Master Burnett – In Recruitment Marketing, Honesty Really Is The Best Policy

Does your recruitment marketing rely on ethereal messages, glossy pictures of perfect looking employees and tonnes of hype that most candidates will dismiss as propaganda? If so Master Burnett, global recruiting expert, honest marketer and the Director of Strategy at BraveNewTalent thinks you’re wasting your time. This week ATC chatted to Master on the problems with modern recruitment marketing, how honest marketing works, and why you don’t need the best culture to win.

The Problem – Everyone Is Selling The Same Thing

“Most organisations when it comes to marketing themselves as an employer, take an incredibly broad and static approach to positioning the organisation. They may talk about the work environment, being a family friendly employer, they may talk about opportunities for development, they may talk about career growth – there’s like 14 generic messages that organisations traditionally rely upon.”
“It doesn’t matter what organisation it is, if you take their career website, or their job announcement and you put them side by side and you start to cross off the similarities, with what you’re left with is very little. Because every organisation says the same thing”


Recruitment Marketing – Past and Present

“20 years ago, there wasn’t really any way for employees to know anything other than what the employer said. You had to take employer communications at face value. Today that’s an entirely different story. There are numerous online sources where you can find out what an employer is truly like. There are numerous online ways to connect to the employees of that organisation, and possibly even explore your network relationships. So the perspectives about what an employer is like, are far more accurate from all these sources because they’re much more personable, than those broad generic communications that most employers continue to put forward.”

Honest Marketing = Transparency

“If you read business communications you’ll be familiar with the buzzword of the moment – “transparency”. Transparency is an interesting concept, but the real question is how do you enable transparency?”
“Honest marketing is a response to this call for transparency, that focuses on not marketing ethereal statements or summaries, but instead marketing real experiences. So instead of broad statements about what the engineering function may be like at an organisation, it focuses on taking a day in the life of an actual engineer. Any pictures that would be included in the marketing are real pictures, any occurrences that occur during the day are real, tools that are referenced are real. Everything is based on the real experiences of that person. So it’s as close to giving someone a telescope and letting them zoom inside an organisation, and watch what happens in a team, on any given day or time. Because of that, it challenges the notion of EVP

Honest Marketing vs EVP

“EVP is an interesting concept and if every job in the company had the same scope, and everyone in the organisation was compensated the same, and everyone was managed exactly the same, an employer could have a broad reaching EVP that was relatively experienced by every employee in the organisation. But this is simply not the case.”

“There is no such thing as an employer value proposition that applies to a medium to large sized employer overall. Small companies, sure. Where everyone sees everyone every day and have a direct relationship with the owner of that business, then it’s possible.”

“In medium to large organisations, in my experience, the value of me being employed by that organisation is going to be derived largely by my relationships with my immediate team, my work location and my immediate management.

“Honest marketing is far more granular, it doesn’t focus on marketing the entire organiastion, it focuses on marketing particular segments where we have a mission critical need to influence talent in the external talent market.”


Honest Marketing Today – You + Me + Burrito

“How we’re seeing honest marketing playing out is the introduction of completely unstaged video. So someone from HR may simply show up with a handheld video to a work team that’s that’s currently pushing for release of a new product. There’s no prepping of the workforce so people aren’t dressed in their best, or on their best behaviour – it’s real. They may do casual on the spot interviews, or they may just observe the team work throughout the day.

Spreading The Message

“Two or three years ago there would have been an attempt to produce these nuggets and release them via the classic release process. Jump forward to today and what we find is a very robust brand army syndication process, where you may rely on someone who is in that work team to be the initial distributer of that content, then the organisation picks up on that content and redistributes it.”
“Until very recently most organisations wouldn’t have tolerated that path of distribution. It would have been the organisation first, and then maybe  the employee would have redistributed it.
“Really what we’re talking about now is finding great stories, allowing those stories to propagate into the market, and the organisation identifying and syndicating those stories to a broader, more targeted audience”

“The role of your recruitment marketing then turns into connecting candidates in the talent market to the real online personas of people within your organisation. The role of the recruiter then turns into someone who facilitates these relationships.”


How Twitter Used Honest Marketing To Win Talent In The Most Contentious Labour Market In The World

“Five years ago, Twitter started undertaking a coordinated recruitment marketing effort which were mass audience briefings/career fairs, where the aim was to get to know Twitter. They’d rent a football stadium and fly a team of 120 people in and do the classic ‘shock and awe’ company presentation.”
“What they quickly established was that although they were doing this in 14 cities, they needed to be influencing people in 200 cities. They realised they couldn’t do all that in person.”

