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Guide to using PR to attract talent

PR (public relations) is a useful tool when it comes to positioning businesses as great places to work and helping attract new talent.

Right now, in what is an increasingly competitive recruitment market, it’s more important than ever to make sure your business stands-out as a great place to work, and Public Relations, or PR, can help.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations says PR is all about reputation (reputation being the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you).

It tells us that PR ‘is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support, and influencing opinion and behaviour’, and that it ‘is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.’

In the context of recruitment, those publics include people that you may one day want to join your business.

Nowadays, while you’re busy evaluating applications and CVs during the recruitment process, candidates are busy researching your business:

They want to know about the organisation’s culture and values, and how these align with their own. The 2022 Edelman Global Trust Barometer finds that over half (54%) of Brits choose a place to work based on their beliefs and values. It also tells us that, when considering a job, 56% of people expect the CEO to speak publicly about the controversial social and political issues that they, as prospective employees, also care about.

Purpose is also increasingly important to people. According to PwC’s report Putting Purpose to Work: a study of purpose in the workplace, ’employees see purpose as a way to bring meaning to their work and understand the contributions they are making to the company, as well as society.’

Beyond this, and thanks to Covid, they’re also much more interested in wellbeing, work-life balance, flexible working, employee engagement, soft-skills development, as well as fairness, diversity and inclusion.

And where do they turn to as the primary sources of information about your business when conducting this research? Social media and the internet.

This means that it’s important for your social media feeds and website to feature content and messaging that showcase all the things that are likely to resonate with prospective employees.

However, there are limits to how credible and convincing people will find claims made on channels you effectively control – what we call ‘owned’ media. “Sounds great, but you would say that about yourself, wouldn’t you?”

That’s where PR comes in.

According to research by global consulting firm Niesen, 50% of people trust ‘paid’ media (advertising), and 62% trust owned media. But 71% of people trust ‘earned’ media – editorial coverage in newspapers, magazines, trade press and well respected blogs.

It’s largely because there’s an expectation that journalists and their editors will subject your news stories to some degree of scrutiny and fact-checking prior to publishing – independent checks and balances that aren’t applied elsewhere, and that hold your business to a higher standard of account.

If, as a result of your PR efforts, potential new recruits encounter lots of positive media mentions of your business when researching you online, those reports create a sort of ‘halo effect’. Not only are they more believable in themselves, they tend to reinforce the things you say about your business elsewhere.

At this point, I should add a note of caution: it’s important to be authentic in your storytelling. Don’t do good things purely to create opportunities for media coverage – if you’re unable to live-up to the employee expectations you create, then all the time, effort and money spent on brand positioning, recruitment and onboarding will be wasted because they won’t stay.

So, what should you focus on when telling stories in the media to aid your positioning and make you more attractive to new talent?

Firstly, think about it from the perspective of your audience: who are they most likely to be influenced by and how?

There’s an important psychological principle in play here called ‘social proof’. In a nutshell, we look to others like ourselves for validation when making important decisions – especially where there is uncertainty and ambiguity (like when we’re considering taking a new job).

Which means that you want to prioritise stories about your business in which existing employees feature prominently, articulating useful messaging.

For example, if you have a policy of releasing staff for one day a month to volunteer for a cause or charity they support, it’s much better if that story is told using the words of employees that take advantage of that provision than if it’s a senior manager talking about it. This is backed-up by research for the 2019 iteration of the Edelman Global Trust Barometer in which respondents were presented with a range of people and asked which they would find extremely or very credible as sources of information when forming an opinion about a company – 57% of Brits said ‘regular employees’ (but only 39% said CEOs).

Likewise, if your business has taken steps to reduce CO2 emissions, tell that story from the perspective of employees that were involved in making it happen – and why it was important for them to personally be involved.

It’s crucial to get employees talking about how it feels to be part of these things, and about how working for a company with a culture and values like yours positively impacts on them.

Secondly, consider what you want this audience to discover about you: you need to tell stories that highlight how your business satisfies the things that recruitment candidates increasingly find important in the workplace.

Forget beanbags, sleep pods, slides and games rooms – they’re all too faddy. Instead, showcase the workplace wellbeing study you commissioned and the steps you’ve taken to improve it, or the opportunities for progression that your people get.

Focus on stories that show how their priorities will be fulfilled if they join your organisation.

And, thirdly, think about where you want these stories to appear: where are they most likely to get surfaced in organic search engine results pages?

Ideally, you want to prioritise genuine news media that publish online (as well as perhaps in print).

This can be local press, regional media and / or national trade titles.

The reason for this is two-fold: firstly, they’ll command some level of respect for independent and credible reporting (which, as I’ve already pointed out, is an enabler of trust); and, secondly, not only are their websites likely to benefit from high levels of ‘domain authority’ (that your website can then essentially ‘borrow’ from, enhancing its own visibility), if they are built and structured according to the criteria laid down by search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo! (which they almost certainly will be) they’re pretty much guaranteed to show up prominently in search results to help get you noticed.

If you apply these three lessons, it’ll eventually mean that when prospective employees are researching you online, they’re much more likely to encounter positive news stories, published by trusted sources, articulated by people like themselves, that accentuate all the things that make you an attractive employer.

And, of course, it’s essential that you then share and amplify these stories on your social media feeds and website too, for completeness.

As a final point, and to underscore the value and importance of PR in recruitment, consider this: if your business doesn’t invest the time and effort to tell it’s stories in the media, but other recruiting businesses in your area or sector do, then prospective employees will be reading all about them and not you, giving those other firms a distinct advantage in the recruitment race.

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