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Employment Branding Hardball

On August 31, 2015, in HRExaminer, by John Sumser

image showing New York Times and Amazon logos with headline Employment Branding Hardball HRExaminer.com August 31, 2015

Although it was arguably unintentional, it’s useful to think of the Amazon-NYT kerfuffle as the wave of the future. In markets where success depends on access to workers who are in short supply, damaging the other team’s brand (particularly with rumor and innuendo) is likely to expand in importance.

Competition is tough. The New York Times and Amazon are competitors. They hire and deploy the same kinds of people. Jeff Bezos owns the Times’ most formidable newspaper competitor. Among other things, these are the giants of 21st-century publishing.

How do you make sense out of investigative reporting executed between competitors?

If there is something like a war for talent, it’s easier to understand. One of Amazon’s vulnerabilities (in a competition that plays out on a variety of fronts) is its access to the labor supply. Amazon depends on a steady supply of high performers. Its growth and constant innovation depend on its recruiting capabilities. If you want to damage them, you hit them in the employment brand.

To date, most (maybe all) employment branding discussion has focused on telling the company’s story. The challenges include finding the mosaic of mythology and experience that match the market’s perception and the company’s imagination (fantasy might be closer). There are early moves (like BrandAmper) that try to leverage the workforce as a source of brand strength and communication. Similar tools (Employee Advocacy Software) are proliferating.

The battlefield is heating up.

Although it was arguably unintentional, it’s useful to think of the Amazon-NYT kerfuffle as the wave of the future. In markets where success depends on access to workers who are in short supply, damaging the other team’s brand (particularly with rumor and innuendo) is likely to expand in importance.

In the broadcast world (the 20th century before the web was born), it was easy to believe that publishers and broadcasters were essentially noble and ethical. That story is harder and harder to swallow. It’s more realistic to see the purveyors of information as one giant clump of content marketing. (In another piece, we’ll explore the erosion of confidence this creates)

It doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest long term in Employment Branding unless there is a tangible measure of success. A battlefield mentality can produce movement in the other team’s rankings in places like Glassdoor. The battle is for the heart and soul of the candidate.

This is a sea change. Anyone who works with big companies knows that the employment brand is distributed (like a normal curve) across the enterprise. Some people love the place, and some people hate it. Most are neutral.

The business of amping up the competition’s negative perception (long the foundation of political marketing) is headed into the high end of recruiting. I wonder when we’ll start to see attack ads.

 

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