Emma Gunton of Waddington Brown: In the battle for talent, is HR becoming the new PR?

Emma Gunton, managing director of Waddington Brown. Picture: Waddington Brown.

Emma Gunton, managing director of Waddington Brown. Picture: Waddington Brown. - Credit: Waddington Brown

Emma Gunton, managing director of Waddington Brown HR and talent specialists, looks at the close link between HR and PR.

With UK unemployment still low, an employer's search for talent is becoming increasingly difficult, with companies having to be more creative in the way they attract and retain their best people.

Mindful that pay and incentives alone are no longer enough, some businesses are now looking more carefully at how their brand reputation has a bearing and direct relationship with the HR department.

Companies have become much more aggressive at using their HR strategies to build their company reputation. Even beyond that, not just using HR to build the reputation of the company, but also actively promoting HR through their PR channels.

Granted, the communications department is not human resources. But recruiting is partly a marketing function, because attracting top talent requires a sound brand reputation.

With HR and PR working together the brand should help to attract applicants who are aligned with the company culture and already have a familiarity with the organisation.

'Aligned candidates', who fit your company culture, will integrate quickly, engage with the business, prove more productive, often become brand advocates and be more likely to stay with the business.

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Once employed, employees can also serve as a secret weapon sales force; especially when they are clearly briefed, clearly understand the organisation's business goals and enjoy working for the business.

Developing and managing a strategic HR and internal communications plan can deliver results that not only enable you to retain staff but impact on the business's bottom line.

Public relations, in a business context, is mostly about creating goodwill, understanding and support for the company from people who matter including stakeholders, customers, suppliers, local communities and business partners.

Arguably, the most important should be the companies' own employees. For example you won't keep customers if your employees don't care about them. Engaged and cared for staff will care.

No matter how much time and effort you put in to carefully planning your external PR activities and how hard the HR team works, it can all go terribly wrong through the actions of one member staff with a bad attitude or an ex-employee who has left the business due to lack of engagement.

It is HR's role to identify, hire, retain and incentivise good people. How competent HR people are in this respect has a direct bearing on the company's reputation; its public perception.

Large organisations such as Virgin and the John Lewis Partnership clearly understand this. It's no accident that both enjoy great reputations. They understand the crucial relationship between human resources and public relations.

• Emma Gunton is the managing director of Waddington Brown.