Strengthening employer brand through thought leadership

By Neil Bayley, Executive Director, Good Relations

Increasingly, companies are seeing the value of thought leadership in helping them strengthen their employer brands. Campaign content can be a sharp tool to engage prospective candidates and spark their interest in what their future career might feel like in a forward looking, market leading organisation.

We know from our client base that technology and engineering businesses are going head to head for the same kind of people - the problem solvers, the software engineers and the coders who have the vision and skills to create our future. In such a competitive landscape, vision, purpose and values can be a real differentiator. For some younger generations, even greater than future earnings potential.

But some sectors have a clear reputation handicap. The nature of their products means potential employees might see sectors such as defence, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals businesses beyond their ethical boundaries. But the challenge goes deeper than product level. For example, public perception of the defence sector has been undermined by secrecy and corruption scandals.

But defence is not alone. At Good Relations, we recently took a look at how three leading businesses facing reputation challenge – Shell, Facebook and Philip Morris International – have responded to draw some insights.

In this first blog, we share our thoughts on how Shell is addressing the challenge. The oil industry has been hindered by a reputation for ruthlessly exploiting energy resources at the expense of the environment. Like defence, there have been accusations of corruption, compromised ethics and cover-up.

In seeking to make Shell a place where people want to work, the business has recognised that while it can’t stop drilling for oil, it can start working to become part of the future energy solution. Shell has recognised two important truths: that oil alone will not be enough to meet the world’s energy demands; and that the industry needs to find cleaner less intensive sources of energy. And it’s started talking about them.

Shell has shifted a large part of its thought leadership on to the quest for new energy sources. It talks continuously and with conviction about the challenges energy consumption, and therefore its own business, creates for the environment and sustainability. It has even begun linking its executive pay to reducing emissions. Rather than being defensive about the future impact of its sector, Shell has sought to embrace and own the challenge.

I think this highlights how modern businesses in scrutinised sectors need to connect their agenda with a positive vision and purpose. This helps them rationalise and sustain activities to drive commercial performance in the short term, whilst evolving their strategy to tackle the challenges facing their business, sector and society in the longer term. And that reflects the first step of our thought leadership model – 1. Prioritise Long Term Effects.

We’ll share our thoughts on Facebook next week, in the second blog of this series looking at how industry leaders in scrutinised sectors are recognising the role thought leadership can play in helping strengthen their employer brands.