Branding St.George Bank

by 18 Sep 2007

Employer branding has gained traction recently, as more organisations face the reality of recruiting in a tight labour market and retaining the talent they already have. Teresa Russell talks with St.George Bank about the remarkable success of its 12-month-old employment brand strategy

Good with people. Good with money.” That’s the tag line under St.George Bank’s name and corporate logo. Notice it doesn’t say, “Good with money. Good with people”? That’s not because it doesn’t sound right, but because it would not be in line with the organisation’s vision: “To be recognised as Australia’s most respected service company.” Great service companies are good with people – not just customers, but its own staff as well.

St.George is Australia’s fifth largest retail bank and one of the top 20 publicly listed companies in the country, with a market capitalisation of more than $20 billion. It has nearly 9,000 employees – the bulk of them in NSW. The company has experienced significant growth in the last five years, with Queensland, Victoria and WA being the focus of its current growth.

You know an organisation is serious about its employment branding when it creates a position called “executive manager recruitment and branding strategy,” makes the national recruitment team report directly to that position, and provides a significant budget to define and then market its employer brand to current and prospective employees.

Kellie Tomney was appointed to this newly created role with St.George 18 months ago, following a career in HR and change management roles in blue chip companies, as well as gaining HR and marketing qualifications.

The need to define and market an employment brand strategy has been no sudden epiphany. “It has been a deliberate decision that came from the strategic plan, decided by our senior management team. In order to maintain our competitive advantage, we have to continue market leadership in this space. From the beginning, St.George has always been about its people,” says Tomney.

Apart from leading the market with respect to its branding, the other crucial element was to have more control over its recruitment and selection process, which used to be entirely outsourced. “We needed to ensure that we were hiring service-oriented people who were aligned with the values of the organisation,” says Tomney.

St.George contracted a recruitment service provider to work as its in-house recruitment team, reporting to Tomney. They are just like St.George employees, but the workforce can be adjusted according to business needs. There are currently about 15 recruiters working throughout the organisation.

Defining the brand

“You have to capture what is truly unique about your company. You can’t steal someone else’s employment brand,” says Tomney, who found the challenge of uncovering the employment brand at St.George the most difficult part of the whole process. She had to get to the essence of what employees and people from other financial organisations valued about St.George, and then leverage that knowledge in partnership with both the customer brand and its ‘engaged people’ strategy.

“Research within is critical. The brand is in the mind of your employees,” says Tomney who engaged a marketing communications company specialising in employer branding, to run focus groups and workshops with a wide range of employees and others from the industry. Tomney also referenced international best practices.

This research unearthed a list of things that people inside and outside the company felt differentiated St.George from its competitors. This is called its employee value proposition and has been distilled down into its employer brand, “Succeed in great company”.

The brand has been used to differentiate St.George from its competition throughout the whole recruitment and retention process.

Communicating the brand

Once defined, Tomney and her colleagues in marketing and PR, the senior executive team and division managers embarked on an internal and external communication strategy. This marked the time that the employment brand really started to gain traction about 12 months ago.

Internal communication channels were employed to deliver the brand messages. These included messages from the MD, on its intranet site, in its electronic weekly newsletter and through the employee referral program. The brand message was also incorporated into the recently launched new staff benefits scheme, as well existing internal communications.

Using creative materials designed by the marketing communications company, the external communication of the brand was designed to attract both active and passive candidates. Specific new staff benefits ads that doubled as customer branding were positioned on front pages of major daily newspapers and supported with TV advertising. This was followed up by press releases that gained national and international exposure – especially on the subject of grandparental leave.

Recognition and retention

A part of St.George’s people strategy is to reward and retain staff in ways that they value, and to then celebrate their achievements. This is done through a peer nomination system that culminates in an annual gala dinner where “superstars of the year” are honoured. The awards align with the St.George customer brand strategy and its employment brand strategy.

Other benefits offered include an annual scholarship for around five outstanding performers to learn more about best practices to support their career development. This involves joining an executive group on an overseas educational tour of other service companies.

“Our employees value flexibility, so in addition to grandparental leave, we offer career breaks by structuring salary so people can work for four years and take the fifth year off with income. They can do what they like in that year – travel and study are the most popular,” says Tomney.

St.George also offers its staff interest-free loans for purchasing “green products” including solar hot water systems, rainwater tanks and energy and water efficient appliances.

“We know that for our brand to be effective, it has to be more than just a marketing exercise. It must be supported by our employees, be unique and relate to all key subgroups of both candidates and employees across all divisions,” says Tomney.

Return on investment

The last few years has seen an increased level of sophistication in measuring return on investment and effectiveness of employment brand marketing. This is presumably because the level of investment now demands rigorous metrics to justify ongoing investment.

“Many of St.George’s results are commercial in confidence, but we are able to say that on every measure we use, the results are going strongly in the right direction,” says Tomney.

The results include a sharp increase in the number of hits on their website immediately following the external launch of the employment brand; amassing the names of thousands of people in the external talent pool in the first 12 months following the launch of its careers site; decreasing costs per hire; achieving high candidate satisfaction rates, reducing agency time-to-fill days; having around 25 per cent of direct appointments referred by current staff; and realising significant cost savings in the first year.

We would never have achieved these results if our employment brand didn’t completely align with our customer strategy and business objectives. That has been critical to its success,” concludes Tomney.