Personnel Today Awards 2015 winners: Merlin wins Employer Branding prize

Merlin Entertainments receive their Employer Branding Award
Merlin Entertainments receive their Employer Branding Award in 2015.

indeed-240x100The Personnel Today Awards 2015 took place at a glittering ceremony on Monday night, and here we profile our winner – Merlin Entertainments – and the other organisations to have been shortlisted for their work in Employer Branding, sponsored by Indeed.


Merlin Entertainments

About the organisation
Merlin Entertainments is one of the world’s largest leisure and entertainment companies, operating 106 attractions across 23 countries, including Sea Life Centres, Madame Tussauds and Legoland.

The challenge
Operating so many attractions means that each operates within its own brand, such as Thorpe Park or Madame Tussauds. Merlin wanted to develop a single employer brand that would promote a consistent customer service culture flexible enough to adapt to each brand. As a large and growing FTSE 100 company, Merlin also has to make itself stand out to attract the best talent.

What the organisation did

  • Developed a set of core Merlin values known as the Merlin Way: this is introduced from induction so employees know they are part of a bigger company, not just that attraction.
  • Changed global employee survey (The Wizard Wants to Know) to ask if employees were proud to work for the company.
  • Introduced Merlin development programmes and a mobility programme to help employees move between brands.
  • Ran internal campaigns to reinforce specific values such as Merlin Way Film Competition and suggestion scheme.
  • STAR scheme recognises individuals whose work or attitude exemplifies the Merlin Way.
  • Developed employer branding: ‘For the love of FUN!’ or FTLOF, which is now used by thousands of people speaking different languages in different countries.

Benefits and achievements

  • In 2014, Merlin sent 105,626 ‘stars’ as recognition of work done by employees.
  • Legoland Park staff now have a LEGO® MiniFigure on their name badges to trade with visitors, thanks to an idea sparked through the suggestion scheme.
  • Application numbers for permanent roles up 21% via the Merlin online portal.
  • Named one of 25 Best Companies to work for in 2015.
  • Awareness of The Merlin Way has grown: 94.2% of staff were aware in 2014 compared with 91.8% in 2011.
  • Forty percent of employees have bought shares in Merlin via its Sharesave plan.

Judges’ comments
“This entry really stood out for its infectious enthusiasm and the strength of the emotional appeal to a workforce spread over multiple locations.”


Doncaster Council

About the organisation
The Metropolitan Borough of Doncaster is situated in South Yorkshire, and covers the towns of Doncaster, Mexborough, Conisbrough, Thorne, Bawtry and Tickhill. Its council is one of the largest employers in the area.

Employer branding: the judges

Mervyn Dinnen, content marketing and social engagement strategist

Marcus Body, ThirtyThree

The challenge
Doncaster Council’s Children and Young People Services (CYPS) had faced well-documented challenges but had established a stable leadership team by 2012 and had a new transformation programme in place. However, it still needed to address skills shortages that were having a major impact on service delivery and quality.

What the organisation did

  • Worked with consulting company Penna to come up with a new approach to the recruitment of experienced, full-time social workers.
  • Penna were asked to create a new employer value proposition (EVP) for the service and translate that into a high-impact brand for a new recruitment campaign.
  • Conducted research into the perceptions and aspirations that would inform the development of the EVP, and which would become pillars for the employer brand.
  • Decided the key message should be an invitation to social workers to surpass expectations and build a sense of individual and team pride.
  • Built a new recruitment microsite and complementary attractions materials to express the new brand.
  • Team members also delivered the message first hand and were trained in candidate communication and brand messaging. They were given support to re-write letters and emails and guidance for face-to-face/telephone interaction.
  • Potential recruits could talk directly to people already working there so could better understand the change agenda.

Benefits and achievements

  • Improvements have been made to the recruitment process, such as competency-based interviews, more tailored application questions and a more customer-service focused approach to the hiring process.
  • Recruitment adverts are always on the council website, so recruitment is ongoing; interview panels are scheduled every two weeks, applications are shortlisted quickly and candidates interviewed promptly.
  • Since August 2013, 61 people have been recruited across social worker, advanced practitioner and team manager roles, including 12 new team managers and one new service manager.
  • All but one Advanced Practitioner role is permanently filled.
  • There has been a 34% reduction in the use of agency staff, and a reduction in agency spend on these posts from around £20,000 per month to £16,000 per month.
  • Vacancies waiting to be filled down by 16%, and a 30%-plus reduction in time to hire.

Judges’ comments
“Good recruitment results with a positive outcome for the community.”


About the organisation
SAP is one of the world’s largest software corporations, employing more than 70,000 employees. It develops and sells enterprise application software that helps companies manage aspects of their business such as human resources, finance, procurement, sales and asset management.

The challenge
In such a large and complex business, it was difficult to have a single and consistent employer brand across all divisions and channels; in the past 12 months SAP’s Employment Brand team has turned this around.

