Employer branding at one of the world’s most recognisable companies: Rolls-Royce

August 14, 2020 • 5 min read

Employer branding at one of the world’s most recognisable companies: Rolls-Royce

Dawn Hollingworth

Dawn Hollingworth

Great employer branding is insight-led, data-driven and courageously creative. It blends solid strategy with compelling stories, and it focuses on the things its audience cares about. 

It’s not afraid to be bold and break the mould – it grabs attention and it excites. 

Most importantly, it compels the right people to make an informed decision about whether to join or stay, and it inspires them to do great things for their organisation. 

During my tenure with Rolls-Royce, it was my mission to make its employer brand all the above. Doing so with such a renowned and esteemed brand is a unique proposition, and not without its challenges, particularly during a global pandemic. 

Having led employer branding during one of the company’s most challenging years, I’ve come out the other side with a far clearer view of what works and what doesn’t.

The challenges of developing an established employer brand

It’s easy to assume that developing the employer brand of a highly recognisable organisation is easier than doing so for a lesser-known company. But this really depends on what the brand is known for. 

When a business has powerfully established itself in one field, it can be difficult to expand market perceptions and engage and hire the niche talent needed for transformation and growth.

There’s no doubt that reverence for a brand can translate into being a destination employer for core target talent. On the flip side, however, strong brands that are synonymous with certain skills sets – Rolls-Royce and engineering, for example – may find it difficult to attract other desired skills-sets, such as AI or data specialists. 

When a business has powerfully established itself in one field, it can be difficult to expand market perceptions and engage and hire the niche talent needed for transformation and growth. A lesser-known brand might not have the presence or reach of a well-known business, but market perceptions are more malleable. Everyone has a perception of Rolls-Royce, while lesser-known brands enjoy a clean slate. 

Preconceptions can sometimes lead new hires to cultivate unrealistic expectations. There’s an assumption that at Rolls-Royce everything glitters with gold. Because the luxury automobile brand shares the same marque and origins as Rolls-Royce Holdings, the brand is associated with premium quality in all regards. While this is true in many respects, it’s not true in all. 

In reality, Rolls-Royce is a highly cost-conscious business and although it does deliver quality and excellence, there are areas of employee enablement that are still a work in progress and not yet where they need to be. This can result in a disconnect between a candidate’s expectations and their ensuing employee experience, which could potentially affect motivation and performance.

Preconceptions can sometimes lead new hires to cultivate unrealistic expectations.

Another challenge is that engineering is sadly still male-dominated – only 19% of engineering graduates in Rolls-Royce’s target markets are women. Rolls-Royce deserves huge credit for its work in educating under-represented groups about STEM (from as young as the age of three), and for its stretch targets for diverse hiring. From a gender perspective, it’s attracted more than its fair share of young female talent into engineering.

Crafting the Rolls-Royce employer branding strategy

Crafting an employer branding strategy for Rolls-Royce needed to address the above challenges. One of the biggest considerations was striking a balance between preserving the company’s legacy while meeting ever-evolving candidate expectations. This also meant addressing the fact that the ‘deal’ element of the EVP wasn’t being expressed fully – instead, the focus was on purpose. I liken this approach to selling the icing rather than the cake! 

Rolls-Royce was already transforming and looking for change-makers before COVID-19 hit, and the narrative needed to sell that opportunity to be a part of real change, alongside a more comprehensive expression of the EVP. 

One of my first actions was to soften the aspirational language used by the legacy brand and refocus the messaging on being part of the company’s journey. Rolls-Royce was already transforming and looking for change-makers before COVID-19 hit, and the narrative needed to sell that opportunity to be a part of real change, alongside a more comprehensive expression of the EVP. 

I worked with Internal and External Communications and Talent Acquisition to shape, test and validate this narrative, and with relevant leaders across the business to capture and frame the different pillars of the global EVP so we could showcase the “What’s in it for me?”. 

As mentioned above, diversity was also a top priority. To highlight this, we used informal, user-generated videos of apprentices and graduates to illustrate our diversity and to position Rolls-Royce as a truly inclusive employer. These down-to-earth and relatable videos helped candidates visualise themselves at Rolls-Royce, enabling us to attract a more diverse range of applicants. Credit goes to my colleagues in Talent Attraction, to the apprentices and graduates who participated, and to our creative agency Blackbridge Communications for these successes. 

Finally, having a limited budget and being a team of one (me!) led me to be more creative and resourceful – to ‘do more with less’ – a quest in which technology was vital. I accelerated the use of user-generated content and found creative ways to repurpose internal content for external use, while also introducing a pilot for candidate-to-employee discussion via a new tech platform (PathMotion), to further drive authentic engagement and diverse attraction.

The effect of COVID-19, and post-pandemic challenges

It’s well-known that Rolls-Royce has been severely impacted by COVID-19. The company is making 9,000 jobs redundant globally alongside temporary hiring freezes. From an employer brand perspective, my efforts during this time revolved around aligning with the wider comms team and focusing on employee engagement.

Rolls-Royce has talented communications professionals who worked hard and pulled together during this challenging time. 

I positioned all external employer brand comms in line with the corporate response to the crisis because it was important that the business had one voice and a cohesive story. I also partnered closely with internal comms to launch a new employee engagement channel Our World Together on Yammer, designed to uplift, support and connect the global Rolls-Royce community. 

Rolls-Royce has talented communications professionals who worked hard and pulled together during this challenging time. 

COVID-19 has necessitated a refresh of Rolls-Royce’s story to reflect the fact that it will be in a rebuild phase post-pandemic. The legacy employer brand was very polished and aspirational, and it will need to be more candid – to focus on the transformational journey the business is on and the challenges it faces. Transparency is vital and it helps candidates to make a truly informed decision about whether the business is right for them and vice-versa. 

From the outside looking in, being responsible for one of the world’s most illustrious brands might seem like an easy job. But when your brand is used as an adjective for ‘the best’, nothing less than that will do, so managing candidate and employee expectations is an ongoing journey. 

I am excited to now be moving on to another great global brand, Vodafone, which has a terrific story to tell and offers the scope to be bold and innovative with employer branding. I know there will be challenges on the journey, but I’m ready to embrace them and I can’t wait to get started!

About the author: Dawn has worked with dynamic start-ups through to FTSE 100s and Big Four firms to define, articulate and activate their EVP, story and talent brand. She is looking forward to partnering with a great team globally and taking things to the next level as the Global Head of Employer Branding and Talent Attraction at Vodafone. She’s passionate about authentic communication, storytelling, holistic branding, and leveraging technology to enhance and empower engagement.