Israel's tech cos change course on employer branding

Lavish events and big billboards on the Ayalon Highway have been replaced by branding based on company cohesion, stability and welfare.

Zohar Manor remembers well her ride last September on the Ayalon highway. "I saw a billboard for Osem and thought to myself that it was weird," she says. "Until then, we had gotten used to the idea that the Ayalon landscape was dominated by tech companies like Amdocs, Rapyd, or SimilarWeb."

Manor as VP Strategy at McCann Tech, also manages the company's employer brand. At that time, she was flooded with inquiries and offers from tech companies interested in running their own billboard campaigns. Today, she tells "Globes" that she has seen a significant decrease in demand for campaigns of this kind, certainly relative to the rate and volume of the second half of 2021. But companies have not necessarily given up on advertising or employer branding - they’re simply tending to do so in a slightly more modest way.

"A lot of companies were concerned more about how they were perceived from the outside, and came out with billboard and TV campaigns that didn't respect their employees. Now, they've internalized that this isn't the way," says Sharon Israel, co-founder and CEO of Xtra Mile, a marketing agency specializing in employer branding. "We're still getting inquiries from companies looking to create a campaign or 'make some noise', but today we understand that companies did campaigns in 2021 simply because they could. They dealt with signage and prime time advertisements by trial-and-error, and didn't launch campaigns based on sufficient strategy, planning and research. Now, they want to reach more segmented audiences and convey accurate messages that will reach existing employees, potential employees and customers."

"We wondered, 'How far can this go?'"

The employer branding industry's purpose is to help a company attract new employees and retain existing ones through marketing, events and campaigns. The industry has vacillated - like the tech industry as a whole - between a manic high and a depressive low, as compared to the same period last year. There is huge gap between June 2021, a record month for Israeli IPOs in New York - including the massive flotations for and ironSource - and June 2022, when dozens of companies froze hiring and recruitment budgets.

Daniel Cohen, employer brand manager at AppsFlyer, says that for her, the most significant difference compared to last year is a return to sanity in the competition over employees. "Last year, there were endless budgets for employer branding. There's been a change, and they're no longer what they were. In the past, we had endless budgets for huge parties and locating any talent that could be brought in. That's over. I think it's for the good, because what was going on in the industry last year was absolutely excessive. Many people will agree with me that things had gotten out of all proportion. The bar was raised higher and higher, the peak of the previous experience has become the minimum threshold for the next experience, and we were already wondering, 'How far can this go."

"The market has matured," Manor explains. "At this time last year, we were living in a frenzy with everyone driving each other crazy, and everyone running big campaigns because their employees were being poached, or because they had to compete against other companies running ad campaigns. Today, they want to examine things closely, see what's more effective, and what not to do. It's not that last year's campaigns didn't bring results, but today they're going in with much more planning, thinking in advance about the desired results, and about the important metrics."

Employees seek well-known, stable brands

One of the major changes under discussion in the employer branding sector is the shift in focus from the external to the internal. Last year, employer branding revolved around recruiting new employees. Now, in an era of market turmoil and the possibility of economic slowdown, the focus has shifted inwards towards employee retention, creating an emotional connection, providing a sense of stability, and relieving stress. In many companies, the employer branding function - one that dealt mainly with recruiting new employees from outside - has become one that focuses on internal organizational communication, and shifted from an advertising function to one focused on welfare and cohesion.

"Today, developers want to be told what's special about the company wanting to hire them - and not because of the ice cream in the kitchenette or the billboard," Manor maintains. "They’re looking for value, looking for a reputable brand, especially in light of uncertainty and volatility. Therefore, large companies will find it easier to retain and recruit employees, compared with startups that benefited greatly from the whole market growing and the stories about getting rich quick. Today, they’re looking for sustenance and security."

Amdocs' rebranding campaign last year, which included billboards and singer Noga Erez in a recruitment video clip, took a slightly different direction than the startups with nationwide marketing initiatives. The goal was to present the veteran Ra’anana-based billing software giant as a youthful, creative company, and in particular, erase the dull, dreary company image it had suffered over several decades. Manor describes the campaign’s success: "It’s paying off now. Amdocs is enjoying not only greater legitimacy among the younger generation, but also benefitting from good performance that proves it’s growing and holding up well even in challenging times."

Apart from Amdocs, McCann has branding budgets for other large companies that last year were viewed as "dinosaurs" in a hyper-competitive sector, and are now riding the "stability and financial security" wave. These campaigns aim to project an image of solidity coupled with meaningful work. SolarEdge Technologies, for example, uses real-life stories from employee and the slogan, "Empowering the Future", associating its solar product line and the concept of sustainable energy with its employer branding.

