RallyFwd™ Recruitment Marketing

Why Failing is Key to Breakthrough Employer Branding

Why Failing is Key to Breakthrough Employer Branding
Profile photo of Sam Elsley
Written by Sam Elsley

Learn how RallyFwd May 2022 speakers Tony Suzda and Jonna Sjövall have used failure as a way to break through in their employer brand and how you can do the same at your organization.

Why Failing is Key to Breakthrough Employer Branding
5 (100%) 1 vote

Once as a young boy, Tony Suzda was in the kitchen watching his mom make dinner. He watched as she cut a roast in half before putting it in the pot. “Why are you doing that?” he asked, to which his mom shrugged and replied, “Go ask your nana.”

He went and asked his nana, who shrugged and replied the same way. “That’s the way my mom did it, go ask her.”

Finally, he asked his great nana. “Why did you start cutting the roast in half nana?” 

She looked at him and threw up her hands. “I don’t know, I just needed a bigger pot!”

RallyFwd - May 2022 - Watch On Demand!Recruitment Marketing and employer branding work — and most work, in general — is often affected by this same line of thinking. Past systems and processes don’t necessarily have a sound origin story but have never been challenged, and so people are happy to continue going along with them. 

The problem with this, however, is that this path often doesn’t lead to differentiation, out-of-the-box ideas or breakthroughs; these things come from experimenting, going against the grain and learning from failure, especially in today’s competitive talent market.

Tony Suzda, Director of Talent Acquisition and Talent Strategy, Dent Wizard International. Tony’s session at RallyFwd will be “Listening: The Most Powerful Tool in Building Your Employer Brand”.

Jonna Sjövall, Global Head of Employer Branding and Recruitment Marketing, UBS. Jonna’s session at RallyFwd will be “Failing Your Way to Employer Brand Success”.

Fortunately, both Tony Suzda, and Jonna Sjövall are addressing this very topic in their sessions at RallyFwd on May 11. Among many other lessons, they’ll be pulling from their own experiences and examples to help you understand why failure is necessary to differentiate your employer brand, and how to create an environment within your team and at your company that not only tolerates failure but encourages it! 

Until then, here is a sneak peek (with exclusive content sprinkled in) of what’s in store on May 11 to help you start practicing today.

Understand who your stakeholders are and their needs

In an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to ask anyone to try something new. But very rarely is this the case in our line of work, which is why, for many, getting your leaders behind you will be your first step to getting the confidence you need to fail. 

As Jonna explains, this starts with asking the right questions. Try to understand what each stakeholder is focused on: What keeps them up at night? What do they need to deliver? What do they think they need from employer branding and Recruitment Marketing to support their larger talent acquisition (and other) goals?

For help with getting leaders behind your ideas, watch Bryan Adam’s RallyFwd session from last December, Employer Brand Strategy That Your Organization Will Finally Sit Up and Listen to.

Keep in mind that your leaders won’t always have something concrete to give you. If this is the case, make the ask more general, such as what their ideal result would be, what would they like to see or what would they like you to look into.

This also doesn’t have to be during a formal, scheduled meeting. Jonna’s found that talking over a break or coffee can personalize the situation and help you get to know your leaders as people as much as your boss, which can make opening up about challenges easier — and the task of addressing these challenges in your new ideas easier. 

Manage your stakeholders’ expectations

Managing expectations begins with making your ask clear from the get-go. Whether it’s permission, money or interns, make it clear what you want from leaders to avoid surprises in the future. 

More than this, remember that stakeholders have high expectations in general. Are you going to take their money, create an employee story engine and 5x the number of applicants in a week? Maybe! But more realistically, like most employer branding work, it’s going to take time to get the engine up and running, create a pipeline of stories and start seeing a direct effect on your number of applicants and hires. 

Without having the same knowledge you have, your leaders may think otherwise, so it’s up to you to present your idea in a way that answers questions like: 

  • What does the timeline of your idea look like? 
  • When do you expect to see results? 
  • How are you going to report on its progress? 
  • In what ways is your idea addressing your leaders’ challenges?

Jonna’s also learned over the years that the more people and opinions are involved, the more work you can expect to put into managing everyone’s expectations. This becomes a skill in itself: tending to everyone’s expectations while also staying true to your original vision of what you want to do and what you think will work. 

Pro tip: If someone requests you do something you don’t think will work, she suggests saying “yes but let’s see how it performs”. It’s hard to argue with data, whether it proves or disproves. 

