philosophy and DNA was just lost in around 1.3 million job applications.”

But through careful assessment and evolution of their Employee Value Proposition (EVP), whilst keeping the Kintsugi "DNA" of their culture in mind, they were able to pause, adapt and roll with the punches, which led to the development of a new tagline ‘Love above the door.’

According to Hudson, it wasn’t about scrapping everything and starting again, it was about evolving it and making sure it was relevant for their new Gen Z-heavy workforce.

“If there's one thing that we can land with you from a strategy point of view," said Doug Hewett, Founder and Partner at People Made, "get the culture right, get that as your core, and then from your culture you can start to think about the EVP as something you constantly change. Maybe you need more Gen Z and you need to tweak things; maybe you've got COVID coming at you with a very different set of needs, so you've got to change there again. Always keep that kind of iterative, in beta type of thinking in mind.”

Key takeaway: Even if you’re particularly proud of your EVP, it will still need to evolve as the company, or external circumstances, change. Rather than a set-it-and-forget-it project, your EVP is a delicate ecosystem of values and behaviours which requires maintenance and iteration to keep things in balance.

2. Personal perks with AstraZeneca

With such a volatile job market, employers have had to find new and agile ways to retain top talent. One trend that emerged from this is the personalisation of benefits, as it’s a key way to cater to workers’ changing priorities. According to research from Totaljobs, two in five candidates will skip a pay rise to get their most desired benefits.

Turns out, AstraZeneca has a pretty neat system for offering its employees benefits that will always feel relevant and useful. It’s called the ‘flexible benefit fund’ and it works by growing with the employee through various stages in their life.

Alexander Doyle, Talent Acquisition Lead and Future of Work Project Manager at AstraZeneca, said:“You get your base salary, which is competitive, and then everyone gets 11% of their salary on top. And this is the money you can use to choose from the suite of benefits, and you decide what you want. Right? Because everyone changes. You know, that gym membership that lured you into the role that you've never used, it's not really a perk anymore. So what it is, is that it grows with you. So, as you as you evolve and change, the benefits are there. There’s menopause support, there’s cancer support, so the benefits can really be adapted to your changing life.” 

Key takeaway: Salary isn’t everything to talent, and finding ways to adapt and differentiate your offering based on your unique culture will be key to attracting and retaining talent.

3. Storytelling with Selfridges

Whether it's about a handbag or a concept, luxury retailer Selfridges is known for its storytelling. 

And that comes in handy according to its head of recruitment, Sharlene John, who thinks that “Employer Brand is storytelling.”

John recognises however, that many companies are still sacrificing realness to create stories they think will be perceived well. 

“I think there’s a space for polished content, but we see organisations where you have people 'wheeled out'. They wheel out the black lady and get her to talk about how diverse it is and, you know, wheel her back in, and then actually, the business hasn't got any other black people apart from… me.

“So I think it's really powerful if you get it right. And it can go disastrously wrong. Employer branding and your team members go hand in hand, but you have to create a narrative and a story that your team members feel connected to, so that they talk positively, and share the real picture of what it’s like to work at your organisation.”

Key Takeaway: Today’s talent is savvy; their bullshit detectors are finely tuned, and they will see through disingenuous content in a heartbeat.

We know storytelling is essential to building a connection with talent, but a scattergun approach won’t cut it. Telling the right story by nailing down your message, tailoring it to who you want to attract and presenting it in an honest way is what will get people on board and wanting to spread the word. 

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