Intermix with Integris #136

“Show You Care About More Than Just The Bottom Line”

With Erik Crown
Interim Digital Product Manager at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield

Scott sits down with Erik Crown, a marketing expert with over 20 years of experience in fields like law and healthcare. Erik talks about ways that organizations can create an authentic mission to give back and engage employees.

Check out the transcript below and listen along with the embed, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or your favorite podcast app.



Scott Pruim: All right. Welcome back to the podcast. We are fortunate enough today to have Erik Crown, proven marketing expert guru with over a 28 years of marketing experience just here in Baltimore, which means that… we’re all really old. So Erik, thank you for being on the podcast and, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Erik Crown: Sure. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here. Yeah, so I, you said 28 years. I know it’s over 20. I haven’t done the math recently, but we’ll go with that short term. I’m not good at math. So, yeah, I’ve been doing marketing locally for a long time. Started out my career at a company called Provident Bank, which no longer exists, but shout out to all my Provident Bank marketing people they’re still out there.

I really had a wide variety of experience across that time, big brands, big companies, smaller companies, startups and I’ve been in it long enough to remember before there was digital marketing. And before there was, all the things that we all consume ourselves with now, there was no SEO.

There was no SCM, it was just brochures and ads in the newspaper and man, now, I’m really feeling old. But yeah I think, appropriate to this conversation is a lot of that time has been spent and the staffing and recruiting industry. I was with Allegiance Group for awhile some of their different operating companies.

I think we’re gonna talk a little bit today about employer branding and employee value proposition and all that fun stuff. That’s appropriate to the conversation is that’s been around 10 years in and out of that industry.

Scott Pruim: Okay. And before I get into some of the questions: Baltimore, all your life, have you ever wanted to go anywhere else?

Erik Crown: Man, I was very fortunate to have some roles where I was able to travel and experienced some different cities. And there’s some other cities in the US that I love. San Francisco, Chicago and New York are great cities. I was fortunate enough to be able to go to London, in one of my roles and that’s an awesome city, but Baltimore is my home and it brings up a lot of nostalgia and there’s definitely a sentimental connection that will keep me here probably for the rest of my life and works and all it’s a great city and I think it has a ton of potential. And so I, I love being here and you, and I definitely have a history in this area since we’ve known each other. Probably since we were in middle school, I think that-

Scott Pruim: We’re not going anywhere, is what it appears.

Erik Crown: Right. I think so. I think that’s great.

Scott Pruim: Let’s just dive right into it. And I was going to ask you about current events, but specifically marketing and brands and what those brands and companies should be paying attention to. And maybe how to, circumnavigate some of this craziness that’s going on, pandemic, land war in Eastern Europe, that kind of thing.

Erik Crown: Yeah, just some few small things happening, but other than that not lots of talk about. Yeah, so brands really they need to be paying attention to a few, really big things happening. That is really seemed to be what everybody’s talking about. And I really want to focus on a couple of things in particular for this conversation.

Job seeker’s market & employee brands

Erik Crown: One is like you said this whole kind of what we see happening in the job market today with everything around return to office that the hybrid slash remote conversation and debate – which is right, which is wrong. And also how the job market itself really seems to be more of a job seekers market, as opposed to a employers market.

A lot of times we hear the real estate industry, that it’s a buyer’s or a seller’s market. We can have the same thing in the job market. And so we seem to be in a period of time where the power is in, in a lot of cases in the hands of the seeker. And so, it really brings a really interesting dynamic.

And I think we see some things playing out. Like it seems to be that employees are feeling more empowered than ever to seek their own mental health and their own time with family and wellness and things like that, and actually prioritize those over their work. And there’s also a big debate about, is there really a such thing as life work balance or, is that even a conversation we should be having where, with technology and with other trends that we see in the marketplace in a lot of ways, our life and our work are the same thing.

And if you’re doing what you love. Then that could be a healthy balance between the two. So yeah, there’s a lot of really interesting things happening in the talent marketplace and definitely some things that brands should be paying attention to. And so the question I think that’s appropriate for this talk is like, why don’t we say brands should pay attention to those things?

And in a lot of cases, we think of branding as a conversation around marketing and our external kind of messaging and reputation that we put out to the marketplace for doing business. But we really have to also be thinking about what is our brands to the talent that we’re trying to attract?

