How Nokia and IBM go about employer branding and winning the war for talent

by 10 Jun 2008

Organisations with a strong employer brand dont need to fight for candidates in a tight labour market. Teresa Russell looks at how Nokia and IBM go about employer branding and winning the war for talent

With an ageing workforce, skills shortages and rapidly changing generational preferences, employer branding has become an important part of many organisations’attraction and retention strategies. Both Nokia Australia and New Zealand and IBM Australia and New Zealand have highly regarded employer brands. However, each approaches branding from a markedly different perspective.

Nokia is the world’s largest telecommunications and internet company. Based in Finland, it employs in excess of 110,000 people in more than 130 companies around the world. In Australia and NZ, Nokia is a sales and marketing organisation with 110 direct employees located predominantly in Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland.

Jodi Sampson, head of HR, Australia and NZ, says that employee engagement drives Nokia’s employment brand in Australia. “Although we run an annual Listening to You survey, we have continuous dialogue about what it is like to work for Nokia. It is a natural conversation between all employees,” she says.

IBM, the world’s largest IT and business consultancy, employs 13,000 people in Australia and NZ, deployed in every major city. The three strands of its business here are IT outsourcing, software development and IT and business consulting.

Chris Major, IBM’s employer branding manager, moved in-house with his role 10 months ago. Major used to run the IBM account from a recruitment and advertising agency. “In this labour market, how any company utilises its employer brand in the attraction and retention of quality candidates has become all-important,” he says.

IBM moved my role in-house because it knew what its brand meant to clients, but not necessarily what it meant to candidates at that stage,” he says. Major’s main focus since his arrival has been to get IBM’s employer brand translated into what each segment of the candidate market finds attractive.

Global versus local

It may be tempting to assume that Nokia and IBM’s strong Australian employer brand is the product of a massive marketing machine in global headquarters, but both organisations have spent significant time and effort localising their employer brands.

“At Nokia, our culture has a slightly Scandinavian feel – with its focus on people, intellect, productivity and social welfare,” says Sampson. “There are global values that everyone works with, but our local brand must match our workforce profile and remain relevant and representative.

“Culture is not about kitchen posters. It can’t be propaganda. It has to be real – and it changes all the time,” says Sampson.

The three important strands in Nokia’s employer brand are visible leadership, the way they celebrate their successes and their values. “We have a very high-performing culture with lots of autonomy and empowerment of employees. People are managed on their outcomes – not on the time spent at their desks,” adds Sampson.

Major says that although IBM headquarters has just launched its global recruitment advertising creative platform, each country is empowered to localise its advertising and employer brand to make sure it resonates with the local market.

IBM is different things to different people, Major says. He believes that IBM employees are variously attracted by innovation, flexibility, inspiration, opportunity and career development – the overarching brand. Others enjoy the work/life balance and the level of trust that gives them the responsibility to do a job ethically and in line with corporate values, without necessarily being in the office from nine till five.

“We look at every target market and develop an employee value proposition for that candidate group,” says Major. “For example, we recently ran a graduate recruitment campaign after running internal focus groups to see what the key drivers were for our GenY employees.

“We then produced an employee value proposition for that graduate market and developed attraction materials around that, including a special [internet] microsite for graduates,” he says. The site, he says, has a lot of dynamic content which appeals to GenY candidates. (This site is still active at

Before its last intake of graduate recruits joined IBM, they said they generally saw the company as just another large business. However, once they started work, they found it to be a vibrant, flexible organisation with a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives. “We had to make sure that our future graduate candidates had an accurate perception about the company’s culture,” Major says.

Major says that this has been the only instance when there was a gap between the target group’s perception, management’s perception and external perceptions of the company.

Other campaigns that Major has overseen (or has put into the pipeline) in the last 10 months include overseas advertising to fill technical roles, a geographically based campaign about living and working in Canberra and a recruitment drive in the UK ( Major says that each campaign has been subtly different, because each is based on a different employee value proposition that has been adapted from and is related to IBM’s overarching employer brand.

Results of strong branding

Major says that since segmenting its local employer brand, the results of recent recruitment campaigns have been impressive. About 25,000 people have visited its graduate campaign microsite and the company has received 5000 applications from people based in the UK wishing to relocate to Australia or New Zealand.

Major tracks every part of each microsite as well as media channels such as job boards and lifestyle websites that advertise IBM careers. He knows what people are watching, what is working and what isn’t. He has had enquiries from other IBM offices around the world looking to adopt similar programs for their markets.

At Nokia, Sampson says that the tight employment market has not affected them at all. “We’ve had a sustained program around our employment brand over the last 10 years, constantly reviewing it and talking to people to make the brand live. We still get to pick and choose our people, regardless of the machinations of the market,” she says.

She explains that during one year, when big structural change coincided with Nokia’s Listening to You survey, engagement levels actually increased. “Our leadership is always accessible and there is strong two-way communication. During this usually unsettling time, our leaders told people: ‘I know you think you might lose or change your job with this restructure, but I don’t know if you will yet. As soon as I know, I’ll let you know’,” says Sampson.

“You have to keep the channels of communication open and flexible in good times and not so good times. That’s the key to success,” she adds.

Other positive outcomes of a strong employment brand include low retention costs and low recruitment costs. “The ANZ region has very high productivity [measured as revenue per employee] and the highest percentage of high performers in the region. Happy people do excellent work,” she says.

The only downside to this is that the company’s active talent management program transfers ANZ high performers to other parts of the world, leaving Nokia ANZ to fill the resulting vacancy.

Employer branding advice

“Your employment brand should be a powerful tool that gets really strong support from your whole leadership team – not just from HR and marketing,” says Sampson. “Know the strength of your brand and don’t lose focus. Always link it back to your people and understand what drives them and what they are looking for. Last year’s brand is dead!” she declares.

Major says that the quality of information from surveys and focus groups is important. “You must appreciate that every campaign is different. You start from the inside of the company and work your way out, till brand perceptions of everyone from senior managers to external candidates are in line –no matter what it takes.”

“One size EVP does not fit all,” he says. “You need to adapt your overall message to suit different target markets.”