Time Is Right for Employment Brand 'Renovation'

By Theresa Minton-Eversole Apr 20, 2011

It seemed only fitting to have a former executive of red-hot home and garden channel HGTV to address branding at the close of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Talent & Staffing Management Conference & Exposition, held April 11-13, 2011, in San Diego. For more than two years, recessionary woes have forced many companies to mothball their employer brands. But the creaking doors and jammed windows of their recruiting functions are being pried open again, and companies—rightfully so—are as nervous as first-time home buyers about what top job prospects might see when they come calling.

Susan Packard, HGTV co-founder and former CEO, shared what it took to create a solid brand during her April 13 keynote address, peppering it with stories and videos that depicted what worked and what didn’t since launching the network in 1994. It is part of the $7 billion home, food and travel media and marketing powerhouse Scripps Networks Interactive. Scripps brands provide content across multiple media platforms, including television, the Internet, satellite radio, books, magazines and the latest mobile and emerging media.

Fresh, Focused, True to Mission

“Brands are fragile. Think of your organization as a brand, and it’ll keep you away from things (like advertising) that will harm you” because they are off-brand, she said.

A solid brand instills discipline. This discipline will “keep you from trying to be all things to all people” and will make it easier to communicate through words and symbols, she said. She noted that the HGTV logo is buttressed by the rooftop on top and the catch phrase “Start at Home” at its base, as well as the outlined gabled house, all of which have come to symbolize the network.

But a sound, recognizable brand doesn’t insulate companies from failure, she said. “Our show ‘Design Star’ worked” because it held true to the brand, “and ‘Dream Home’ worked because we have great partners that make it work,” she said.

However, she admitted that the purchase of online retailer Shop@Home was a mistake. “We bombed because none of us had retail background.”

Culture Is Organization’s Personality

At the Knoxville, Tenn., headquarters, Packard said, the environment is fresh. The workplace is filled with laughter and humor that is conveyed directly through its programming, advertising and energetic, creative workforce. Among the key values noted in the company’s mission statement are:

  • Diversity
  • Clarity in communication.
  • Integrity
  • Compassion and support
  • Shared responsibility
  • Work/life balance
  • Openness

These cultural aspects serve as a backdrop for everything the company does.

For example: “When we acquired Food Network in 1997 it was hugely broken, and we didn’t know if it would work because the group worked in New York, not Knoxville,” Packard said. “But it was a good cultural fit,” she said, even with the network’s commitment to social responsibility, as evidenced by its “Share Our Strength” campaign to end childhood hunger. HGTV supports efforts to provide affordable housing and revitalize communities by partnering with Habitat for Humanity and participating in campaigns such as “Rebuilding Together.”

In addition, the network showcases its supportive culture in its recruitment ads, using employee testimonials to convey the company’s growth and advancement opportunities as well as work/life balance.

Packard said innovation must be supported. “You need new ways to look at things as they are today and as they will be five years from now,” she said. “If you don’t have a culture that supports innovation, you won’t be a leading company.”

Concluding, she encouraged the audience to be leaders in their organizations. “If you are in the position to have staff, your people watch you, model you. Be supportive of them and show empathy. Where these traits are absent, the company is truly vulnerable.”

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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