As one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, Janssen Pharmaceutica recognizes that values are vital in engaging with the highly sought-after talent upon which the business relies. Its successful employer branding campaign is built around the real life stories and experiences of employees, giving it an authenticity and impact that an agency-devised marketing campaign would find very difficult to match. Gert Quintiens, Talent Acquisition Manager, and Tim De Kegel, Senior Director Public Affairs & External Communication, discuss the importance of keeping it real in attracting people who want to make a difference.

Employing 4,600 people in Belgium (including 1,600 research scientists and 1,600 production personnel), Janssen is one of the largest pharmaceutical research and manufacturing subsidiaries within the global Johnson & Johnson group (employing 150,000 people worldwide). Its medical breakthroughs stretch from the revolutionary fentanyl anesthetics developed by its founder, Dr Paul Janssen, in the early 1960s to a new generation of bone marrow cancer drugs currently under trial. Its production facilities make more than 60% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients for Johnson & Johnson worldwide.

Janssen is one of the 29 research-based international pharmaceutical companies operating within what has come to be known as Belgium’s ‘Pharma Valley’. The Randstad Award Survey consistently shows that this is the sector that people in the country most want to work in. Pharma ranks number one in attractiveness in key criteria ranging from salaries and career progression to interesting job content and concern for the environment and society. 

“We’re fortunate to be part of a well-developed collaborative ecosystem that brings together universities, hospitals, governments, scientific bodies and companies like ourselves. These strong roots are helping to attract both investment and the best scientific brains into Belgium,” says Tim De Kegel. 

Clearly, it’s people who make the medical breakthroughs and it’s people who guarantee the quality and safety of production. Janssen’s founding principle is that the faster it can find a solution, the faster people can be cured – “our patients are waiting,” said Dr Paul Janssen. “Our guiding mission is to find new products and bring them to market as soon as possible,” says Gert Quintiens. “From IT and logistics to engineers, scientists and indeed, HR, we can all come together to support that goal.”

the value of values

“While the presence of so many other pharmaceutical companies brings many benefits, it also creates intense competition for the talent we need,” continues Mr Quintiens. “Competitive salaries are clearly important. But the doctors and scientists we need to sustain innovation also want meaning in their careers and to work for companies that share their values. An example of the challenge we face is how to convince a medical doctor that they can make as much of a difference to people’s health by developing new medicines in our research facilities as they would by treating patients in a clinic or hospital. Pharmaceutical companies aren’t always the first thought when a doctor qualifies.”

Like any large and profitable multinational group, pharmaceutical corporations can often come across as remote and unfeeling to a new generation of young graduates in search of values and meaning. Mr De Kegel and Mr Quintiens therefore believe that one of Janssen’s great differentiators in attracting and retaining talent is its founding ‘credo’. The credo sets out its responsibilities to the people who use its products, its staff, suppliers and investors. 

“Our credo is the touchstone for every decision, rather than a document that sits on the shelf. It is also reflected in our employee value proposition of ‘only for professionals who care’,” says Mr De Kegel. “Our employer branding surveys confirm how important these commitments are to new recruits and existing employees. I think a lot of companies are coming to recognize the vital importance of values and are looking to create the same kind of framework. But this can take time to make an impact within the organization, so we’re fortunate in having a credo that’s already embedded for over 70 years.”

keeping it real

At a time when people are constantly bombarded with marketing and can easily become cynical about what corporations are telling them, the search for authenticity goes hand-in-hand with the yearning for greater meaning. The importance of open dialogue has been heightened by the ease with which people can communicate their thoughts and experiences of a company through social media. 

“We want people to feel that what they do is vital, says Mr Quintiens. “Rather than having an agency develop a series of visuals and slogans, we asked all our employees how they would want to convey the company to potential recruits. The result is a new cross-media campaign in which our employees are our ambassadors, telling their own individual stories about what it’s like to work for Janssen. They talk about their aspirations, for example. They might also talk about what they do to maintain a work-life balance.”

How does this employee-centered campaign fit with the wider employment brand of the parent Johnson & Johnson group? “Our approach has always been very closely integrated. Johnson & Johnson reshaped its employer brand last year and our new campaign was actually the model for this. There is a growing realization that stories are best told by the people who live them,” says Mr De Kegel.

changing market realities

While stressing the importance of values, Janssen recognizes the demands of the tough market in which it operates. “We’re vying with other clusters worldwide. We need to remain innovative. As health budgets come under ever greater pressure, we also need to be as cost-efficient as possible,” says Mr De Kegel. 

“We need to focus our resources on our core strategic priorities. Developing the best new medicines is clearly part of this. But we can outsource non-core functions such as catering,” says Mr Quintiens. Is HR strategically core? While he appreciates that in some companies it might not be, he believes that in-house HR is very much part of the ‘core; in a business that is so dependent on recruiting talented graduates and which operates in a market undergoing significant disruption and change. “We need to be close to the business and be able to keep pace with the constant developments within and around it,” he says.

So what can other businesses learn from Janssen? Well, first and foremost, values have never been more vital, especially among the top tier graduates that could probably find a job anywhere, but really prize the opportunity to make lives better. The other main differentiator is authenticity. People trust and respond to people like themselves. 

employer branding at Janssen Pharmaceutica 

Janssen was the fourth most attractive company to work for in the 2014 Randstad Award Belgium survey (three of the top five were pharmaceutical companies). Janssen was in the top three for competitive salary and employee benefits, long-term job security, interest job content, good training and good work-life balance. 

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