COVID-19 Work & Wellbeing Recruitment

Why your brand’s primary target must now be your own employees

By Joanna Keeling, Director

July 20, 2021 | 6 min read

So much time, energy and effort is dedicated to brand building among the consumer. But the reality of this specific moment is that you need to focus on your employees – or else. Ibis Ideas director Joanna Keeling lays out what you need to do for employees before, during and after their tenure at your company.


Since the pandemic began staff are harder to recruit, more demanding once recruited, and harder to retain

As we collectively emerge from the Covid darkness, blinking like pit ponies in the sunlight, employers face some very different circumstances.

The game has changed. Full employment. Furlough. Inflation. Working from home. Working from anywhere. Flexible working. Part-time working. Hybrid working. The list goes on and differs according to economy, but the net result is very often the same: staff are harder to recruit, more demanding once recruited, and harder to retain.

And, while some of us have long suspected it, we know now for sure that it ain’t all about the money. Covid has taught us that. Pay rises go a certain way, of course. But in the end, they’re the sugar rushes of the HR world, offering short-lived satisfaction and a subsequent ‘low’.

But Covid has also taught us that, perhaps more than anything, we all want to ‘belong’. We’re primates, after all. It’s a deep need inside all of us, social beings that we are. But to belong is easier said than done, in a post-modern world where the old certainties of church, family and state have all but vanished.

Who are you and what are you doing?

Because of this combination of factors, your employer brand is more important than ever. Properly articulated, a great employer brand offers people something to believe in. It serves as both a rallying cry or a call-to-arms – the brand equivalent of Reagan’s ‘Shining City On A Hill’ – and also a clear message about ‘how we do business around here’; the psychological contract between employer and employee.

A great employer brand is a statement not just of ‘who we are’, but also ‘where we’re going’. It can help you attract and retain the best talent. It can – and should – make those that you want to promote and those that you want to hire feel excited, and it should make those who the business needs to move along feel uncomfortable.

A great employer brand is the starter culture for your performance culture, and it’s how you preserve and maintain what’s special about you as you scale and grow. The smartest organizations know that ‘what you measure is what you get’ – per the seminal Netflix slideshare deck: ‘the actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets promoted, rewarded or let go.’ They build their employer brand into their performance appraisal systems. They also, very publicly, use those same competency frameworks to hire fresh talent. As a result, great employer brands are ‘alive’ internally.

Managing the employee brand experience at every step

The opportunity is enormous and typically comes in three key stages: the experiences that people have before, during and after their time with you.


What’s day one like? There’s no point telling your consumers how cutting-edge, beautiful and different you are if your candidates and new starters are put through a paper-heavy, bureaucratic, inflexible recruitment and induction process – or a non-existent one.

Show them as much of the business as you can, as soon as you can. They’ll never be this interested again. Have them fall in love with your brand, your products and your customers. The paperwork can wait.


How do you talk to your people about changes? And are you ready to answer what will always be your employees’ main question – what does this mean for me?

It’s no good telling people about huge growth plans and wonderful structural changes if they’re unclear about what this means for their family finances or whether they’ll have to give up the Thursday triathlon training that means so much to them. Be patient and available enough to be there for them when they have questions.


What happens when someone resigns? Even when you’re happy that they’re leaving, the people that move on are about to become your most vocal PR agents. Look after them on the way out. They may well be working in your market. People will listen to what they have to say about you. After all, it’s not hearsay with them; they know what you’re really like.

The best alumni networks send out updates, products, invitations and merchandise to their former colleagues – and in doing so ensure that they’ll always be great ambassadors for their ex-employers.

At every one of these three stages, you can be sure that employees – potential, actual and former – will be talking about you; telling their stories.

A great employer brand helps frame what you’d like those stories to be, not least because it gives candidates, new recruits, long-standing employees and those choosing to leave your organization the ability to tap into what is undoubtedly the greatest market in the world.

The market for something to believe in.

Joanna Keeling is a director at Ibis Ideas, the creative consultancy.

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