Recruit Based on Who Can Deliver Your Brand Promise

How Today's Agencies Must Evolve Their Hiring Criteria

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Meredith Vaughan
Meredith Vaughan
At our agency, the traditional approach to employee recruitment and evaluation is dead. We're firm believers that today's businesses -- small or big companies, organizations or agencies like ours -- should measure potential employees and evaluate existing ones by the core values of their brand, even more so than by conventional metrics such as experience, qualifications and education.

Let me explain. Since undergoing an entire rebranding of our agency in 2008 into an "agency of exciting minds," we've made every effort for our newly defined brand attributes to bleed into everything we do. As branding experts by trade, we all know how tricky this can be -- especially when under the microscope to practice what we preach to our clients on a daily basis.

We also know employees have the potential to be the most effective and efficient champions for our brand. So we've worked diligently to set the expectation with the more than 80 members of the "VJ family" that our six brand attributes (soulful, eclectic, focused, smart, fearless and curious) should serve as the seed for how we approach everything we do -- how we think, communicate, behave.

And consequently, we've established the expectation with current clients, prospective ones, vendors and all other friends of the agency that every plan, every round of creative, every meeting, every e-mail, everything can and should scream these same qualities. This is how we're able to maintain and grow the integrity of our agency's brand each day. Is it easy? No. Is it essential for our business? Without a doubt.

And that's where hiring and evaluating employees in light of our brand comes into play. If you're anything like us, you take recruiting new talent very seriously. One wrong choice can do a lot of damage both internally and externally; one right one can become the springboard for innovation. For years, we solely used traditional criteria when sizing up candidates: relevant industry experience, communication skills, expertise in budget management and attention to detail.

But over the past two years, we've woven in our brand attributes and elevated the importance of whether candidates have a fearlessness about them, if they've demonstrated an ability to focus with ferocity, if they're curious by nature, and if they embrace the concept that advertising or communications brilliance can come from the most unexpected of places.

For us, a candidate's passion for or natural propensity toward our six brand attributes indicates they'll fit in with our culture, help amplify our brand to all stakeholders and ultimately possess the fire to bring it the VJ way, like we want and need them to every day.

We've also taken a different approach in how we advertise job openings. If our descriptions are ordinary, we're likely to attract ordinary prospects -- exactly the opposite of our goal. So we've finessed these narratives to emanate the kind of character we'd like to interest. See what I mean by visiting the careers section of our website.

The response to this approach has been tremendous. We've noticeably attracted more individuals who embrace our spirit and the expectation of their role in bringing our brand to life. The result has been a smaller pool of truly appropriate candidates, a pool much denser with what we consider the "cream of the crop."

It takes less time and resources to screen them and search for any resemblance of our brand attributes -- and therefore we're able to fill positions in a timelier manner. And because there's an expectation as to how employees live and breathe the brand before they're hired, we're finding the learning curve is shaved significantly and employee tenure is longer than ever.

And that takes us to how we evaluate existing employees. In an effort to continually strengthen and build momentum around our agency's brand, it's paramount that employees understand their roles. And that means reviews should not solely measure their performance related to project management, adhering to company policies, attendance and such. They should also gauge how well employees are delivering on the brand promise day in and day out.

In our case, has this person demonstrated the attributes we consider holy? Has it been obvious to clients? Other employees? Would an agency outsider use one of our six brand attributes to describe this individual? To us, the answers to these questions truly qualify each employee as a valuable member of the company. If you'd like to see a sample of our employee-evaluation form, drop me a line.

I'm not suggesting you ditch the traditional criteria altogether. But recognize that bringing on people who have the natural capability to become ambassadors of your brand and making sure they constantly understand the magnitude of their role is possibly more important than how fast they type or where they worked last. Their ability to deliver your brand promise is what will help you stand out and thrive in good times and bad. I am confident it's what will fuel our 40-year-old agency for 40 more.

Meredith Vaughan is president of Vladimir Jones, a privately held, full-service agency in Colorado. Previously, she worked with agencies including TBWA/Chiat/Day in Los Angeles, and Leagas Delaney and Goldberg Moser O'Neill in San Francisco.
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