Recruiting After a PR and Brand Disaster

Sports recruiting is an intense industry.  Scouts spend years following hopeful athletes in high school and college.  If a talent scout represents a well-known school or professional organization the number of prospects that they may be able to recruit are considerably larger than those that represent lesser known or lesser performing institutions.  For example, in the state of Kentucky recruiting for University of Kentucky is significantly different than recruiting for Western Kentucky University.  The University of Kentucky has the ability to attract higher performer high school students than WKU based on the basketball programs performance.

What happens when a school that was previously held in high regards experiences a PR and brand nightmare that significantly alters their ability to recruit?  Taking the most recent example of Penn State, how do recruiters overcome negative perceptions and still find talented individuals to fill open roles both on and off the field?  Whether it be a school or an organization, the steps a recruiter can take to help navigate this difficult recruiting season are the same.

  • Partner with Marketing – Undoubtedly, the marketing team is working furiously to develop a strategic plan for changing the perception of the company in the eyes of the public.  Recruiters should work closely with marketing to understand the message and develop a specific message for future recruits.  What does the organization look like going forward?  How can the company ensure that what happened in the past will not be repeated?
  • Look into Upward Mobility – Many organizations do not do the best job of moving individuals around internally.  Rather than take a good look at the workers they already have who may be able to do a new job, they look to outside experience.  Difficult recruiting times are a good time to revisit this strategy and ensure that internal candidates are getting the consideration they deserve.  Employees who have stayed with a company after a brand crisis have established themselves as loyal contributors to the organization.  When that loyalty can be rewarded with job enrichment, enlargement or promotional opportunities, those employees become strong brand ambassadors which help change outside perceptions.
  • Be Honest – When dealing with outside candidates, chances are good they will ask about the situation.  While a recruiter may not be able to answer every question, answering what they can honestly and openly will help the candidate know that the company acknowledges what happened and is now focused on moving forward.
  • Evaluate Recruiting Marketing and Adjust Where Appropriate – More than likely, job postings, advertising and recruiting marketing materials are already out for public view.  Recruiters should be aware of what is already viewable by the general public and remove any information that may contradict their current situation.  For example, an advertisement for students of Penn State stating that "leaders always do the right thing" may not be the best message at this time. 

Organizations can overcome negative perceptions and re-invent themselves in the eyes of the public.  The process takes time and could negatively impact the ability of recruiters to attract top talent.  In this instance, recruiters should work closely with other company leaders and focus on the new message going forward.  Helping potential candidates work through what has happened in the past and where the company is headed now should be a recruiters primary goal in this situation.  

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