Is Your Professional Services Firm's Brand Killing Your Recruiting?

The Internet offers job seekers unprecedented insights into companies' brands. Job seekers search for online reviews to read employee feedback on management and to uncover staff gripes with company policies. They can review employees' social media profiles and tweets to assess their levels of expertise and identify mutual connections. Job seekers also analyze a company's online presence – including its website, LinkedIn page, and Twitter account – to get a feel for its culture.

At the same time, many of these resources provide employers like you with the opportunity to check out prospective employees and determine whether or not they might be good fits for your firm.

To no small degree, your success as a professional services firm is tied to your ability to attract new talent. Your expertise is your competitive advantage, and to sustain that advantage, you have to be able to bring the right people on board. To do that, your brand has to be appealing, highly credible, and polished. A strong brand is the key to an effective talent acquisition strategy.

And it's not just your firm's client-facing brand that's important. There's also your employer brand to consider. I'm talking about your reputation as an employer – e.g., how your employees feel about your firm and its culture. These two brands enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Each influences the other. As a result, both your consumer brand and your employer brand need to align, or else your company runs the risk of appearing phony to potential recruits.

For example, if your firm presents itself as a vibrant, innovative place to work, your employees should be talking about how exciting it is to work there.

Why is your employer brand so important? Because of something called "the halo effect." The halo effect is the impression of your firm presented by employees to the outside world via social media, through word of mouth, at social and business events, and in a variety of other channels. The halo effect can be an invaluable ally in the battle for prospective employees.

So, what are the most effective ways to communicate your brand to prospective employees? There are five critical channels:

1. Your Website

Your website is the place people go first to check out your firm and decide whether it's a place they might like to work. They'll be looking for hard information such as location(s), employee policies, hiring practices, and the kind of work you do, as well as signals about your firm's corporate culture and its attitude toward employees.

2. Social Media

Social media plays a critical role on several levels for professional services firms. While business contacts are drawn to LinkedIn, job hunters tend to use Facebook to determine cultural context. As a result, it's a great place to promote your employer brand.

3. Employee Feedback Sites

As the economy continues to grow and the job market heats up, sites such as Glassdoor are growing in popularity as places where employees can rate – and berate – their employers. Employers are finding that employee feedback sites are tricky beasts that can, with little warning, boost or damage their firms' brands. These feedback sites are perhaps the ultimate employer branding tools.

4. Industry Chatter

I'm talking about all that "noise" out in the marketplace that can validate or challenge your brand. What exactly is "industry chatter"? It's the collective input of former employees, company alumni, colleagues, suppliers, customers, friends, and foes.

5. Online Search

How and why you get found can say a lot about your firm and its standing in the marketplace. It's vital to manage your online presence as much as possible.

For example, was your firm involved in a nasty lawsuit that places bad news front-and-center in search results? To ensure that online searches for your firm return a positive presence, it helps to turn one or more of your top employees into what we call "Visible Experts." These are people who are widely recognized for their industry knowledge and expertise. They become visible through public speaking, publishing books and articles, blogging, and explaining complicated issues in simple, easy-to-understand terms.

Developing a Positive Brand

To ensure that your brand doesn't kill your chances of hiring the best available talent, here are nine steps that can help you develop a positive brand:

Consider your overall business strategy, because a strong, well-differentiated brand will make growing your firm and its talent pool much easier.

Identify your target clients to ensure faster growth and greater success. Everyone loves a winner – and that includes potential employees.

Research your target client group to help create a brand message that resonates well.

Develop your brand positioning to define how your firm is different from the competition and why potential clients should work with you (and why potential employees should work for you).

Develop your messaging strategy to convey your brand positioning and effectively address your target audience.

Develop your name, logo, and tagline to efficiently communicate your brand.

Develop your content marketing strategy to attract, nurture, and qualify prospective clients and employees.

Invest in your website because, as I said earlier, it's the most likely place people will look to determine just what kind of firm you are.

Build your marketing toolkit, including sales sheets, pitch decks, and videos, to attract and retain clients and employees.

Once you have a strong, positive, and focused brand in place, your firm has terrific potential to become recognized and remembered – and to grow. A sophisticated and strategic brand expands your universe, attracting a wealth of new business and new talent.

And that's the key to success.

Lee Frederiksen is the managing partner at Hinge, a leading marketing firm for the professional services industry.