Role of PR in Recruiting
Most people think of Public Relations (PR) as being something you do to build a brand to increase sales. While this is true, it is also a very important tool for recruiting, for pretty much the same reason - to build a brand in the minds of job seekers. Brand building is a combination of building familiarity and market positioning. Familiarity gives job seekers the confidence they need to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. Market positioning allows them to fit the job opportunity into an emotional space in their minds and gives them the passion to pursue that company.
It is no secret that young Japanese job seekers are brand conscious. Brands are safe and are taught to everyone, from young children upwards. Japan is no different to other countries in terms of brand exposure, but in my opinion the lack of personal confidence and the whole group thing makes the pervasiveness of brands much stronger here. This love affair extends to which company graduates want to enter. Canon, Toyota, and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ are perennial favorites.
Among foreign firms such as Apple, IBM, Microsoft, the branding earns their HR departments thousands of unsolicited resumes a month. You don't have to be a big company to achieve an image, but you do have to engage in a continuous brand building exercise if you want to have the reach of a big firm. One of my companies, Japan Inc. is well known as a publisher of business information. The choice of name and the consistent output of high-quality information over a decade have helped to build an image that stays with the recipient.
PR takes a number of forms, ranging from newspaper articles in the conventional media through to electronic newsletters and a decent up-to-date website. Let's look at how to get into some of these.
Newspaper reporters and magazine journalists are a busy lot and the old method of sending out press releases about a new job intake to 500 publications is unlikely to elicit any response. There have been services that actually do send out PR to hundreds of companies - but to my knowledge they don't work, unless you have some very compelling content.
And that's what PR is really all about: compelling content, coupled with an effective distribution mechanism. So what represents "compelling content"? Basically any special part of the recruiting process, the type or amount of remuneration, or the uniqueness or attractiveness of the job. If you can't find anything special in your own company, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to create something. For example, training for 3 months back at the head office is an ideal hook for candidates that is also beneficial for the company. While it may sound expensive, the extra resume flow may work out cheaper than paying a recruiter full fare for a candidate.
High compensation levels are clearly powerful attractants. If your open position has the potential to reward the applicant significantly above the market mean, don't be shy to say so. Positions that best lend themselves to this type of promotion are those which include incentive bonuses or commissions. So long as you've legitimately had someone else in the company achieve the levels that you're advertising, it is reasonable to advertise that this level of compensation is possible. A 26-year old earning JPY1m a month is an outstanding hook.
Young Japanese in particular are steadily moving over from technical and gritty jobs to those with more communications and creativity. If your position involves either of these, reinforce the quality of the activity with a decent website showing lots of photos and giving testimonials from other happy employees doing the same thing. The newspaper article is the entry point, so once a candidate is interested, give them plenty of eye candy to help them understand your market positioning and value proposition. Expressive images on a website can do this really well.
What about reaching out to the media in the first place? If you can't spam the reporters, how to do you reach them? Well, this is the same issue confronting PR companies the world over, and the usual solution is to try to get to know the reporters and journalists personally. Clearly this requires a lot of effort, and so you're not going to do it as a one-off exercise. But if your company has decided that PR will be a major part of the recruiting process, then management also needs to sign off on having one person focus for several months, then for a couple of days a week thereafter, on building and maintaining relationships.
Reporters and journalists are always looking for a story, so in building your relationship, you want to create a continuing flow of good ideas that they can pick up on and that you can conveniently help them develop. For many Japanese media people, the foreign company sector is somewhat intimidating and unknown. So perhaps you can help be a navigator for them in getting stories. Yes, this means diluting out your own message, but at least it guarantees that you will be in each story.