employer brand

Q&A With Lori Sylvia: The Journey From Journalist to Recruitment Marketing and Employer Branding Evangelist

Q&A With Lori Sylvia: The Journey From Journalist to Recruitment Marketing and Employer Branding Evangelist

Lori Sylvia is founder and CEO of Rally® Recruitment Marketing, an online community dedicated exclusively to the application of marketing and branding strategies to the practice of talent acquisition.

You began your career as a journalist. How did you become interested in recruitment marketing and employer branding?

As a journalist, my focus was writing about internet technology, and soon I knew that I didn’t just want to write about tech companies—I wanted to work for them! Eventually I landed my (first) dream job as a product marketing manager at a company that was inventing virtual private networking (VPN). From there, I worked in various marketing roles at tech companies in different industries like smartphone software, the Internet of Things (IoT) and connected cars.

In 2014, I joined the HR tech space as the CMO of a recruitment marketing platform provider and fell in love with recruitment marketing. I immediately saw the potential that marketing best practices could have on how companies attract talent, and I was excited for the opportunity to teach marketing to HR and TA practitioners so they could prepare for this new future.

Many organizations struggle with the difference between an EVP (employer value proposition) and an employer brand. How do you explain it to practitioners who are new to recruitment marketing?

First, practitioners shouldn’t feel bad if they’re confused by all these new terms. These strategies are relatively new to recruiting, and it’s why I started the Rally Recruitment Marketing community in 2017—to teach practitioners about marketing and branding, strategies which are now essential to modern talent acquisition.

So, the simplest explanation of an employer value proposition (EVP) is that an organization’s EVP articulates the reason or reasons people would want to work for the company. From the candidate’s perspective, it’s the WIIFM beyond a job and a paycheck. The answers to the WIIFM must be based on the organization’s authentic employee experience. (For a more in-depth explanation, check out this 11-minute video from a practitioner in the Rally community showing an example of an EVP statement and pillars.)

So, while the EVP is what the company says it offers to employees, the employer brand (EB) is what others say about working at the company. As such, the EB is not tangible, but it can have substantial value because it embodies both the reality of what an organization’s employees and candidates experience and the perception that people have about the employment experience. Personally, I believe that the employer brand and the corporate brand are the same thing because companies have one brand in the market. It’s just that we are now aware that the corporate brand has value to the recruiting function. This understanding has paved the way for the new discipline of recruitment marketing and an exciting career opportunity for thousands of practitioners.

A 2019 analysis from Aptitude Research finds that only 2% of companies are using all the functionality in the recruitment marketing platform/Talent CRM. What do you believe is driving this and how, as an industry, can we get better?

The low user adoption of RMP and CRM functionality isn’t surprising, and I also don’t believe it’s cause for alarm. In my experience, there are two main reasons behind it:

  1. TA leaders who have purchased these products were ready to adopt marketing strategies in recruiting, but they did so before they had the teams in place with the skills to use the products effectively.
  2. The early versions of many of these products were not easy to use and were over-engineered for the readiness of the market.

To provide perspective, I’ve seen these two issues in every new technology category I’ve been involved with, so it’s not that the RMP/CRM vendors or TA leaders have done anything wrong. Early adopters are looking for a competitive advantage when they sign up to be the beta users of a new product with the acknowledgement that these products will have bugs. At the same time, vendors need to build out their products quickly to sell the vision of what’s possible, even though some features will be incomplete, and even though early users will need a lot of assistance. This is the reality of new product categories.

That said, the market is now maturing quickly. In working with both practitioners and vendors, I see more people than ever with the skills to use marketing strategies in recruiting, plus a big improvement in the tools available. Options are growing fast, so the ability for TA to know how to use technology will be even more critical to success.

What advice do you have for TA teams that want to get better at recruitment marketing but don’t have the time or resources to add a specialist to their team?

My advice is for both TA leaders and their teams. Let me say in advance, this might be tough for some to hear—but it comes from the heart!

To TA leaders, recruitment marketing is not a fad. It’s the way forward. You need a strong brand to differentiate your company as an employer—especially in this labor market—and you need marketing strategies to attract today’s socially engaged and digitally connected candidates. You must invest in upskilling your team or risk falling even further behind. However, once you get serious about RM and EB, you’ll quickly realize that to drive these strategies effectively requires someone dedicated to it. Recruiters can’t be effective at recruiting while also managing job advertising, the careers site, social media, etc.

To practitioners, if you lack the skills to attract and recruit talent through social media and digital marketing channels, you won’t be relevant to recruiting much longer. I saw many friends left behind by marketing’s digital transformation. Today, I wouldn’t hire a communications manager who didn’t understand how to reach an audience through social media or hire a content strategist who didn’t understand how to write for search engine optimization. It’s the TA professionals who invest in developing these skills that will help not only their own career growth but the growth of their companies.

Where should organizations start in terms of measuring the effectiveness of their recruitment marketing efforts and demonstrating value to the business?

I think the topic of measurement is personal. TA leaders are deciding between hiring another sourcer or hiring a recruitment marketer. Because recruitment marketing is still a relatively new discipline, practitioners are challenged to demonstrate their value to the organization. This is why I advocate for aligning recruitment marketing goals to TA goals and being very clear about how these strategies directly support hiring.

A common mistake I see is reporting on activities like how many employee stories were published or vanity metrics like the number of social followers. The real goal is to report on outcomes, such as the number of candidate leads that converted to screens, interviews and hires. This is the goal, but the reality is that most practitioners don’t have access to tools that report at this level. The good news is that tools are getting more sophisticated, so hang in there.

Rally celebrates its third anniversary (congratulations!) this year. What stands out to you most as you reflect on your time spent building the largest online community exclusively dedicated to recruitment marketing expertise?

Two things stand out most. First, there’s the sheer number of TA and HR practitioners who want to learn about recruitment marketing. Since we launched, there are more than 20,000 practitioners in the Rally community who have attended our RallyFwd Virtual Conference, a webinar or workshop, or read one of our ideabooks or how-to guides. For most of them, recruitment marketing is a strategy, not their full-time job. They identify themselves as beginners and are hungry to learn.

Second, it’s inspiring how many early pioneers in recruitment marketing and employer branding are willing to share what they know and provide examples of their work with the community. They are my mentors, and they’re elevating so many other practitioners by being incredibly gracious in sharing what they’ve learned. It’s three years in, but we’re just getting started!

What does the future hold for recruitment marketing and employer branding?

I see TA teams becoming even savvier with marketing strategies, particularly the use of digital marketing, content marketing and social media marketing. Competing for talent today is not only about attraction, it’s also about converting those views, clicks and follows into applicants and hires, so this focus on outcomes will become the mark of a mature RM operation.

Ultimately, I believe the future is one where every TA and HR practitioner uses marketing strategies to attract, recruit and retain talent, and every employer (certainly mid-size and larger) has at least one person or even a team dedicated to marketing the company as an employer. Employers simply won’t be competitive without the strategies, teams and technologies in place for modern recruiting.

It’s an exciting time to be in this space, and I truly believe those practitioners who know how to leverage marketing strategies will lead the future of talent acquisition.

Learn how to elevate your employer brand at the next RallyFwd Virtual Conference on May 6, 2020.

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