What the organisation did

  • Merged the Employment Brand team with the Global Sourcing team. This means talent pipelines can be identified ahead of sourcing calls, preparing the candidate.
  • Pioneered a new Employment Brand Menu service so services range from Bronze, to Silver, Gold and Platinum, depending on the level of investment the business wishes to make in the hire.
  • Generated Employment Brand documents and trained recruiters in how to sell the company to passive candidates, and deal with the most common rebuttals. Also helped to shape communications through digital marketing campaigns/LinkedIn etc.
  • Launched a more responsive careers site, which is mobile enabled, which refreshes content regularly and has a more ‘human’ employment brand with authentic employee stories.
  • Hired a dedicated video editor to travel the world to provide more than 40 employees’ video stories for social media and the careers site.
  • Built a talent community using SAP’s own marketing and analytics tool RMK. Passive candidates can register basic information in just 30 seconds and sign up for job alerts based on their skill set.
  • Uses RMK analytics to measure effectiveness of campaigns and which sources of hire work best.
  • Relaunched SAP’s social media strategy, launching Life at SAP social channels, focused on employees telling real, personal stories and supporting traffic to the careers site.
  • Introduced custom-built online assessments to provide real-time candidate feedback for graduate hiring.
  • Moved away from recruiting only from ‘top’ universities: introduced concept of democratization of university recruiting.

Benefits and achievements

  • Talent attraction strategy has been transformed: increase in traffic to careers site of 32% thanks to stronger SEO and better social media channels.
  • Talent community now has more than 260,000 members.
  • New Facebook page has over 35,000 fans.
  • Won multiple employer awards through newly centralised awards team, including entries in the top 5 Great Places to Work in India, Turkey, Brazil and Argentina, and Number 1 in Bulgaria.

Judges’ comments
“This programme is an excellent example of how to roll out a global employer brand in some radically different employment markets.”

Haringey Council

About the organisation
Haringey Council covers the London Borough of Haringey in North London. The area includes both some of the most deprived areas in London and some of the most prosperous.

The challenge
Haringey Council had endured a high level of scrutiny and publicity after the death of Baby P in 2007 and an inadequate rating from Ofsted. Aside from its poor external reputation, internally, people were disengaged and demotivated, and there was an urgent need to address serious cultural problems throughout the organisation.

What the organisation did

  • Worked with Penna to come up with a new employer value proposition, and a new brand that would reinvigorate the workforce.
  • In line with a new chief executive having been appointed by Cabinet, the brand aimed to re-educate Haringey employees about their role and contribution to the Council’s vision and purpose.
  • Conducted comprehensive research programme to articulate the employer value proposition and identify ‘what good looks like’.
  • Created/delivered an immersive development assessment programme for 120 managers.
  • Held events to detail the future of Haringey and the role of the employer brand within it; ran related articles on the leadership development website.
  • Created a brand handbook, internal video and other materials including new careers website and social media messaging.

Benefits and achievements

  • Immersive approach has been effective, feedback suggests managers are more engaged.
  • Communication has proven positive, particularly via video: 95% said the new communications made it clear what Haringey expected of them.
  • Helped to deliver savings of £1.2m.
  • Jacquie McGeachie, Interim Assistant Director of HR: “The organisation has been empowered to move at pace to recalibrate what good leadership looks like. This is a vital building block in setting the right leadership tone and shaping the leadership task for the future.”

Judges’ comments
“Really nice linkage between individual ambition and organisational purpose, and this is particularly important in a change environment.”

North Ayrshire Council

About the organisation
North Ayrshire is in the south west of Scotland, with a population of around 136,000 people. North Ayrshire council employs 7,300 people and is headquartered in Irvine.

The challenge
In an area that had been in economic decline for years, North Ayrshire Council was experiencing a period of significant change and financial challenge, including a high number of job losses. It has had to radically rethink the way it delivers services as it drives major organisational change – an ambitious transformation programme designed to bring it from ‘Good to Great’.

What the organisation did

  • Employee engagement survey highlighted employees’ desire to be more involved in decision making in changes that affected their work.
  • Used focus groups and cafe sessions to get input from staff and build ownership in creating new employer brand.
  • Discovered real-life stories and experiences of why people work for the council, which helped to shape the employer brand.
  • Tested prototype brand with a volunteer control group to check it against people’s real experiences and emotions.
  • Launched final brand, North Ayrshire Connects, at leadership conference of senior managers, followed by a series of roadshows to more than 700 staff across the region.
  • Created MyConnection: short video stories that appear in induction programme, recruitment pages and YouTube channel.

Benefits and achievements

  • Employee engagement has increased despite period of financial austerity and downsizing: levels rose by 10% to 65.3% in 2014.
  • Sickness absence in 2014/15 reduced from 9.4 days to 8.1 days, saving the council £958,000.
  • Number of staff who report they feel involved with decisions that affect their work has increased from just over 50% to 77%.
  • Independent external review by Excellence (Quality Scotland) found the council to have “a very strong focus on people”.
  • Chief executive: “Our brand and values are now a powerful part of who we are as an organisation, and the culture of excellence and innovation we are driving.”

Judges’ comments
“Excellent hard metrics in a tough organisational context.”


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