Employer Branding from a Marketer’s Perspective: Aurecon

September 5, 2012

Read on for insights on the following and more:

 -- How HR and marketing can partner effectively to deliver a world-class employer brand
 -- The importance of 'keeping it real', by not preaching what you can't practice
 -- How to brand successfully in an undifferentiated industry

For any company that interacts regularly with customers, the employer branding equation is strikingly simple:

A strong employer brand = more highly engaged employees = better service to clients = more satisfied clients = more business and more referrals = bigger bottom line.

Today we shine the spotlight on Aurecon, a global engineering, advisory and project delivery company with 7500 employees and an office network in 28 countries. We spoke with Australia-based Chief Marketing Officer Danielle Bond, who has led the development and execution of Aurecon’s marketing and communications programs for the past three and a half years. Danielle’s perspective is particularly interesting not only because she’s a marketer, but also because she joined Aurecon during a merger, in the midst of a re-branding campaign. What’s more, Aurecon’s product is its people, making its employer and corporate brands all the more intertwined.

Where does employer brand fit into Aurecon’s overall business strategy?

[caption id="attachment_5258" align="alignright" width="298"] Danielle Bond, Aurecon's Chief Marketing Officer[/caption]

Like all professional services companies, our performance is only as good as our people. We need to attract the right ones, and then the brand develops from the inside out. Building the company’s reputation as a great place to work serves both our talent acquisition strategy and our client sales strategy.

What is the Aurecon brand in the eyes of your clients, and how does it relate to employees’ perceptions?

Aurecon’s high-quality, innovative work is what attracts future employees and clients while retaining current ones. Employees want to work on interesting projects for great clients, and our clients want excellent work. The ability to attract the best employees is directly related to our ability to sell our services to clients.

But our industry can be pretty undifferentiated. We promote our client service excellence and great technical expertise, but so do other professional services companies. Ultimately we will differentiate ourselves by believing it, embracing it, and delivering it better and more consistently than our competitors.

How has Aurecon’s employer brand changed over time?

Aurecon is the result of a 2009 merger between three organizations. When I joined, we had a new strategy to align them all, but a brand that didn’t extend much beyond a new corporate identity. By now we’ve aligned the three businesses into one global structure with a global strategy framework, though the culture piece is still a work in progress. We embrace our diversity and presence in nearly 30 countries, but are also building globally accepted and implemented platforms around our key Aurecon values, such as putting health and safety first, a global approach to managing and delivering projects and an “Aurecon way” of doing things in our key client interactions. Building such global initiatives requires wide consultation and a focus on building buy-in across different cultures as we develop and embed them across our offices. The key to creating any culture is recognizing it will take consistent effort over multiple years.

Who ultimately owns Aurecon’s employer brand, Marketing or Human Capital?

I still recall my interview with the head of Human Capital when I was being recruited to the company, which included a lively discussion on employer brand. Marketing can sometimes be treated like an in-house agency rather than a strategic partner, so I saw the partnership potential here as a unique opportunity.

Today employer branding is truly a shared responsibility, although we recently secured funding to hire a dedicated employer branding professional who will sit on my team. Human Capital takes the lead on managing employee experiences, and we take the lead on articulating and promoting those experiences. Together we think about the brand living in each stage of the employee lifecycle, from recruiting, to joining, to development, all the way through to exiting and alumni status. Our leadership team is our other key stakeholder and contributor; they are invested in managing and communicating our career process as well.

Can you give an example of how Marketing and Human Capital work together?

We developed the Aurecon Award, an internal awards program which recognizes teams and individuals for achieving excellence in innovation. Along with sponsors from line management, we developed all the communications and brought the program to life. The Award has enabled us to promote our culture internally to improve employee engagement, as well as showcase it externally to attract job candidates and clients.

Separately, claiming work-life balance is an industry-wide challenge due to the demands of a client-facing business. So, for example, we may collaborate with Human Capital to re-frame such an attribute to focus more on ‘flexibility’. We may discover that workplace flexibility is equally valuable to employees, but a truer reflection of the experience we can offer.

What types of employer brand research do you conduct?

We started with focus groups to understand what attracted employees to join, and learn why they would or would not recommend us as an employer. We invest in annual employee surveys, exit surveys, and we also collect feedback through our leadership development program. We tend to segment our employees into recent graduates, experienced professionals, and senior executives, as they each have distinct needs.

How do you measure the impact of Aurecon’s employer brand?

The cost of turnover is very quantifiable, and we monitor attrition closely. We have done balanced scorecard analyses, and I anticipate we’ll look at metrics such as employee acquisition cost by channel and the effectiveness of our referral program.

We use industry benchmarks in each of the countries too. Here’s a hypothetical example: we know development is particularly important for recent graduates in Australia, and we learn we are not as attractive in that domain compared to our key competitors. We then know we need to prioritize the issue and do something about it. We also need to understand whether it is our development offerings themselves, how we communicate their availability and value, or a combination of the two.

We also know the following to be true: a strong employer brand = more highly engaged employees = better service to clients = more satisfied clients = more business and more referrals = bigger bottom line.

How are you leveraging LinkedIn to support Aurecon’s employer brand?

Building a presence for all of our people on LinkedIn, and in social media more generally, is an important part of our brand strategy.  We’ve increased our followership significantly by running recruitment campaigns and promoting our ‘Follow’ button across candidate touch points. All Aurecon employees, for example, have the call-to-action button on their LinkedIn profiles. Once they’re following, we use status updates to position the brand and keep them informed. Also the great thing about LinkedIn is that it maintains accurate and updated data for us at relatively low cost. The data is easy to digest and can be accessed anytime.  This helps us understand whether our own staff are using LinkedIn to its full potential to build their personal brand and network; and in turn to share Aurecon news and expertise with those networks.  This insight helps us tailor internal communication and engagement.

Any final guidance you’d like to offer?

The employer brand journey is a marathon, not a sprint. Before embarking on any campaign or executing any tactics, you have to be able to define your employer brand, its overarching communication strategy, and what success will look like at each stage of the process.

Key Takeaways

1. Embrace the opportunity for Marketing and HR/Talent Acquisition to partner on employer brand.

  • Take advantage of your complementary skill sets – for instance, messaging and promotion for Marketing, building employee experiences for HR – to bring the brand to life throughout the employee lifecycle.
  • Build great employee experiences which can be leveraged internally for employee engagement and externally for talent attraction

2. Step back before going forward.

  • Define how you will measure success. Establish a baseline, assess your position against the competition, and use industry benchmarks when possible.
  • Don’t attempt quick fixes before you truly know what your brand is and what your communication strategy will be.

3. Keep it real. Act to address gaps between messaging and reality.

  • Practice what you preach. Respond to employees’ questions and requests; work to correct issues and improve experiences by allocating resources where possible.
  • Don’t preach what you can’t practice. Reposition difficult-to-achieve attributes into more attainable ones that are still enticing and can be delivered more predictably.

Do you have a best practice to share? Tweet your thoughts with #employerbrand. We want to hear from you!

Read more about how Aurecon has branded itself as an employer of choice through LinkedIn.