Emily Firth is a respected talent attraction and employer branding practitioner. She currently leads global employer branding for Booking.com. She lives and works in Amsterdam and will be one of the roundtable facilitators joining us at the Talent Brand Summit - London this October.

In addition to learning about her start in talent branding, we got her input about tools and tactics and her advice for those who are new in the field.

How did you find your way to a career in talent branding?

I was working in strategic account handling in creative advertising agencies for most of my career. I spent my time working with clients to help transform their consumer brands, and I enjoyed it. What I didn’t always enjoy was the working culture. 

After burning out, I took a step back and realised I didn’t want to work like that anymore—no matter what the salary. I also knew that I wanted to contribute to creating positive work cultures. 

My colleagues in the advertising world were pretty skeptical when I said I was going to work in an HR- related field, but in the last year, I have really seen a shift in attitudes. People are waking up to the importance of work culture and the value it brings. Your talent has so many options; even the words employer and employee carry a toxicity for many people. That whole relationship needs to be reset. New parameters need to be created for how we work now and for what purpose. It’s a fascinating field to work in. 

What projects are you currently working on?

I try not to think in terms of projects as this can lead to siloed thinking. Defining and communicating culture is an ongoing goal.

But in terms of recent activity, we have worked with Booking.com from the inside out to define what makes the culture unique. We created and launched the company EVP. We also launched a full content strategy underneath the EVP that is being executed in priority markets everywhere from the Netherlands to China. We also worked on connecting to tech communities—from machine learning to women in tech—in meaningful and impactful ways.

I am most proud though of the work I have done to build a talented internal team at Booking.com that I know is substantial compared to most companies’ employer brand structures. We are incredibly lucky. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to structure your talent brand team, but I do think that you need to have someone on the inside who can think like a journalist and uncover the incredible employee stories that embody your culture and persuade those employees to share them with the world. That takes a special talent that I don’t think every company is lucky enough to have within their organisation. 

Are there any tactics or strategies that work better (or worse) in the Netherlands than other parts of Europe?

A lot of companies here are also international, so it’s a tricky question to answer. However, the market is small and connected, so there is no point in communicating anything that is not authentic as everyone knows someone who works at your company. 

What is particularly interesting about the Netherlands at the moment is how it is repositioning itself as a core European tech hub and also an alternative expat-friendly base for global tech talent to come. The Dutch are definitely capitalising on Brexit, and we of course also lean into this in our recruitment strategy alongside most other big global companies in the market. 

What tools do you find indispensable for accomplishing your strategy and running your program?

Tooling is helpful, but no platform or media channel can solve your problems if you don’t have a compelling and authentic story to tell or if your employees are not engaged as advocates. Tools can of course make that easier. That said, we regularly use LinkedIn Talent Insights and are in the early stages of experimenting with various employee advocacy platforms, a brand asset portal (Papirfly), and a content scheduling tool (Sprinklr) which can definitely help.

Tooling is helpful, but no platform or media channel can solve your problems if you don’t have a compelling and authentic story to tell or if your employees are not engaged as advocates.

What advice would you give someone who wants to jump into the employer branding/recruitment marketing field?

Seek to understand culture—uncovering it, building on it, and sharing it. 

If you can’t passionately sell me your company culture and have me begging to work there over a quick chat then you will not succeed in this field no matter how many blogs you read on it or courses you take.

Persuading someone to take a leap and work for you is a much harder sell than persuading them to buy a pair of shoes or book a holiday.

It’s a decision that will impact everything from their health to their family life to their long-term finances. You had better be a great salesperson. 

You have to be amazing at connecting with people. This role won’t work in a silo. You have to have a talent for reaching out across departments, roles, and projects to truly collaborate. Culture permeates everything, so you are going to tread on lots of toes, and your role will be hard to define. You have to be comfortable with ambiguity and see opportunity for cultural storytelling everywhere. 

Where is the best place you’ve traveled to and why? 

China, because it showed me how narrow my understanding was of how people connect and communicate. The media landscape and the ubiquitousness of mobile was a real eye-opener. I felt like I was using the internet for the first time.

Want to meet Emily and learn from your other employer branding peers in London? Request your ticket to the next Talent Brand Summit today.