And what is the messaging and what is the reputation that we want to put out there for people that we want to hire? And it’s something that’s been talked about for a long time, but I still see large companies, small companies, everything in between just not getting it right.

They’re not putting the amount of time, energy and resources into building and sustaining a healthy employer brand as they are their external brands. And, it’s not too hard to see why that happens because the leadership of a lot of companies, on the surface, it’s really easy to tie revenue to the external brand, right?

Because it’s all about marketing and getting leads in the door and turning those leads into revenue and most companies measure their customer acquisition costs, their cost per lead, some of these key statistics that the marketing departments reporting up to management. And so management can say, okay well, we’re making this much revenue and we’re paying this much to bring leads in the door and we’re paying as much to acquire customers, and it’s easy to figure those things out.

Not enough companies are looking at employee acquisition costs, what is it costing us to acquire an employee? And then what are the costs to retain an employee versus having a high turnover of employees? So you start to hear a lot of the same language being used on the talent acquisition side as on the marketing side, but I really believe that things like employee acquisition costs should be statistics that not just the talent acquisition and the HR team should be paying attention to, but the marketing team should know those numbers as well, and they should be working together on the integral and the external brand.

Scott Pruim: So you’re saying there’s more to a company’s workplace than just culture. That’s the buzz word you always heard all the time, but clearly there’s a lot more that goes, culture is very important.

But I think there’s a lot more that goes into it. And you basically just said that.

Erik Crown: There absolutely is a lot more. And the mistake a lot of companies make up besides just what I mentioned earlier, besides just not putting enough attention or enough money towards building that internal brand. The other mistake that a lot of companies make is they look at it too much in a silo. Like they say, we can fix our talent attraction, talent retention problems if we just improve diversity and inclusion and equity, or if we just figure out our comp structure and maybe we need to improve that, or if we just figure out our benefits. It’s all of that and more, it’s culture as well, but, that’s another mistake they make is they just think if we can just knock this thing out we’ll have the problem fixed.

And it’s a journey. It’s not something you can just, change, by flicking a light switch.

Scott Pruim: Sure. And so do you think when you said that it kinda hit a nerve especially now, do you think it’s even more important for companies to have a mission or to be guided by something? We old people used to call it just having a heart, but not just today’s generation generalize, but with people, do you think it’s more important than ever for companies to have a mission? Or some of it can just be business as usual.

Erik Crown: Right? Yeah. So I’m really glad you brought that up. That’s a good segue into our next big, I think current event that’s happening that brands could paying attention to.

So along with all of the volatility in the job market and how things are changing, we look at things in the news, like all these companies that are leaving Russia, right? Because of everything that’s going on in Eastern Europe and between Russia and Ukraine and different companies that have a presence in Russia are handling that very differently.

Some companies are very public about, we’re pulling our operations out of Russia. We’re leaving, we’re not going to do business there. And some companies are, saying we need to stay because, you know, it’s clear, they’ve come up with a reason that they probably talked to their PR agency about what about all the employees that we pay there? And what about, and the key takeaway there though for brands is that it’s a conversation that’s happening and it’s something that people are paying attention to. One example is, I don’t know if you saw this, but Burger King decided to stay and, McDonald’s just shut down all of their Russia stores.

And it’s interesting to think about what went on behind, behind the walls of those meeting rooms, where one decided to stay and one decided to leave.

Scott Pruim: That’s the Whopper just taking over market share.

Erik Crown: Exactly. For brands to see that this is something that becomes so important and it’s tied to such a huge current event that everyone’s focused on, it goes back to your point, like people more than ever want to know that the company that they’re doing business with has a mission and has a heart. And cares about the same things that they care about. People want to feel humanity in a brand. I know that sounds silly to some people, but it’s true.

You just see it, the data plays that out over and over again. And it’s really closely related to what we talked about in the beginning. Companies want to know, buyers and people in the public want to know that their companies treat their employees as well. Because that is a very clear sign that company truly has a heart and has a mission because they’re treating their people well.

And so that’s all tied up and wrapped up in the employer brand.

Making an employer brand

Scott Pruim: Are there things that the leaders and companies can do, steps to make that happen? What we’re talking about is more than just obviously the marketing team, it’s the company. But what can those company leaders do besides I guess I’ll just say it this way, what can they do to show that their companies have a heart or that, there’s some humanity behind?

