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HR is uniquely positioned to elevate employer branding



Orlando Ashford is chief people officer of Fanatics.

Over the course of the past several years, we have begun to see a welcome shift in the role of human resources as it has evolved to become a more strategic function. Long gone are the days when companies could be successful with a traditional or reactive approach to HR. Strategic human resources is a force multiplier, playing a critical role in driving increased profitability through employee engagement and retention and, with strong organizational planning, best positioning the business for long-term success. But what does the next chapter of the function look like?

Innovation doesn’t need to be limited to your product and marketing teams. In addition to enhancing internal company cultures, HR can also unlock brand success through strategic and meaningful partnerships that go beyond the expected. Over the course of my 30-year career, I have had the privilege of working for some incredible companies such as Holland America Line, The Coca-Cola Company, Motorola, Inc., and now, Fanatics, and the time has never been better to use HR to unlock brand success. Below are some tips on how to do it.

Start with your story

It may seem obvious, but many organizations do not take the time to develop an employer narrative.

This isn’t the story you tell your customers or investors, though these are also important elements that must be in alignment with and complement your employer story. Rather, this is the way that you consistently talk about your brand as an employer. What do you want to be known for among your employees and prospective talent? This story should pull through all your main communication channels.

Use recruitment as a branding opportunity

Once you have your story, you can begin to uncover new ways to bring it to life that also align with your mission. At Fanatics, we are building a global digital sports platform and that means supporting our fans and athletes through every part of their journey.

To further support this and continue to add to our diverse talent pipeline, we recently launched a new athlete immersion program, which provides educational and skill-building opportunities for professional athletes (current and retired) to support them in their next chapter. This has led to an incredible amount of buzz for us as well as an influx of applicants. Think about how you can further bring your mission to life through new recruiting programs.    

Integrate HR programs into social media posts

With Gen Z being the first fully digitally native generation, sharing your employer story in company emails and on HR-specific platforms is no longer enough. Your strategic HR initiatives should be integrated into your consumer-facing social media posts with an eye on telling the stories of your employees and your organizational impact.

This not only allows for you to tell a more comprehensive story about your brand, but further highlights the intentional changes you are making within and outside of your organization to benefit your people and your local communities.

Enact meaningful and long-term partnerships

When it comes to being a good corporate citizen, many organizations are still just scratching the surface. Creating lasting and meaningful change requires long-term partnerships that align with your company mission and brand. This is also how you build trust.

In 2023, Fanatics began a first-of-its kind partnership with Make-A-Wish, where we support all sports-related wishes for the wish-granting organization in the U.S. and Canada — a partnership that came naturally after many years of supporting wishes. By enacting a long-term partnership — which is led and driven by HR — we are able to support a worthy organization as well as gain access to powerful ongoing storytelling efforts that align with our brand.

For organizations to be successful, creativity needs to come from every area of the business. HR is uniquely positioned to not only drive financial gain through engaged employees and strong cultures, but by further enhancing your brand. This is done by integrating purpose, community and unique experiences that further bring to life a company’s mission. We are just getting started and I can’t wait to see how much further the function can go.  

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