The New Honest Marketing Campaign


“Twitter started on a new approach by making video clips and distributing these through their employee brand army. Some of these were picked up and polished, but the vast majority of them were filmed on an ad hoc basis.”
“What happened was entire websites started to pop up, websites not maintained by Twitter, where people were taking this content, re syndicating it, editing it.”
“Because you had a brand army that was distributing the content, and a brand army that was producing the content you got a very different and fractured view into Twitter as an organiastion. You could already tell that the culture of the marketing team at Twitter was very different to the culture of the core engineering team, and that’s very different to the operations team.”
“The voice of the company wasn’t your typical controlled PR voice, it was the actual employee voice. Some of it being controlled, but some of it naturally bubbling up and being amplified by the organisation sydicating those communications.”

The Impact Of The New Approach

“The result of Twitter’s honest marketing strategy was that is was able to successfully meet its hiring objectives in the most contentious labour market in the world, for the type of talent they were attempting to attract. In many cases, Twitter became employeer 1 or  2 for the most prized talent in that space.”

How Uber Tried To Hide A Bad Culture

“Uber attempted to position themselves in the labour market as a massively innovative employer working on cutting edge technology to radically revolutionize the personal transportation industry. They produced lots of communication along the classic pipelines- “we are Uber, this grand beast”.”

When Your Message Differs From That Of Your Brand Army

“The problem was that they were pumping out this message at a time when huge numbers of employees were leaving Uber, and those disgruntled employees started producing their own conflicting content to that message.”
“Additionally, there was a vast amount of coverage at this time on the ruthless business environment inside Uber as an organisation, and the lack of business ethics on the part of its core executive team.”

“This was a classic example of an organisation communicating this ethereal vision of their company,  but a brand army that’s communicating the exact opposite.”

“This is not to say that Uber is a horrible employer, but if you talked to someone employed in corporate at Uber, they’d probably tell you they were there for the money (which is 150% above the market) and nothing else. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Uber does have an innovative business model, and it will make its employees a tonne of money.”
“This is the honest picture of Uber, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  They got into trouble because they tried to sell an inauthentic ethereal picture, which was a lie.”

“In honest marketing, you don’t have to have the best culture to win.”


How Honestly Can Win Anybody Top Talent

“Honest marketing isn’t about proving you’re the best in the labour market, it’s about being honest with a population and attracting people to the challenges they’re going to face, not only from a work product perspective but also from an organisational perspective.”

“Sometimes you win the top talent in the labour market by telling them “hey, we don’t have the best tools, we don’t have the unlimited basket of resources, I’d need you to stretch. I’d need to challenge you to achieve something that is going to be difficult. Truly top talent is motivated by challenge.”


Dirty Jobs Use Honestly To Fight High Turnover

“Public sanitation is not a sexy job, in any part of the world. It’s a public job but the pay is generally better than people think it might be, because you’re paying people to do something not that pleasant.”
“No matter where you look around the world, these areas have a really high turnover rate. People think they can handle the work, but once they start quickly realised they’re not cut out for it.”
“Public sanitation departments have done a much better job at honest marketing than most organisations. They don’t hide the fact that you’ll be working in an environment that’s challenging, they don’t hide the fact that you’re going to have to shower for hours to get the stink off. They use honest marketing to talk about the negatives, whilst highlighting the positive attributes of the job.

That’s the biggest difference between ‘traditional’ and ‘honest’ marketing, they hide nothing.”


Warts And All


“Honest marketing recognises that every organisation has faults, so why hide them?”

“This is a modern approach to recruitment marketing that isn’t about selling hype.  It doesn’t position the organisation to be all things to all people.  Honest recruitment marketing is about painting real pictures of real experiences in the minds of those targeted few you need to influence.”

Master BurnettIf you want to learn more about how honest marketing can help you attract and retain the right talent, you can join Master at his pre-ATC2015 half day workshop on the 23rd of June. In this workshop Master will share the key tenets to this strategy, low cost methods on starting conversations in pivotal talent communities, how to leverage the voice of others to spread the word and how to demonstrate the impact of your recruitment marketing efforts. You can register your place in the workshop here.
Master will also be presenting a breakout session at the ATC on this very topic. You can register for both the workshop and the conference, here.

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