Top Employer Survey – The allure of the pure

It seems marketers are drawn to a dynamic brand as much as anyone else. The results of the Marketing Week/Michael Page Marketing Top Employer Survey show that many in the industry dream of working for sexy young companies rather than corporate giants. By Ian McCawley

The promise of a long apprenticeship at a university of marketing, such as Procter & Gamble (P&G) and Unilever, is no longer enough to lure the best talent, according to the inaugural Marketing Week/Michael Page Marketing Top Employer Survey. Instead, the torch is passing to a new generation of dynamic young brands, including Virgin and Innocent Drinks, which are grabbing marketers’ attention.

If there were an award for being the company most marketers would like to work for, Virgin would be busy preparing its trophy cabinet. Regardless of which sector respondents work in, or of their age or position, more marketers clamour to join Sir Richard Branson’s empire than any other company. A quarter of all respondents cited Virgin as a business they would like to work for, and it finished ahead of Innocent, P&G, Tesco and Apple as the single most preferred employer.


Virgin topped the vote in six out of the ten sectors in which respondents worked: consumer durables, finance, IT, leisure, media owners and transport. It was also the number one company among people working in sectors other than those in which it operates; the most popular among women; and top, or joint top, in every age group, apart from 55- to 64-year olds. One observer jokes: All Branson needs to do to snaffle the best talent is to set up in those sectors where Virgin doesn’t already have a presence.

Virgin Group brand development and corporate affairs director Will Whitehorn says: We are not totally surprised by this result: the Virgin brand is unique, and it is a fascinating place to work. Where else has such dynamic diversity, even down to launching the world’s first commercial

flights into space, and literally challenging the final frontier?

The main reason people chose Virgin ahead of any other company was because they see it as a dynamic brand. This bolsters the view that marketers seem to be moving on from setting their sights on joining brand-owning behemoths such as P&G and Unilever, and are instead turning to the brands of tomorrow, such as Virgin and Innocent, the smoothies specialist.

Innocent, set up in 1998, finished second overall, and it is perhaps the most surprising inclusion in the list of the ten companies most frequently named in the survey. It was the most attractive business as far as a fifth of manufacturing/ packaged goods sector respondents were concerned, beating Unilever, Coca-Cola, P&G and Nestl笠It also finished eighth in the list of favourite companies outside respondents’ current sectors, as well as being the second most popular – behind Virgin – among retail marketers.


Some 17 per cent of respondents cited Innocent’s clean-cut image as the main reason for their choice, while more than a tenth of respondents aged up to 44 years old would like to join it. But co-founder Richard Reed does not believe Innocent is guilty of publicising its ethos as much as its products. He says: I would hope people see us as a company that takes its environmental and community responsibilities seriously. But we don’t make a big deal out of it, because we could lose goodwill.

I think the main reason people want to work for us is that we are a fast-growing, exciting, creative company that makes quality drinks. There is a lot of opportunity for developmental and entrepreneurial growth.

By comparison, drinks titan Coca-Cola is still a popular employer, despite being at the centre of a number of raging debates. These range from its role in the obesity crisis to protests over globalisation by US corporations, and environmental issues in India, where it has been accused of using too much water for bottling in drought-prone areas. That said, Catalyst Marketing Consultants director Paul Cousins states: It’s no surprise that people aspire to work for Coke, because it is one of the leading brands in the world. Most marketers would assume it’s a great place to work.

But perception isn’t always the same as reality. Cousins warns: I would imagine Coke is quite a frustrating place for marketers to work. They can’t fiddle with the brand, and all the decisions are taken at the top – and for that matter, in the US. Being there might not be as exciting as the thought of being there.

Just as Coke has ridden the waves of protest to remain attractive to potential employees, the BBC is still held up as a guiding light by people in the media sector. This is despite recent upheavals such as the acrimonious departure of

director-general Greg Dyke, and wrangles over the setting of the television licence fee. Numis Securities media analyst Lorna Tilbian contends: The BBC has market leadership, is a good employer, and will still be around in years to come. It’s everything graduates look for, and then an attractive option as your career progresses. As for ITV’s absence from the top echelons of the survey, Tilbian says: Maybe it has suffered because of the ousting of ITV Broadcasting chief executive Mick Desmond and others, and is not a box you’d want to tick. Another observer expresses no surprise at marketers’ dismissal of the network, labelling its bosses – including new commercial director Ian McCulloch – gorillas with calculators.

Meanwhile, Google was joint third in the media sector, behind the BBC and BSkyB, and crept into the overall top 20, ranked at number 15. Tilbian suggests that although the software giant has a dynamic business model, it is not particularly marketing-friendly – at least for now. Google is such a phenomenal success; it’s the new Microsoft. Growing at that rate, you don’t need to use marketing, she says. But the rate of growth will slow. Microsoft is getting its act together and once the competition is stronger, Google will have to behave in a different way. It will probably turn to marketing to counteract the competition.

While Coke and the BBC emerge relatively unscathed from recent negative publicity, Nestl禳 reputation seems to be suffering, as it finished outside the top 20 companies people would most like to work for. Chris White, the former managing director of confectionery arm Nestl矒owntree – he vacated his seat earlier this month – has admitted that his division was a business in crisis. He laid most of the blame at the door of former marketing director Andrew Harrison, who has since left his subsequent post of Mller UK general manager. The Nestl知pisode appears to be an example of shoddy marketing tactics putting off future employees.


Having a role model as a figurehead can help companies attract marketers. Virgin, of course, has Branson; and another inspirational figure, Tesco marketing chief Tim Mason, is widely credited with being one of the driving forces behind the success of the UK’s number one retailer.

