Soul of a New Employer:

Developing a Marketing Communications Program to Attract and Retain IT Staff

Copyright Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

It's tough to find competent IT staff, and even tougher to keep them. It's going to get worse over the next decade with the declining availability of a technically trained workforce. Your marketing program targeted at potential employees might make the difference between the ability to attract talent — or the need to scramble for it.

A major concern of the hiring manager is how to attract and retain skilled IT staff (both technical and managerial). Although many incentives tend to be financial, a communications program that addresses the information needs of professional staff, and reinforces the perception of a well-run company can accomplish many objectives.


One measure of a professional, or anyone with professional abilities, is that he takes pride in his work and his corporate affiliations (e.g., his employer). Consider the software engineer. Chances are he would take more pride in working for a well-run, hot tech firm as opposed to legacy XYZ Software. Why? Because of the "halo" of affiliation with a company that's perceived to be on the cutting edge.

Even smaller firms can create a perception in their industry niche, or local recruiting area, by the effective use of "employee marketing communications" — communications targeted specifically at current and potential employees and staff (including management). Employee communications is simply a managed communications program that is designed to create and maintain an understanding of the company and its management vision among those who currently work for, or might work for, the company. The topics of interest to employees are not unlike those of interest to the company's customers, the investment community or the industry in general.

Employees are interested in knowing:

* What is management's vision, and where is it taking the company?

* What's in store for the company, both in the short term (a year to 18 months) and long term?

* How does the company distinguish itself (competitive positioning)? Is it unique? Why?

* Where does the company stand in its industry (ranking)?

* What is management's view of major industry developments? How will these developments impact the company?

* Who are some of the key people who work for the company? What do they have to say (personification of the management team)?

The word on the street

Employees want to know what's in store for their future. They work at the company every day — It's a big part of their lives and careers. Understanding the environment reduces stress. Lack of understanding, on the other hand, increases it, and tends to make outside opportunities appear attractive. This is especially true if the rumor mill is going full blast, and the staff reads about it in the newspapers before they hear anything from management. The same holds true for potential employees and staff. How they evaluate career opportunities will tend to be related to their perception of the company ­ be it correct or incorrect. It's no secret that highly-qualified talent is the first to bail out (long before it's public knowledge) if they perceive that management isn't effectively handling the problems — just ask any recruiter. And these same recruiters often spread the word to those who are in the market.

Get started

So how can a company establish an IT employee communications program? The first step is to clearly establish a mission and goal for the effort, then to implement the program effectively. The objective for the IT employee communications program should be to communicate an understanding of the company's goal and mission, and demonstrate that the goals are being accomplished. A critical understanding of the communications program, which is best stated explicitly, is that the communications effort (and the employees) have to be treated with respect and integrity. In short, 'press release fluff' has no place in the employee communications effort. It is very difficult to deceive those who work on the front lines. They often are more familiar with the critical issues than is management.

Communication channels

Once the objective of the employee communication program is agreed upon, then it is implemented by choosing the channels of communications, developing the materials, and both initiating and managing the effort. Channels of communications with staff and employees include the web site (perhaps employee-only section), annual report, company newsletter, periodic briefings by management, distribution of media reprints of articles that feature or mention the company, and any other communications between management and staff.

Communications channels with potential employees and staff can be through any contact that these individuals have with the company. For example, when was the last time you received an information pack (oe detailled web links) from a prospective employer in response to your resume? Such a refreshing tactic could essentially clinch the potential employee's interest. Both direct and indirect communications should be considered. Management commentary on careers and the potential of the industry that would appear in the employment section or special career inserts in trade publications would be one avenue. Communications targeted at recruiters would be another. Don't wait until there is a need to involve these intermediaries. They often talk to hundreds of professionals in the course of a year, and can spread information about your company by word of mouth even if you currently have no active searches underway. (But you had better commission some searches at some point in time).

Hit the road

Attendance at career fairs and other industry gatherings (such as trade shows) is another way to spread the word about the company. It need not be an elaborate or dedicated recruiting effort, simply the attendance by a few key managers who could work the crowd and distribute information about the company.

If the company regularly attends trade shows, the trade show staff could be briefed on how to handle potential employee inquiries, supplied with employee communications information to pass out and the name of a company contact person. </p>

Manage actively

A key point to remember is that an employee communications effort has to be an actively managed, sustained effort. Fading in an out of the market sends a confused message to the audience. For that reason, a member of the management team has to take responsibility for it — otherwise it won't happen. Also, some amount of money will have to be budgeted for dedicated communication pieces and other expenses.

The search for talent is a never-ending one, especially for the smaller IT company. A dedicated IT employee communications effort can greatly assist management in both the recruitment and retention of skilled and experienced staff. But the effort has to be managed and sustained with a clear goal and dedicated resources. IT managers who recognize this and implement an employee communications program will develop a powerful tool to help their companies survive in the labor-short decades ahead.

Copyright 2000 Jeffrey Geibel, All Rights Reserved

This article appeared under the following title in IT Recruiting and is on their web site at

Spin recruiting: Develop a communications program to attract and retain IT staff

Sep - Oct 2000 Page 178

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