Start by crashing a small car

When wanting to do something new that hasn’t been done in your company before, a tactic that Jonna uses is to position it as a trial or a pilot. By keeping the scale small, you:

  1. Give yourself the comfort of knowing that even if your idea fails, the fallout won’t be catastrophic 
  2. Make it easier and more feasible for leaders to invest in your idea
  3. More quickly learn whether your idea works — and whether it’s worth investing more into in the future

A/B testing in automated email tools is a perfect example of this “small car crash” approach, as she describes it. Rather than risk sending one subject line to everyone and not seeing the results you’d hoped, you create a number of them, send them to a limited number of people, observe the reaction and then send the most engaging one to the majority of your audience.

This embodies the perfect small crash crash: quick activation, small audience, fast results and an obvious path forward. 

In her session at RallyFwd, Jonna will go in-depth about how she used this small car crash approach to successfully create an engaging presence on TikTok, an experiment that resulted in a 5-10 fold increase in engagement and clicks compared to other content and channels driving to their open roles, despite UBS’s strict social media policies and guidelines.

Register to see Jonna’s session at RallyFwd.

Own the results and move forward using data

Before Dent Wizard’s current “Be a Wizard” employer brand, there was another iteration, “Dent Wizard Way”. 

Unlike Be a Wizard, though, Dent Wizard Way didn’t take. The response from candidates was largely negative, with many people complaining that it gave the impression that there was no room for individuality at the company. Another issue was the commitment to the brand, as Tony and his team just promoted it on Facebook and with some emails, but that was about it; it wasn’t enough to impress upon candidates their new branding in a unified way.

But rather than be discouraged or go back to familiar ideas, Tony owned the failure, took stock of the situation and moved forward with new information to guide him. He surveyed employees to understand what they loved about working for Dent Wizard, changed the slogan to incorporate this information and address the issue of not inviting individuality and made sure that the launch this time around was more unified. For example, he had leaders and employees include the new Be a Wizard slogan in their footers, email signatures, LinkedIn profiles, ads and anywhere else candidates would see it. 

This new iteration of branding has so far been a major success, with 95% of candidates now going into interviews having seen the company’s Be a Wizard branding!

Own the results, use those results to understand what needs to be improved and move forward in the right direction: this describes Tony’s response to failure, and serves as a great course of action for those looking to not just bounce back from failure but needing the confidence to try something new.

With new data constantly coming in, use this data to improve your strategy. As long as you’re honest with leaders when things don’t work (pick up the phone right away, Tony advises), it’s only a matter of time before you close in on a winning approach.

In his session at RallyFwd, Tony will share how he and his team developed the Be a Wizard employer brand in close collaboration with the Dent Wizard’s employees, and then, after being told he couldn’t change the company’s corporate site, successfully launched the new brand on a completely separate careers site (which Dent Wizard is now basing the overhaul of their corporate site on).

Register to see Tony’s session at RallyFwd

Be open to opposing ideas and stand by your team when ideas fail 

Now, let’s assume you’re in a leadership role yourself. Perhaps you manage a team, or even oversee one person. You want them to feel comfortable coming to you with new ideas as well, right? Ideally, you even want them to challenge your ideas! After all, the best idea is the only one that matters.

There are 2 ways to instill this confidence among your team. The first is to say yes to new ideas, even if you think they won’t work. As Jonna explains, this becomes harder the longer you’ve been around and the more you’ve experienced, but instead of quickly pointing out reasons a, b and c why something won’t work, it’s better to let your team experiment and see what comes back, especially if their idea doesn’t cost a fortune or take forever.

If it works, great! If it fails, you all learn something, and you get the added benefit of now having a team more confident in experimenting and going outside of the box.  

The second way to instill confidence is to have your team’s back when ideas fail, in your eyes but also those of the leaders above you. For example, maybe an idea from a team member didn’t go as planned and the person you report to isn’t happy. This is an opportunity to take responsibility for the results, explain how you’re going to move forward and show your team that you have their back even when the heat is on. 

Remember, nothing destroys trust and confidence more than pointing the finger and piling on someone for trying something new.

In their individual sessions at RallyFwd, Tony and Jonna will share specific examples of ideas that didn’t go as planned at Dent Wizard and UBS, and how they and their teams navigated bouncing back and rebuilding their companies’ employer brand better than ever. 

Register to see their sessions at RallyFwd


If there’s one thing to take away from this article, it’s that failure is not something to be avoided. To get to the ideas that really differentiate your employer brand, you’re going to have to go through many that don’t — the quicker you get through these, the quicker you’ll find success. 

If you enjoyed this teaser of what’s to come from Tony and Jonna, you’re definitely not going to want to miss their full sessions — and the sessions of our 6 other speakers — at RallyFwd on May 11.

Sign up today to save your seat, and we’ll see you there!

Why Failing is Key to Breakthrough Employer Branding
5 (100%) 1 vote

About the Author

Profile photo of Sam Elsley

Sam Elsley

Sam Elsley is the Content Marketing Specialist at Rally Recruitment Marketing and a regular contributor to the Rally blog.

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