But while public companies may benefit from an image of greater stability, at the same time they are suffering continuous share price declines. Many of their employees hold options that are "out of the money", i.e. options whose exercise price is higher than the share price and are, in fact, unprofitable. "Today, we want employees to believe in the options they hold, and not get rid of them. Which is why, when it comes to building a brand, it's important not only in terms of employees, but also regarding investors, analysts and potential customers," says Manor. "The goal is to build a sense of trust greater than the brand, whose value will be greater still."

The hot new trend: "Impact Marketing"

The hot new trend in the industry is "Impact Marketing": employer branding campaigns based on messages and values. It is less expensive because it focuses inwards, making use of employees and existing resources for branding, and connecting to values espoused by employees. When implementing impact marketing, companies join campaigns that highlight them as leaders for values they embrace. Medical device company Omrix Biopharmaceuticals, for example, allows employees to join socially committed groups in various areas, such as women's empowerment, and the LGBT community. Each group has its own goals, budget, leadership, and projects designed to advance each goal. Microsoft, for example, has chosen to take in the lead in integrating persons with disabilities into the workplace - and the Israeli team has set firm goals for their integration into society.

"Instead of investing in campaigns that appeal first to candidates or people outside the company, we're seeing companies talk first to their employees, and then turn outwards," Sharon Israel of XtraMile explains. "If you work properly with your employees, you don't have to spend all that money on recruitment campaigns, because your employees will stay with the organization, and they're the ones who will become your spokespersons. Your employees become the 'storytellers' of the organization, its ambassadors, and at the same time, amplify the message about what the organization does. People pay more attention to an organization when the spokesperson is an employee and not an 'official' personage. It also helps that employee's personal brand; they make appearances at conferences and on podcasts."

AppsFlyer’s Cohen says her company was never prone to excessiveness, and in fact, often passes up on parties in favor of meaningful action. "Early in the year, most tech companies throw an exorbitant party that costs a fortune or send luxury items to employees. We took that budget and gave employees courses in personal development. Employees were thrilled and said it was better than having a party. We believe in turning our employees into social media influencers, centered around community and values."

"Don’t cancel the parties"

"I don't think company parties should be canceled, but companies are certainly talking about reducing the level of ostentation," Sharon Israel says. "If a highly profitable company has been pampering its employees with vacations as a matter of course, a cancelation may be perceived as opportunistic. Instead of a huge production for Hanukkah with [star rappers] like Static and Ben-El, have a family event and let them bring the kids for a day of interesting activities - that doesn't need a lot of pyrotechnics, and it also allows employees to spend a day with their families. As for young workers with no children: I'm sure that, given the opportunity to decide whether the company should throw a party, or use the same budget for activities where they partner with a non-profit and work with different populations throughout the year, they’ll choose the second option. So, they may have only three flavors of ice cream and not 24, but an investment in a non-profit will rank higher with 22-year-olds who have a greater sense of social responsibility than the older set."

Even Israeli unicorn Rapyd Financial Network, which has been widely criticized for its showy parties, has launched a new campaign aimed at retaining existing talents, as well as recruiting new ones, with the understanding that employees also need added value - not just parties, company trips or a personal chef. As part of a new program called Rapyd Up, each employee builds a "learning path" - a kind of personal curriculum to enable career flexibility - so that, if necessary, due to the market situation, they can move to a more relevant position within the company.

What's good for tech, is good for everyone - especially now

Demand for workers, which only intensified under the influence of the global pandemic, manifested not only at tech companies that fought for any talent (at least until recently), but also in other sectors, including some perceived as traditional. However, over the past decade, retailers, banks, and even real estate agencies - whose audience includes both paying customers and potential employees - have realized that what works for high-tech will work for them as well. The term 'employer branding' is now part of organizational jargon, and some companies have designated an internal and/or external function dedicated to this purpose.

Michal Feigenboim advises various companies about employer branding. "Today, it's already in the public domain," she says, referring to companies in finance, insurance, industry, real estate - even the Israel Police and non-profit organizations. "It's not like it was a decade ago, when people thought it was only for high-tech. Until recently, people believed it took a lot of money - parties and billboards on the Ayalon. Tnuva, Osem, and a number of insurance companies hadn't tried it till now." According to Feigenboim, the change in attitude began even before Covid. "A computer analyst, for example, can work at Strauss, Osem, Direct Finance (Mimun Yashir), or at the biggest tech company. That's why the battle over this type of employee has become much harder."

