Coronavirus (COVID-19) is now affecting all of us, and no one can know the full impact that it will have on our personal and professional lives. All of you in the Rally community are on my mind — above all, I hope that you and your loved ones are well and that you stay safe. You’re also on my mind because of the crucial role that you’re playing in your organizations at a time like this.
You’re advising leadership on HR policy changes to support the welfare of your employees and customers; ensuring that organizational communications are up to date and reaching everyone; consulting on staffing levels to support changing business needs; and guiding teams through a major culture shift of remote work. On top of looking out for the people in your companies, you’re also looking out for the people in your own lives. Thank you for all that you’re doing.
With a global pandemic upon us, it seems strange in a way to see the typical TV commercials running during news programs and to get emails and texts from retailers promoting flash sales while also receiving messages from their CEOs about how they’re handling COVID-19. But I also understand that companies need to continue selling their products and that keeping our economy going is just as important to our future. However, it raises legitimate questions about what the right approach is to marketing and sales during a crisis, and specifically for our community, what the right approach is to recruiting and Recruitment Marketing.
I faced the same types of questions back in 2012. At the time, I was serving as Executive Vice President of Marketing for an Israeli software company. There had been an outbreak of war in the region. Our first concern was for our employees who were called to active duty and for their families. But we were also concerned about the impact to our business.
As a young marketing leader, and as an American, I had never dealt with anything like it before. While the rest of the leadership team projected business as usual, I found it really hard to operate that way. First of all, one of my team members had been called up, and I worried for him every day. But in addition, sending out our monthly email newsletter to our database with the typical marketing speak just felt disingenuous given the concerns I knew that our customers were expressing in conversations with our sales team. But business did go on, our employees came home safely and the company continued to grow.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that the regional conflict in 2012 that my company experienced is not at all the same as the public health emergency that the world is dealing with now. I share this experience because I can relate to what many of you are now facing — being responsible for marketing a company while there is a crisis going on and having to project a message when you yourself may be unsure about what to say, all the while needing to do your job to build the brand and generate pipeline, because you must look to the future.
While every company will be affected differently, many of you will continue to recruit the talent that your company needs now and will need after we all get through this. In fact, recruiting will become even more vital to those industries on the front lines. So during this time, it’s worth asking:
Should your approach to Recruitment Marketing change, and if so, how?
Every practitioner, every team, every company will need to decide this for themselves. And these discussions and decisions won’t be easy — we are in uncharted waters. But you might be surprised at how your experience and skills have prepared you for this moment. Here are some important points for you to consider to determine what changes may be appropriate for how your company attracts and engages candidates during a crisis.
It’s not business as usual. In my opinion, not acknowledging coronavirus is almost the same as pretending it isn’t happening, which creates doubt about a company’s leadership, or worse, their motivations. I recommend that you determine how and where to make this acknowledgement when communicating with candidates and make full transparency a priority. Three areas come to mind immediately:
- Crisis support: Explain how your company is supporting employees during this crisis. There is no stronger statement of your company’s values in action. But a note of caution: Do this to inform, not to self-promote. There will be a time and a place later to tell these stories.
- Hiring process: Let candidates know what they can expect during your hiring process, from interviews to onboarding. Be open about what’s changed because of the virus. Look at your post-application communications and potentially also your careers site if you have content there that describes your hiring process.
- Recruiter communications: Your employer value proposition still holds true, but anticipate the questions that candidates will have during this time. Provide recruiters with an FAQ (and keep it updated) that they can use to quickly and thoroughly answer questions and potential concerns about working conditions, support for paid family leave, remote work set up, etc.
Tone of voice
You’ve spent years building your employer brand and giving it an authentic voice through content and social media. While you are still trying to recruit and make your jobs and company attractive, this probably isn’t the time for the typical “rah-rah” culture posts. Humor is also tough because it’s so subjective and could be taken in poor taste and pose a real risk to your reputation. I recommend two things:
- Review your tone of voice by considering the frame of mind of a prospective candidate and what may be important for them to hear right now, especially from companies they consider leaders. Perhaps rather than projecting fun and opportunity, it may be more appropriate to project compassion, stability and hope. No matter what though, keep it authentic.
- Assign a point person to be responsible for setting the tone of voice and reviewing all communications initially and then ensuring that the tone is consistently delivered by everyone involved in the candidate experience. Ensure your point person is tightly coordinated with corporate communications and corporate marketing too, so that the company is communicating with one voice. Clarity and consistency are critical to communications in a crisis.
Marketing and Recruitment Marketing professionals have a valuable skill: They know how to communicate through customer-centric and candidate-centric language. That means you’re able to convey your company’s value proposition by answering “What’s in it for me?” from your audience’s perspective. That ability to empathize is needed now more than ever. Consider taking two actions with your Recruitment Marketing content:
- Pause to review your content calendar. Every ad, video, blog, email, text, chat and social post should be viewed through a new lens of situational awareness and empathy. For example, an employee story that features an intern’s career progression might be swapped for a story about employees finding purpose in their work. An article on your careers blog profiling a department manager could be updated with how the department is collaborating while everyone works remotely, yet continues to deliver on time for your customers.
- Get plugged in so that you can uncover and capture the impactful stories that are happening every day in the decisions and actions of your leadership, the teamwork of your employees and the support of your people, their families and your communities. While it’s a difficult time for everyone, (including you!), you’re playing an important role as documentarian of what happens at your company when times get tough. Look for powerful moments, both big and small. Share the stories now that are helpful and informative and even inspiring, because we will need to hear good stories as often as we can.
Moving Forward, Together
Again, each of you must consider your approach to recruiting and Recruitment Marketing during this emergency. There will be a new normal, and then probably a new normal again. Every company will be making critical decisions to serve the best interests of the public, their employees and their customers, and operational changes are inevitable. But business will go on. So we must all try to continue to move forward while adjusting to the new normal.
That’s the outlook I’m taking — to keep moving forward by supporting you with the resources and tools to help you move forward as well. The Rally community is already a virtual community of 21,000 practitioners in HR, Talent Acquisition, Recruitment Marketing and Employer Branding. My heart is continually warmed by how gracious the people in this community are in sharing their knowledge and lifting up others to help the entire profession move forward. I know that will continue now more than ever.
While you may not feel that you have the experience to deal with this crisis at hand, you are more capable than you know. One of the important lessons I learned from my experience in 2012 is the value of good judgment and the importance of empathy. As a people professional, your human-centered approach will help you lead all of us through this together.
What are your thoughts on this important topic? I’d love to hear your comments below.
P.S. I invite you to join me online at our virtual event RallyFwd on May 6, 2020 — we’ve got a great line-up of speakers to share top strategies to help you Elevate Your Employer Brand — register today to save your seat!