Branding/Marketing/PR Thought Leadership

What is a recruitment ‘brand’?

Written by the Editorial Team

By Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, Editor and managing director at Clearly PR & Marketing Communications


Ask anyone to describe what a ‘brand’ is and they’ll be quick to answer with the logo, look and feel of the business. But branding goes way beyond what are essentially aesthetics, it is about perception.

The meaning of what branding is has changed over the years. It’s original purpose was rather basic – to physically differentiate one product from another. Take Coca-Cola as an example.

In the 1880s, soda producers were two a penny and the makers of Coca-Cola – then a fledgling company – understood that to encourage consumers to try their product it needed to look different to others. Gillette is another example.

During the 1800s men would go to their local barbers to have a shave. Then in 1901, King. C. Gillette invented the world’s first safety razor, which effectively eradicated the need to send a razor to a barber for sharpening. With its distinctive green packaging emblazoned with Mr Gillette’s face on it, the company established one of the first brands to be known worldwide.

By the mid- to late- twentieth century, the meaning of what a ‘brand’ was began to move beyond simply being a name. Marketers realised that consumers had a greater choice of products and services and how a brand was ‘perceived’ was increasingly influencing buyer behaviour. ‘Perception’, rather than just the packaging and design, now became synonymous with ‘brand’.

Today there is an overuse of the word ‘brand’ – largely because organisations take the stance that simply thinking they are a brand means they are perceived to be one by default by those outside the confines of their four walls. This is not the case.

A ‘brand’, as we know it, is not something that a recruitment agency can bestow upon itself via a beautifully crafted piece of copy on a website or what an advertisement says. It must be earned through its actions.

Put another way,

branding is the essence or promise of what that agency will deliver or the experience it will create.

However, defining exactly what your brand stands for seems to be rather a complex issue for many recruiters.

Indeed, having worked with in excess of 70 recruitment businesses over the years it is clear that there is an identity crisis within the industry.

What I mean by this is that many agencies struggle to really define what their USP is and how they ‘think’ they should be positioned. Yet this is critical to understanding what the agency’s brand stands for.

Ask most agency owners and consultants one simple question, What makes your agency different to X, Y, or Z?, and they will either struggle to answer, or they will reply with a bunch of We do… and We are… responses – all of which are self-absorbed and fail to deliver the what’s-in-it-for-me (WIIFM) response that clients really want to hear. They say nothing of what they will deliver nor anything of the experience of working with said agency.

Our strapline for Clearly PR, for instance, places the focus fully on the client:

We enable recruitment businesses to be seen, heard and read by the people they want to do business with most.

So how do others describe what ‘branding’ means? Within the recruitment industry, opinion varies.

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Mitch Sullivan, managing director at FastTrack Recruitment, described branding as “A value (or set of values) someone associates with a company whenever they hear or see their name.”

Dave Hume, director at Seriously Connected, believes that “there are many who are simply freelancers, micro businesses, who believe they are building a brand, spend too much time on logos and colour schemes…. and not enough time on those values or sets of values.”

Richard York, business manager at Stark Brooks, takes this point a step further. He said that, “values are all well and good…but if those values are not met, they become irrelevant [and] they might have a negative impact.”

Brand, he says, is “about purpose, about what your customers (clients and candidates) say about you to their network. If you have a true purpose, understand it and deliver on it, your reputation becomes your brand. It only matters what others think of your business, not yourself.”

Advertising legend, David Ogilvy suggested that branding is:

The intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging, and price, its history, its reputation, and the way it’s advertised.

Seth Godin suggests that:

A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.

 If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.

In today’s ultra competitive recruitment marketplace, there remains a belief among many recruiters that being a ‘name’ or having great sales patter will suffice. But it won’t, not in the long term anyway.

Customers (i.e. clients and candidates) look to engage partners who stand for something and offer something no one else can.

So think about what you stand for. Resist the temptation to use hyperbole to describe who you are as an agency and what you do, and seek to be the agency that you would want to appoint if you were sat on the other side of the table.