Erik Crown: Yeah. I think that the companies that do this right, know that it starts with their current employees and having their finger on the pulse of how their current employees feel about things. If a company is going to try and move in a direction where they associate their brand with a mission, you can’t just go out there and all of a sudden be like, Hey, we care about this, when you’ve never mentioned it before that day.

So you have to start with very early steps. The earliest steps are surveying your employees. We see sophisticated marketing teams that are gauging customer experience all the time. They survey them and they research them and, but people are doing that enough with their employees. So I think if you’re going to start to move in that direction, you just start to have those conversations first, internally, to talk to your employees about, we want to be more of a company with a mission and it has to come from the top.

That has to be something that’s spoken from the highest leadership because employees want to feel like this is something that the leadership really cares about. And then they have to spell out very clearly to the employees, what the next steps are going to be. We’re going to probably put together some kind of task force or committee that, people can volunteer for.

And then we’re going to survey all of our employees to try to get a gauge on what people care about. And maybe it’s a couple of different charities or nonprofits or some kind of movement or organization that they want to be, closely related to. But that’s the right step in the right direction.

Once you have your employees on board. And you have that internal advocacy and that connection between leadership and employees, then you can start to market that externally and show that you care about more than just one bottom line. And that’s another thing that, you know, we see more and more is companies presenting themselves as a double bottom line company. Because companies want people to know that they care about more than just making money, right?

Scott Pruim: Yeah. That’s an interesting point. We do a lot of internal surveys, we have a happiness surveys and things like that, which, you know, sound maybe a little odd or corny on the outside. But to your point, that’s management, that’s, leadership’s way of getting a read up on the pulse of the employees in the company.

And I think one of the really hard things is sometimes even when that’s done, it’s not a mandatory survey. If you don’t want to take it, you don’t take it. And it’s just, it’s not a catch 22, but messaging has to be very clear, I think. And maybe even more clear internally than marketing externally.

So those it’s a fine line and it’s tough.

Erik Crown: It is tough. And here’s, I think at the end of the day, what’s really toughest about it is when you decide as a company. You want to be a brand with a mission, and you want to present yourselves as somebody who cares about your employees has a clear value proposition for employees.

And also has a mission as a brand. A lot of times that starts with a really hard look in the mirror and, you know, it’s just like when you, as a person choose to do that work for yourself, right? If you want, if you say I want to be a more authentic person and I want to be somebody who lives with a mission.

Sometimes that starts with taking a hard look in the mirror and saying, what am I today? What do I need to work on? And being honest with yourself and companies have to do that too. That’s the hard work that companies have to do. And sometimes they might see, you know, what, we don’t do enough work on the diversity and inclusion front, or we give some money to this charity, but we’re not really, truly showing that we care about their purpose. That’s the beginning of the work, because once you do that, once the leadership looks in the mirror and the board, and the VPs look in the mirror and say, this is what we want to be. And this is how far we are from that. This is the work that we have to do.

Then they can speak with real authenticity to the employees and then ultimately to their customers and say, Hey, we’re trying to get there, but we’re not there yet. If people really feel vulnerability and authenticity in the brand, they’re going to be customers for life. That’s just, it’s hard work, but it’s work that needs to be done. If you want to be a long-term successful company.

Scott Pruim: Who knew. Tie in some personal wellbeing and positivity and growth to the Fortune 500 world. I love it.

Erik Crown: Yeah, man. There’s a lot of the, I love the word convergence. That’s a big word for me right now. And there’s a whole lot of convergence here.

There’s convergence between what we’re doing externally as marketers and what we’re doing internally as marketers. And then there’s also convergence between what we’re doing for ourselves as far as wellness is concerned and what we’re doing as a company. There’s a lot of overlap in similarities and these are really important things for us to keep in mind as we take these steps.

And like I said before, it’s a journey. As soon as you think it’s just something, Hey, we’re going to get $50,000 the United Way, or, we’re going to put out, we’re going to create this program that fizzles out in two months, employees feel the inauthentic, the inauthenticity in that, and they just roll their eyes.

The next time you try to do anything similar. So it has to start with the real hard work of, like I said, looking in the mirror as a company.

Scott Pruim: Yep. I think that’s a perfect way to end this.

Erik Crown: All right.

Scott Pruim: Eric, thank you very much. We appreciate it. I appreciate it. And we’ll look forward to talking to you again.

Erik Crown: Yeah, man. Thanks Scott always good to talk to you.

Scott Pruim: Thanks. Take care.

Erik Crown: All right.

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