Cousins adds: “Tesco may not be that interesting to consumers, but from a marketer’s point of view it’s one of the best-handled brands. Look at Tim Mason and what he’s given to the company – fantastic branding, with superb targeting and segmentation. Everything it does is strategically led by marketing.

Tesco has changed the face of retail marketing. Fifteen years ago, you would never have thought Sainsbury’s would be toppled – yet Tesco has overtaken it. It has made retail sexy, fast moving and aggressive again.

John Lewis (and Waitrose) claimed second spot among retail respondents, above Sainsbury’s and Asda, although none of these three brands made the overall top 20. Perhaps Asda has been hurt by well-publicised employee rights issues at US parent company Wal-Mart, which now seem to be reaching British shores. Waitrose marketing director Christian Cull explains: The Waitrose brand appeals to those who work on it because it reflects the reality of the John Lewis Partnership. Call it the `but really’ factor: what we say and do is true.

HSBC was voted top by workers in the financial and professional services sector, ahead of Egg. The proportion of financial services respondents naming HSBC reaches almost a third when added together with subsidiary First Direct, which was picked separately by 13 per cent, and ranked fourth among sector respondents.

Of the major mobile operators, only Orange – and possibly Virgin, as respondents were not specifically asked to name the company’s brands – were among the ten employers most frequently mentioned by respondents, who were asked for a list of preferred companies. Vodafone was the only mobile phone operator (besides Virgin) to be ranked among the 20 most favoured employers, finishing joint 15th with Google. One analyst says the reluctance to place mobile operators at the top of the tree could be a consequence of job fears raised by recent takeovers, including that of O2 by Telefonica. This comes after Mannesmann’s takeover by Vodafone and its subsequent sale of Orange to France T譩com.

While BMW roared ahead as the preferred option for car marketers, Honda was not far, behind. The award-winning Grrr campaign seems to have done as much to build the brand among potential employees as it has to boost the company’s image to consumers.

A further example of the importance of brand image in recruitment is Apple. Fifth in the overall list of companies people want to work for, it is seen as innovative and dynamic.

These are qualities marketers seek from employers these days, as priorities change from looking for long-term job prospects to getting a more immediate buzz from employment. Candidates, rather than companies, are regaining power when it comes to filling marketing posts. Whereas the last Marketing Week salary survey revealed people were happy to stick with what they had in a gloomy economy (MWJanuary 13), less than a year on marketers are in more bullish mood about their own job prospects.

Tellingly, only a fifth of those surveyed named their current employer as the one they would really want to work for, given the choice. This is a mobile workforce – 59 per cent named a preferred employer outside their own sector; in the case of hi-tech manufacturing, seven per cent said there were no rival brands in their sector they would consider joining.

Only a couple of years ago, employers held the whip-hand in recruitment, as the limited number of opportunities meant they were able to handpick the best talent to join their teams. And while it could be argued many marketers’ desire to work elsewhere is simply down to dissatisfaction, Michael Page Marketing managing director Richard Vickers is convinced the wheel has turned in the jobseekers’ favour. He says: A lot of people have had to sit tight for two or three years, but now opportunities are starting to come to their attention. They are not dissatisfied in their current jobs, but the chance to progress is there again. If they feel they have done what they can with a brand, or in a company, they can look further afield.


Not only do marketers now have more choice, but their criteria for deciding to work for a brand are also changing. Career prospects and salary are still important, but marketers are keener than ever to go into a business that takes marketing seriously. They appear to be seeking opportunities to work for dynamic brands that enable them to satisfy their entrepreneurial spirit at a marketing-led operation.

This is borne out by respondents’ top ten criteria for choosing the one company they would really like to work for. Some 22 per cent made up their mind based on the company having a strong brand; the second most important reason was the dynamism of the brand. Career prospects lagged as low as eighth. In fact, P&G was the only company to be chosen mainly on the basis of opportunities to climb the ladder.

People tend to respond differently when handed a list of criteria than they do when they have free rein in their reply. Career development and prospects were top of the list of unprompted answers, but sank below issues such as high-profile brand and dynamic sector when respondents admitted why they chose a specific brand. This strengthens the view that – just as with consumers – strong, stand-out brands are the ones turning heads among marketers.

This shift in emphasis from money and careers to a more here and now attitude is something companies would do well to absorb. Employers need to be more forward and candidate-friendly when trying to source the best talent. Top candidates now have their pick of jobs, and they all have different criteria for choosing.

Vickers says the key is for companies to use the recruitment process to create a positive feeling based on those criteria – to be seen as being respectful of candidates’ needs.

As Virgin flies away with the mantle of best employer, dynamic companies such as Innocent, Tesco and Apple are leading the chasing pack. The brands of tomorrow are clearly winning the battle for the hearts and minds of marketers, who now seem more willing than ever to pursue their dream jobs.


The inaugural Marketing Week/Michael Page Marketing Top Employer Survey was carried out by Fusion Communications. Research was conducted via an online survey among a random sample taken from the Centaur Communications database. Fieldwork took place between September 27 and October 12, 2005. In all, 1,014 completed questionnaires were received – a response rate of more than ten per cent.

Participants come from a wide range of industry sectors, with those from manufacturing/packaged goods, financial/professional services and retail/wholesale topping the response list. The most frequent job function of respondents was marketing or sales and marketing manager, followed by product marketing or brand manager, then marketing executive.

Some 58 per cent of respondents were women. The 25- to 34-year-old age group gave the largest response; next were 35- to 44-yearolds, then those aged between 45 and 54.

For further information, contact Phil Redwood, director at Fusion Communications, on 020 7415 7043.



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