The Influence of Employer Branding in Internal Communication

Marlene S. Neill, Ph.D., APR, assistant professor in the Department of Journalism, Public Relations & New Media at Baylor University | Marlene_Neill@baylor.edu

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Executive Summary

Background
Promoting a company or organization’s core values is being hailed as a competitive advantage as part of a movement in the marketing and human resources fields called employer branding (Ambler & Barrow, 1996; Foster, Punjaisri & Cheng, 2010; Lloyd, 2002; Moroko & Uncles, 2008; Vallaster & de Chernatony, 2005). The employer brand is defined as “the package of functional, economic and psychological benefits provided by employment, and identified with the employing company” (Ambler & Barrow, 1996, p. 187). The employer brand package may include professional development, training, and promotional opportunities (functional or development benefits), as well as a competitive salary and benefits (economic benefits), and feelings of belonging and purpose (symbolic or psychological benefits) (Ambler & Barrow, 1996; Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004; Berthon, Ewing, & Hah, 2005).

The employer branding movement is relatively new as scholars found it was not a part of human resources and communication professionals’ thinking or vocabulary in the mid-1990s (Ambler & Barrow, 1996). The motivation behind employer branding programs is improving employee engagement, which is described as “the ability to capture the heads, hearts, and souls of your employees to instill an intrinsic desire and passion for excellence” (Fleming & Asplund, 2007, p. 2).

Employer branding is focused on developing intellectual and emotional buy-in among employees to the point where they are committed to their employers, reflect the brand’s values and become brand champions (Mahnert & Torres, 2007; Thomson, Chernatony, Arganbright & Khan, 1999). But is this focus on values also leading to a greater emphasis on ethics in companies and organizations?

Focus of Study & Sample
The primary purpose of the study was to understand internal communicators’ role in ethics and employer branding. The sample size was 32 executives, and most of the participants worked in public relations with 20 (62.5%) participants, 5 (16%) in human resources, 1 (3%) in marketing, and the remaining 6 (19%) were external consultants who advised internal communicators in the areas of marketing, human resources, and public relations.

The executives worked in the following sectors: 12 corporate (37.5%), 10 education/nonprofit (31%), six agencies (19%), and four government/military (12.5%). The sample included employers with strong national and regional brands (n = 18) and well identified core values. Seven of the companies are featured among the Fortune 500, three among the Global 500, and two of the employers recently have been featured on Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”

Findings
The internal communicators indicated they are indeed aware of and embrace the employer branding movement. They then discussed how they promote ethics and the employer brand during the recruitment and orientation phases, the types of ethics resources they provide to employees, their ongoing communication efforts to reinforce the company/organization’s ethics and values, and how they personally are enacting the role of an ethical conscience.

The findings led to the following recommendations:

  • Employers should communicate ethics in a culturally relevant way through employee testimonials and historical anecdotes.
  • Employers should review their core values to identify any inconsistencies with their policies and reward systems and then make necessary revisions.
  • Employers should review their recruitment and orientation materials for inclusion of core values and consistency with their employer brand.
  • Employers should evaluate their existing ethics programs and determine if any additional resources should be added.
  • Employers should conduct routine surveys to determine how employees rate the company/organization’s performance in regards to their core values.
  • Employers should evaluate and reward employees who model ethical behavior through annual performance reviews and awards programs.

Due to their strong communication skills, public relations practitioners can make a significant contribution in the areas of developing promotional materials and videos to promote ethics and values, and they should seek to collaborate with human resources. However, their roles should not be limited to communication tactics, public relations practitioners also should pursue a seat at the table during the planning phase, which refers to when values are first identified and refined, and in the evaluation phase by conducting survey and qualitative research.

Download Full Paper (PDF): The Influence of Employer Branding in Internal Communication

Posted in [Research Journal], Employee Communication.

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