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How to Develop a Strong Creative Direction for Your Employer Brand

As employer branders, we often have to be our own Creative Directors. This is a skillset that often takes years to cultivate. Super talented people do this as a full-time gig at top agencies, every day. According to mediabistro.com, a Creative Director, “sets the creative vision for a brand or project across various platforms, such as digital, print, and film. They ensure the project's visuals and messages align with this vision while managing budgets, timelines, and client relationships.” 


Sound familiar?


That’s probably because it’s a continuous component of an employer brander’s role to drive the creative direction of the central concept, campaigns and content. We are continually challenged to identify the right direction for the right employer brand message and translate that into a form that can be communicated to the target audience (talent segment). For many employer brand teams, we serve as our own Creative Directors, designers, copy writers, researchers and relationship managers. Employer brand teams are essentially skunkworks creative agencies embedded within HR! It’s pretty cool to think of it this way, however, it’s important to recognize that investment and sponsorship is required to make sure that the ideas and work that come out of the employer brand space are championed at the right levels. 


At Drift, we take a relentless co-creative approach to designing and developing an employer brand creative concept. One of the most interesting parts of the process is to take the data and research collected about the employee experience, the employee value proposition and the external marketplace and translate it into a unique creative concept that will form the foundation of future employer brand content and campaigns. Understanding our role as Creative Directors helps us when we need to advocate and lobby for taking risks, breaking the mold and stepping away from the ‘playing it safe’ approach that has become so commonplace within the employer brand universe. 


Let’s be honest, much of the employer brand space is dominated by a sea of brightly coloured social content squares that feature a smiling employee with their arms crossed and a tepid slogan like “You can be more.” This is not meant to shame any employer brand in particular, it’s simply to point out the need for some diversification in this space. So many companies that have incredible sub-cultures and unique aspects are tamed and boxed in. There are huge opportunities to use humour, satire, social commentary, employee storytelling, transmedia, rich content and more that are falling by the wayside because there is a bit of a failure of imagination on the part of key decision makers when it comes to how companies market themselves as employers. 



That’s why it’s more important that ever for employer branders to take up the mantle of becoming our own Creative Directors. There are specific practices to undertake that will enhance your critical and creative thought and feed your pipeline of ideas. It’s also essential to build confidence and advocate fiercely for new ideas that will set your company apart. 


Here are a few of the practices we undertake here at Drift to help us better align and direct creative concepts that set companies apart and move away from the ‘echo chamber’ that the employer brand space has become:


Categorize & Theme Your Insights


…and look for patterns, A Beautiful Mind-style. As part of the EVP development process, there should be a body of research conducted to shed light on the employee experience, from the employee perspective. Beginning your journey toward a differentiated employer brand means checking in with these insights and potentially generating even more from the external talent marketplace. Take time to wade in these data sets - really immerse yourself in them, whatever form you take. Even if all you have is the most recent Employee Survey, take the time to really go through it with a Creative Director’s hat on. That means, looking for commonalities. Ask these questions as you comb through the body of insights:


  • What is the overall sentiment expressed toward culture?

  • What do employees seem to really enjoy about their work? Are there any patterns we can see across roles and business units?

  • Where are there interrelationships between key areas of the employee experience?

  • What is authentic versus aspirational about our culture, right now? (Or, what positive aspects of our culture are data-backed, right now?)


Keep a Creative Journal


This is a practice that will serve you well when it’s time to ideate and design a creative concept.  It’s outside the realm of simply keeping track of your meeting minutes - it’s a practice rooted in active listening and observation with a view to drawing out the personality of an organization. Every time you have a formal or informal discussion about the employee experience and culture of your company, take time to log it in the form of a reflection on your findings. Meetings with leaders, new groups of stakeholders and uncharted cohorts of employees are incredible opportunities to draw out creative thematics and insights that can inform a unique, compelling creative position for your employer brand. You never know where your next big idea will come from. Pay close attention to what your colleagues and leaders see as ‘differentiators’ for the organization. 


For example, over the course of 6-months, you may have between five and ten meetings with different business groups across the organization. If, in six of those sessions, you note that someone has brought up that they feel a high level of trust from their leadership and an inherent sense that they have the autonomy to make mistakes and contribute to evolution and innovation… that’s a noteworthy differentiator. This counts as legitimate data to inform a potential creative direction for your next employer brand campaign.


Ask “What About the Shadow Culture?”


An organization’s Shadow Culture is the internal culture that often runs counter to what is publicly available in terms of what your company presents. For example, your company may openly promote wellbeing and balance, but employees in different areas of the organization might dispute this, saying that there is more bias for delivery and driving results. The Shadow Cultures that emerge within your organization can be a secret weapon for employer branders. Pay attention to the realities of the employee experience and seek out employees who have different, diverse narratives that are counter to the mainstream corporate message. These observations can lead to a strong, differentiated employer brand message that captures the imagination and attention of the future employees that connect with what is unique about your company. It may not be alluring to everyone, but for those that are compelled to explore further, you are more likely to connect with individuals who will hit the ground running and stay for longer. 


Bolt is a great example of this. Take a look at one of their recent employer brand spots. You can tell they aren’t going for mass appeal here. Think about the phrase, “Culture isn’t about how we chill. It’s about how we work.” It certainly seems exciting at Bolt… but it’s not going to be for everyone.



“Is it challenging? Sure.

Can it be stressful? Yup.

Does it get tough? You bet your ass.

But that’s what it takes to build something great.”


This is a bold message… and it’s only going to resonate with people who are prepared to commit to this type of environment. And, in this way, it is novel. 


If you are an employer brander, it’s time to start opening up the scope of your role and skillset. In a lot of ways, you are being asked to take on the role of Creative Director. Bringing a brand campaign to life - from insights to execution - can be a long and challenging process. But, implementing practices that hone your creative mindset, seek our patterns that are unique to your company and learn how to take creative risks and stand by them, you will effectively lead your organization toward an employer brand that shows up and stands out when it matters. 

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