Employer brand management, in conversation
Philip Franklin, executive director of Emperor interviewed Jean Imray, former deputy strategic director of children and young people’s services of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.
Philip Franklin, executive director, Emperor: What were the issues at Rotherham and what were you looking for?
Jean Imray, former deputy strategic director of children and young people’s services, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council: Rotherham had been in a tough situation for some time, as most people are aware, and I was helping lead the improvement in children’s social care. As part of that process we needed to move forward with recruitment of social care staff at all levels as a matter of urgency.
Unfortunately we had already had a couple of agencies working with us, and my colleagues and I were not satisfied that they had got it right. I knew Emperor especially from having worked with them when I was at Kent. They had helped there with branding around fostering and adoption and it was a really good piece of work. I didn’t know if they even worked in employer branding and recruitment, but I trusted the people I knew there to give an honest response.
Franklin: What did you need an agency to understand?
Imray: We needed to communicate more effectively the journey we were on, what had changed, what was changing. We were making a commitment and we needed our potential recruits to both understand what that meant and make a commitment in return.
Franklin: Apart from the challenge of Rotherham itself, were there any other particular nuances that you wanted to make sure were understood and factored in to the agency’s brief and response?
Imray: It was clear that what was required was a transformation of children’s services and the sorts of people we needed to help us continue and drive the turnaround were not necessarily the same people we would need if the environment was relatively stable. The constant high profile and negative media coverage would mean that everyone would know Rotherham and probably have a negative perception. We needed to attract talented staff that could work successfully within that difficult context and were prepared for the additional challenges that brought.
Franklin: In terms of approach, what were you looking for? What did you need to see and experience to give you the confidence that this time it would be right?
Imray: I was looking for a close, collaborative relationship, I needed the agency to really understand where we were, what was changing, what we needed to support that change. I have to say that Emperor did this; they asked questions, they did their research and they developed a really strong creative brief. They had a lot to take on board in a short space of time because we had a tight timeframe but once we were moving, they were able to maintain the momentum. It was a good process and our teams worked well together.
Franklin: You’ve worked with a lot of different agencies over the years. What do you look for and expect from an agency?
Imray: Agencies need to understand that no two councils are the same despite all being public sector and they must have enough respect for the brief to tailor their responses, rather than offer up an off-the-shelf solution they have used elsewhere. I look for an agency that really knows its stuff and has people I can work with and that I can trust to provide a strong lead in the areas where they are the experts. That sounds obvious but in practice it’s not so easy to find.
If we have chosen well, then the agency will have our best interest at heart and will want to use their expertise to support our success – that is what we are paying for and it is a waste of our money if we don’t take their advice. Of course I expect them to be collaborative but also make recommendations and take the lead in the areas where they are the subject matter expert. There were times when I had to persuade my colleagues that it was right that Emperor challenged some of our existing recruitment practices and that we needed to allow them to advise and guide us. Finally, even in the most difficult and tough situations you still need to be working with people that you get along with and can enjoy working with.
Jean Imray spoke alongside Susannah Gerner, client director at Emperor at the Employer Brand Management Conference 2016 on the role of employer brand in recovering a damaged reputation. Jean shared insights on how Rotherham had to transform its employer brand, and fast.
The above interview was initially published in the Employer Brand Management Conference booklet.
Read the full case study to find out more about the work we've done with Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council.