What we think

This is where you can peer into our minds and learn a bit more about us as recruiters, consultants and humans. Expect plenty of insight into Consumer, Retail, Recruitment, and life in our Leeds and London spaces. Some tips from the top and the odd guest appearance. Enjoy and please feel free to leave us a comment!

The journey of an Employer Brand: Premier Foods

24th February 2022

Employer Brand is a hot topic in recruitment with most prominent businesses embedding an Employer Brand Proposition into their talent strategy. There’s plenty of insight on LinkedIn and a multitude of agencies and consultants offering further advice around how important it is to have an Employer Brand Proposition. But it wasn’t always like this!

Businesses that have stood the test of time including many of Seven’s long-term clients will remember the early days of Employer Brand Proposition (EBP) and the battles over how to define the proposition and – arguably more challenging – how to entrench one throughout the business. As one of Britain’s largest food producers, Premier Foods has walked an eventful path to become an employer of choice with a steady flow of employment awards and an established EBP. Premier Foods now have a highly effective in-house Talent Acquisition team with a small group of trusted external partners that have worked alongside the business since 2007.

Like many FTSE 250 companies, Premier Foods had a complex period of acquisitions and transformational change while joining several businesses into one. This is a common situation that impacts employer brand development; stories of change and disruption from inside a business will affect employer brand perception in the job market. Another challenge is employer brand development being approached as a project by one team – perhaps HR or Marketing – without full business buy-in, which therefore becomes an empty statement. David Wilkinson, Premier Food’s Human Resources Director, gave us some background on the situation when he joined the business in June 2007;

“It was a time of huge business change with several well-documented acquisitions, and we’d essentially gone from being a small business to a large one very fast. We spent a lot of time in the very early days talking about the employer brand; we recognised the UK’s biggest food manufacturer should have an employer brand, but we struggled to articulate exactly what it should be. The reality was we had three businesses coming together but very little change in cultural terms, which presented a challenge when telling our story to potential candidates.”

Seven began our relationship with Premier in 2007, recruiting Sales, Marketing & Category candidates. Our Director Liam Stokey was Premier’s main point of contact and he describes the situation;

“In 2007 Premier had a steady track record as an employer and a reputation that was mixed at best. It’s a tough message for candidates and we really did come up against it in our conversations with candidates about Premier. This made for a challenging time for both recruiting teams and hiring managers. You can talk all you want about development of employer brand and how things are in a state of positive transformation but when the share price takes another tumble or another negative article is published in The Grocer it’s always going to be a struggle. Premier were always doing the work behind the scenes but a business of that size is going to take time to see results and in terms of recruitment you need candidates to understand the vision but also accept the ambiguity of the present situation.”

So how did Premier tackle these challenges? There was an ambitious growth plan in place that needed the right team in place to succeed, and a lot of work to do. David explains the steps they took; “We made a lot of changes and we had to do a lot of structural work to set ourselves up for growth. In terms of employer brand, once the business became clearer about its strategy and demonstrated stability, the attractiveness of the business to candidates increased hugely. So clear leadership, clear strategy and clear direction all delivered greater consistency across our actions and our words. Only then could we really develop the Employer Brand Proposition.”

Introducing new Employer Brand Proposition without cultural change is very much a cart-before-horse approach but it is one Seven have witnessed several times over our twenty years in business. Key to the success of embedding the proposition across the business is that internal stakeholder involvement; ideally someone from each team should be involved in the project. Brand values are interpreted differently depending on the role an employee plays, for example ‘quality’ as a value in food manufacturing isn’t the same as ‘quality’ in accounting. These nuances need to be recognised and defined for every team before the project even gets to the point of developing that common language of brand values and mission.

David became HRD at Premier Foods in 2014 and one of his early changes was to create an in-house recruitment team. Given so many recruiters were working with Premier at the time, was this streamlining move an attempt to cut them all loose?! David explains the strategy; “We didn’t do this to replace recruitment agencies entirely, but the cost of only using agencies for recruitment is immense and there’s minimal control over the EBP when you’re using so many partners. I did say to Seven and our other partners at the time that it might result in a decrease in business for them, as we needed to lose ‘the tail’ in terms of recruitment agencies and we dispensed with twenty out of around thirty we were using. Once we were through that period of refinement, we worked very closely with five to ten partners, including Seven, who have been with our business a long time and can really tell our story to prospective candidates.”

From a recruitment agency perspective this might sound like a disaster in terms of lost business but as Liam explains, in a long term partnership the agency shouldn’t be afraid of change; “Bringing recruitment in-house was a key turning point for Premier and bought some stability and consistency to the representation of employer brand. We’d always rather work with a centralised, effective talent function as opposed to multiple hiring managers across a business as it’s much easier to guarantee a positive candidate journey that will generate those employer brand ambassadors you really need to improve perception in the market.”

So if bringing recruitment in-house is the recommended approach to effectively manage the candidate journey, what’s the role of recruitment agencies when it comes to managing employer brand? Does this make recruitment agencies less relevant in Consumer Goods? In the case of Premier Foods, their in-house team of four now manages the large majority of vacancies, with a small group of recruitment partners on hand to assist and consult with challenging roles. David explains further, “The intention wasn’t to get rid of agencies altogether; from an employer brand point of view, I think there will always be a place for in-house alongside agency. I would say the recruitment partners you choose are very important to whether your recruitment strategy succeeds; the challenge is they don’t have every-day exposure to the business, so communication and trust are imperative. Key to the success of our partnership is that understanding of each other; it’s a long and loyal relationship and it must be a strategic partnership on both sides. It’s often the case that we turn to our recruitment agencies like Seven when there is a problem we can’t solve; they can sometimes wave a magic wand over situations that we can’t!”

After twenty years in Consumer recruitment, Seven have seen many leading businesses go through transformational change and we have felt the effect of this change on employer brand and recruitment strategies. Premier Foods are a real success story in terms of their talent strategy; the brand now attracts and retains top sector talent and they’re an industry-leading employer with an excellent in-house function as well as many very successful recruiter partnerships. It really is a great story and a best-in-class example that we’re proud to have been a part of. Thank you David for your time talking to us!

Other posts you might like...