Feigenboim explains that most branding activity takes place on social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. These can, for example, contain occupational diversity practices that becomes part of branding. "Today, the companies at the forefront are looking for diversity and inclusion," she said. "There's an index that shows how flexible the company is, adapts itself to different sectors, and more. Another layer is employee experience - today's employees want to develop, be in a place with prospects, go into a company knowing they'll come out with something - and companies convey that message through branding."

"Studies show that money is generally the fourth parameter in importance for job seekers, except in extreme cases of professions with particularly high wages," Feigenboim adds. "We see today that the work-leisure balance comes before money. Organizations put forth the fact that they're flexible, allow hybrid work, and understand the value of each individual - 'with us you're not a cog in the machine.'" Another way, according to Feigenboim, is branding the organization as environmentally friendly and non-polluting. "It's tough these days for tobacco and cigarette industries to recruit employees. So, they might look for something else to take pride in."

Feigenboim also addresses the question of how the high-tech crisis will affect the branding processes. "Retail companies often turn to high-tech workers. In a crisis, workers will look for employment stability rather than a young pre- or just-post-investment company These companies understand that they need to emphasize worker value, concern for employees and social responsibility. At an uncertain time like this, they'll project the message: 'Did you have a good time partying? That's fine, but maybe it's not real.' For their part, when addressing this type employee, these companies want to be perceived as innovative, even if they've been around for 60 years."

Employer branding was expressed most powerfully this year, Feigenboim says, by Strauss' activity during the recall of its chocolate products: "We saw on social media how employees - even former employees - came to the company's aid during this difficult period, with many of them praising the company. These reactions did the company good."

Aya Orpaz, who advises companies on employer branding, also makes note of how companies outside the high-tech industry have realized the importance of employer branding. "The recruitment and retention of high-tech workers has roused understanding within other industries that every organization must invest in its employees, and not necessarily through perks and parties, but rather in professional development, enrichment, a supportive work environment and more." According to Orpaz, accounting firms such as Ernst & Young, law firms like Fischer Bachar & Co., and other large organizations such as Israel's HMOs, all recently arrived at this understanding.

The tech crisis could be an opportunity

Inbal Tal is head of organizational development at Bank Hapoalim, and is also responsible for the bank’s employer branding. "At the beginning of the year, Bank Hapoalim launched a new advertising language emphasizing Bank Hapoalim employees as professionals," she recalls. "We talked about the connectedness, partnership, and the pride of executives and employees take in being part of a leading professional, business, technology, social, and financial organization. It transforms them into brand ambassadors who tell our organizational story, and make recommendations to friends and acquaintances to join us."

For Tal, the current high-tech crisis is definitely an opportunity: "In a time of significant changes in the employment market, specifically the high-tech sector, our employer branding enables us to be attractive, maintain a competitive advantage, and offer job seekers a variety of positions at a stable organization." For Bank Hapoalim, it means marshalling the marketing and recruitment departments. "The human resources division, together with the marketing division, are leading employer branding to create significant impact, and value for employees, customers, and the public," Tal explains.

Food producer and marketer Tnuva also understands that the new reality is an opportunity. Riki Backfien, head of organizational development, training and recruitment, explained that employer branding is implmented both within and outside the organization. The intention is to elicit "the authentic voice of the employee." Backfien says. The company produced recruitment videos with the participation of employees and their children. "We emphasized the message of the warm home we provide, and we launched a dedicated Facebook page called 'Tnuva - Home of Opportunities' featuring aspects that employees and potential employees might not necessarily be familiar with: events, celebrations, successes, gifts, volunteering, and business and marketing initiatives led by Tnuva. This year, we also opened an Instagram page called 'Tnuva Career' and a LinkedIn page that enables direct communication with managers and professionals. We make sure they bring in stories from the field; the voice of our employees who are proud to present their work and showcase it publicly."

Opportunity for Tnuva's lies not only with high-tech's precarious situation, but also with Covid-19. "The challenge of the pandemic became, for us, an opportunity," Backfien states. "As a food company, we were recognized as an essential business, so our employees went on working continuously, even during the lockdowns. Despite the slowdown, and stoppage of institutional market activities, Tnuva did not lay-off workers and did not furlough staff. The food sector became very important during the coronavirus, especially food security, and that further strengthened the team spirit among employees and managers. For us, there's tremendous satisfaction in knowing we've provided the food necessary for the citizens of Israel."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on July 20 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

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