TALES OF EMPLOYER tactics to hire and retain staff are many and varied, especially in a labour market struggling to recruit the right people with the necessary job skills. While attractive salary packages, signing-on bonuses and the promise of career development are among the most prominent incentives, employer branding is also becoming a technique for luring talented people and keeping them. A main goal of employer branding is to change the perception and experience of a company's target audience. This can include prospective hires and present employees. The aim is to convince job seekers and employees that a particular company is the best place to work. It is not the process or the report, but results leading to lower recruitment costs and a team of more engaged staff that defines success. JWT Employment Communications helps companies implement their employee branding strategies. Managing director Lily Siu, a speaker at the conference, said many organisations were struggling to identify what employee branding meant. 'Employers need to become much clearer and consistent about how they manage their staff and what they want from them if they are to make the most of their employer brand,' Ms Siu said. By creating a unified feeling among employees, organisations are in a better position to effectively communicate a positive message to clients. Effective employer branding could also help promote good customer service and a consistent message throughout a company. She said there was a need for focus and clarity among employers about what an employer brand was. 'The employer brand is not about spin; it is about the reality of every aspect of being at work. This includes changing the way management manages employees so that they get coherence, focus and involvement. It also means breaking down a variety of historic conceptions,' Ms Siu said. The first step in building a compelling employer brand is to identify what the historic conceptions are. Find out what people have heard about the organisation as an employer. Also investigate whether the company is seen as a 'first choice' or an 'if nothing better comes along' employment prospect. Ms Siu said discovering how a company was perceived as an employer could identify what needed to be accentuated and what needed to be changed. The process could begin by asking employees and managers at all levels to share stories that defined what it was like working there. The discovery process can also help to identify the building blocks used to construct the desired employer brand. It can also help to discover negative perceptions people have of the organisation as an employer, and the practices that have created these perceptions. Later in the process the information may be used to make changes that may strengthen the employer brand image. The Hong Kong Jockey Club has more than 4,000 full-time and 14,000 part-time staff. 'We strive to cultivate and maintain a work environment where employees are healthy, caring towards others, committed to their work and give every reason to feel proud,' said human resources manager (employee communications and services) Christina Chan, one of the speakers at the conference. She said through the concept of employer branding the club had successfully brought its corporate values to life and used them as a tool to drive a culture that led employees to work towards the organisation's goals. Ms Chan heads a team responsible for building effective internal communication systems. Her team focuses on repositioning communication channels, including the internal MyJC.com intranet, staff newsletter and the hkjcfamily.com portal. 'Our employment brand is an extension of our corporate brand. The HKJC's ultimate goal is to be the best employer in the world of horse racing and not-for-profit organisations,' Ms Chan said. The club's culture and unique work environment required many different approaches to communicate to employees the company's commitment to staff well-being. Ms Chan said that in contrast to delivering the overused human resources mantra, 'our employees are our greatest asset', which many human resources professionals are incapable of substantiating, the group had implemented regular focus group meetings and different formats of face-to-face communication to identify the concerns and aspirations of employees. Senior personnel from departments such as veterinary, racing management and charity co-ordinators make presentations to employees to help them feel more engaged in company activities and proud of their contribution to the community. Ms Chan said the group invested resources to promote employee well-being. Recently, the club opened staff gyms and recreation facilities at its Sha Tin and Happy Valley race courses. More than 1,000 employees regularly make use of the facilities to exercise, join yoga and dance classes, or relax in a music and computer centre. As an extension of the club's contribution to society, more employees, including management, take part in charity events and volunteer to help with community projects.