I don’t know about you, but I don’t ‘get’ a lot of the fashion ads we see in international (and increasingly African) glossy magazines. I do understand that they are trying to create a feeling, based around a look. But sometimes the executions seem terribly contrived.
The fashion industry with its grand ‘houses’, its catwalks and tantrums, and its menagerie of models often seems a million miles away from commercial reality. It isn’t of course, because we know it generates many millions of euros and sets the trends that fuel the mass-market fashion chains. Eventually, the products it produces even find their way to our own ‘mitumba’ markets.
But fashion is a business, in the same way telecoms or banking or beef processing are businesses. And businesses need their people to deliver on the promises that brands make to the market. Keeping staff aligned and motivated is one of the toughest tasks for leaders and managers. Fashion, according to Robin Mellery-Pratt writing in www.businessoffashion.com is no exception.
Mellery-Pratt cites postings on www.glassdoor.com, a kind of Trip Advisor for companies, which has more than eight million company reviews, chief executive approval ratings, salary reports and interview questions provided by current or past employees.
“Stop leading through fear and stop being jealous of newer employees,” reads a comment posted this year by an employee of a top fashion house. This anonymous post entitled “Beware” was left by a (supposed) current employee of Christian Dior. It’s not the only fashion brand on the receiving end of negative comments on the site. Posts about Burberry and Prada read respectively: “Exciting at first, then you realise how little they care,” and “rapid decline/poor management and corporate clowns”.
Glassdoor sometimes puts fashion companies and other industries at the mercy of arbitrary and indignant opinions. As with most online forums, comments should be read with a pinch of salt, but brands shouldn’t underestimate their power to put off potential employees. And the timing couldn’t be worse. With limited growth prospects on the horizon, the fashion industry’s battle for talent is intensifying.
“In the context of a market growing at very low single digits, the channel scenario changing dramatically from offline to online, and shifting consumer behaviours, the quest for talent is really, really key to success,” says Bain’s 2015 Global Luxury Goods Report.
Nearly 70 per cent of the respondents to a Business of Fashion survey in 2014 said creative professionals were “impossible” or “very difficult” to find. Over half of luxury and fashion firms sampled struggle to attract brand directors (the people responsible for setting the creative direction for a fashion label).
As we know, attracting the right talent is all about creating an attractive employer brand. This is the modern evolution of the idea of ‘selling a job’ that was first explored by employers such as the military, which needed significant numbers of motivated recruits. Professional services followed, addressing the need to educate talent on the nature of the career offering, by positioning their employer brands as career coaches. Industries like tobacco, where controversial products need context, use their employer brands to create an alternative employee narrative.
In less cynical times, prospective employees trusted what companies told them. In today’s connected world, they expect companies to be transparent. So employer brands are prominent in social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and on recruiter job portals. Analysts estimate that about 60 per cent of global companies have a presence on Facebook for recruiting purposes alone. Cosmetics brand L’Oréal encourages managers take pictures with recent hires for social media, and asks its social media following questions like: “What inspires you today?’
Employer brands are also evolving their messaging to speak to applicants from Generation Y. Gen X’s priorities focused on status and prestige (salaries, bonuses, perks and packages), but Gen Y expects openness, flexibility, creativity, autonomy and personal development.
Kit and Ace — a Canadian clothing brand recruits artists and painters to work in their stores and encourages them to invite friends and social circles, which are the brand’s target market. They have understood that their own employees can become their best ambassadors, and indeed reduce the cost of paid-for advertising and branding.
Companies in the fashion sector increasingly invest more every year in marketing initiatives related to fashion, but rooted in culture or the environment. Fendi has restored Rome’s fountains. Kering focuses on sustainability and Tory Burch backs female empowerment. Fashion brands that began this as a corporate social responsibility activity have now realised that it also helps them to attract talent.