Rolls-Royce is one of the most famous brand names in the world. But it was only recently that the group began to develop an active employer branding strategy. Daniel Perkins, Global Employer Brand Manager explains how the group is seeking to bring renewed clarity, consistency and impetus to its mission to attract top talent worldwide.

“We create power,” says Rolls-Royce. While the cars that originally made the name famous are no longer manufactured by Rolls-Royce, the group continues to be one of the world’s leading power systems companies, providing power for aircrafts, ships and land applications. 

Employing 54,000 people worldwide, this is a group that has always seen opportunity as being at the heart of its mission. This commitment to nurturing talent is reflected in the fact that around 30% of senior management started out as apprentices. Its determination to make ‘better power’ through investment in innovation and sustainability is reflected in their £1.2 billion annual R&D budget, which contributes towards making its engines and power systems cleaner and greener.

“Our name is a mark of quality that has always helped to open doors into new markets and attract some of the brightest and best people. But we recognize that competition for talent around our global operations is mounting, especially among graduates and school leavers. We’re also mindful of the greater mobility among young graduates, which requires a new kind of employee value proposition,” says Daniel Perkins. “We’ve always had an employer brand – everyone does, whether they manage it or not – and we were performing well in a range of popular surveys that specialize in ranking engineering companies that people prefer to work for. But, the lack of an active employer branding strategy meant that we weren’t conveying who we are and all that we could offer in the most effective ways. We were potentially not engaging with or recruiting certain pockets of talent.”

crystallizing the vision and values

Mr Perkins joined Rolls-Royce in 2011 to develop and drive a new and more active employment branding strategy. “The development of our employer branding strategy has gone hand-in-hand with the creation of a more dynamic and differentiated employee value proposition (EVP). I see the employment brand as all the ways in which the EVP is communicated to candidates and employees – if the EVP is the cake, then the employer brand is the icing,” he says. 

“One of the main catalysts for our move to an active employer branding strategy was the launch of the Rolls-Royce Corporate Passport, following the arrival of our new CEO in 2011.The Passport crystalizes everything we stand for and want to achieve as a business and is given to every member of staff, whatever position they hold or wherever they operate. By moving to a more active employer branding strategy, we’re seeking to bring this same clarity and consistency to how we attract and retain talent,” he continues.

laying the foundations

So how did Rolls-Royce prepare the ground for the updating of its EVP and move to a more active employer branding strategy? “We began by surveying what our employees feel about working for Rolls-Royce and auditing all of the ways we communicate to potential recruits,” says Mr Perkins. “The basic questions we wanted to answer were why do people want to work for us and what marks us out from our peers. We also wanted to know whether our employees’ experience lived up to the promises we make in our marketing.”

“The results were positive in demonstrating how proud our employees are to work for the group. Our value ‘trusted to deliver excellence’ fits very well around what inspires our people. In turn, a lot of the communications were broadly in line with what we wanted to say about the company but the messages were articulated in various ways in the market. We recognized that how we communicated needed refreshing,” he continues.

taking the brand into the market

This research helped to shape the development of an ambitious branding strategy and multi-channel communications campaign, which reaches out to both current candidates and the next generation of potential employees. “We want to inspire potential recruits, while explaining what kind of people we want to attract and what they can do to make sure they’ve got what it takes, both in their outlook and their academic record,” says Mr Perkins. 

Building on the survey of employees’ inspirations and aspirations, a key part of the campaign is providing opportunities for employees to convey in their own words what working for Rolls-Royce means to them. 

Rolls-Royce has also developed a new recruitment marketing toolkit, with various messages formed around the common anchor word of ‘create’. Mr Perkins and his team have been working with the group’s recruitment partner to ensure that the messages are rolled out in a consistent way worldwide. “While we’ve set reasonably firm parameters for how these messages are conveyed in different markets, we recognize that some customization is needed to reflect local sentiments. For example, the word ‘global’ is seen as a positive attribute in some markets, but off-putting in others.”

building a talent pool for the future

As Rolls-Royce looks to the future, its employer branding strategy focuses on building a community of followers within schools, universities and social media. 

“We found that we had a huge amount of fascinating material on new research projects and innovations, which didn’t really have an outlet until we started actively communicating it through social media. A catalyst for change was when we received a model Lego engine from a five-year-old boy, who wanted to be an engineer when he grew up. We were so inspired by this, we set up a team of apprentices and graduates to make a scale replica Lego model of our Trent 1000 passenger jet engine for the Farnborough Airshow. This received national media coverage and became the centerpiece for our recruitment roadshows,” says Mr Perkins. “As of February 2015, we’ve now attracted more than half a million Facebook followers, providing a wonderful audience for our stories. We also have more than a 170,000 people following us on LinkedIn. We can track what they’re viewing to gauge what they’re interested in and shape our digital content around this. Alongside our work with schools and colleges to encourage young people to study and take up careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, social media engagement is helping to create a valuable pool of talent for the future.” 

measures of success

So how does Rolls-Royce measure success? “We look closely at where we stand in the various favored engineering employer rankings. We also track what kind of people are applying and from where as we seek to identify untapped pools of talent and create a more diverse workforce,” says Mr Perkins. “Our ultimate aim is to move recruitment from a reactive ‘we need to fill this post’ to a more proactive approach, in which we can work with our colleagues in the business to judge future demands and draw on the talent pool created by our employer branding to meet them. We know that we’ve been successful if the recruitment advertising spend and time to hire are going down.”

So what does Rolls-Royce’s move to an active employer branding say to other companies that have yet to take this step? However famous the name, you can’t trade on it indefinitely – a passive employer brand lets others decide what you’re known for and can easily miss the changes and innovations that are going on inside the business. Without active management, there is also a risk that the brand could become staid and remote. When Rolls-Royce began to roll out its campaign, it clearly had a head start in terms of recognition and good will, but was still pleased by how much interest it has been able to generate across various social media networks. What this suggests is that potential recruits now form an important stakeholder community in their own right. Making the most of their potential requires strategies for engagement over the long-term. 

employer branding at Rolls-Royce group

Rolls-Royce was ranked second in the 2014 Randstad Award UK survey, with more than 60% of respondents indicating they would want to work for the company. Rolls-Royce was the first choice for the 18-29 age group, who are more interested in career opportunities and working for a global company and less concerned about pay and job security than older workers. Competitive salary and job security were the two most important factors for UK respondents. The aerospace/automotive sector has been the most popular to work in over the past three years. 

find more case studies in Standing Out, our rearly publication on employer branding