Employer branding toolkit available for NH companies

SoHo Creative Studio in Portsmouth helps employers become more visible to potential employees
Michael Cinquino Soho
Michael Cinquino SoHo

Companies work hard at marketing themselves to attract and keep customers and clients. But most don’t do a good job marketing themselves as potential employers.

It’s called employer branding, and a Portsmouth company, in cooperation with others in New Hampshire, has developed an online resource as part of a project to help companies better brand themselves in their efforts to address an on-going issue: the hiring and retention of employees.

“Business owners need to market as aggressively to potential hires just as they would a potential client or customer,” said Michael Cinquino, co-founder of SoHo Creative Studio in Portsmouth.

Over the past several months, Cinquino and his team, along with the Strafford Regional Planning Commission and others, have developed what’s being called an Employer Toolkit for employee attraction, development and retention. It was made possible by a Collaborative Economic Development Region grant provided by the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs.

It offers specific ideas to specific challenges.

For instance, a challenge cited by one employer is this: “My company has served the Seacoast Region for decades, but now we feel invisible to the new talent base.”

Looking from the outside in

Here is what the toolkit recommends:
“Job seekers look to a business’s website to learn more about the company as a whole. Strengthen your digital presence by: creating a distinct employer brand to attract top talent; authentically communicating your story and culture so that potential hires can envision themselves working for you; and share your mission, so that talent has a deeper understanding of the ‘why’ behind your work.”

One effective tool is video to communicate a story, which is under-used, according to Cinquino.

“There is a huge, huge opportunity with video, and I know people know it but don’t necessarily execute it,” he said. “If you just get a video up of you speaking honestly for about 30 seconds, a minute about why you’re doing business and/or why a couple of people are doing business there, you really create a situation where someone can see themselves fitting into your culture or connecting with you on a very human level. And that’s one big thing that seems to be missing.”

As an example, he points to electronics giant Sharp. “When you look at their employer branding, they have a really great video on just interviewing workers on camera saying: ‘Why do you like working here?’ And they’re just honest, they’re authentic,” he said. “And it’s not a Marvel-level produced video. It’s a very simple video.”

When it comes to employer branding, Cinquino suggests to companies that they don’t try to do it in-house.

“It’s incredibly difficult to do it for yourself. You cannot see yourself as you need to be seen,” he said.

Some of the suggestions in the toolkit are easy to implement in-house. Other deeper level employer branding he believes needs a company such as his.

“You have to answer the question: Who are you? What do you value? What’s it like to work there?” he said. “The biggest thing that came up time and time again is authenticity. What you like. What you don’t like. Where you stand from a work perspective. What’s it like to work on your team. These things are incredibly impactful.”

His education background — both undergrad at DeSales University and graduate school at Rutgers University — involves acting and directing, and that has a bearing on his approach.

“You always need a director, always, if you’re gonna go to that top level. Movie stars got like five people around them on set — they’ve got a movement coach, they’ve got a voice coach, they’ve got an acting coach in addition to the director,” said Conquino. “There is that difficulty in seeing who you are and needing someone to look from the outside to go: Here’s the story that’s happening. Is this aligning? Is this the story you want to be told? Or how can we adjust this so that it is a story you want to be told?”

Workforce needs

Unemployment in New Hampshire reached an historic low in New Hampshire in May of 1.9 percent. Many economists consider an unemployment rate of 5 percent or lower to be maximum employment, or as close to full employment as is possible.

Workforce hiring and retention have been long-time issues in the Granite State, made more challenging by the years of the Covid pandemic and post-pandemic recovery.

Almost in tandem with the toolkit release, the NH Department of Business and Economic Affairs (BEA) released an analysis — prepared for the state by Camoin Associates — on workforce needs and strategies to address shortages in top growth sectors.

According to the BEA, the new analysis provides specific data on what the workforce needs are across the state’s top five growth sectors and what specific positions represent the highest need across those sectors. The results of this analysis will inform individual employer strategies, enable BEA and the state to focus training resources on certifications that will have the most value to employers, and inform enhanced workforce recruitment and retention marketing strategies.

“The results of this analysis will help employers, regional support organizations, and the state remain in position to retain and grow New Hampshire’s competitive advantages by meeting the workforce needs of our economy,” said BEA Commissioner Taylor Caswell.

In preparing the Employer Toolkit, Cinquino, aided by stakeholders, did a lot of interviews. They also looked at recent business-related surveys to get a sense of what is top of mind among company leaders.

“The number one concern of all small business owners in any industry was the cost of talent acquisition,” he said. “Hiring was the number one concern and had been the number one concern for a long time. And the more we dive in on it, the more we realize how long that has been happening.”

And, as if it is attached to the hip of hiring, it’s a companion concern.

“We also see another thing. There’s a lot of parts to this equation. One of the things that came up in full transparency is the housing crisis here in New Hampshire,” he said. “So no matter what you do for employer branding, if there’s nowhere for that person to live, affordably, it becomes very, very difficult to get people to work with you.”

A business-friendly state

Some 50 students at the University of New Hampshire business school were also interviewed, according to Cinquino, to get a sense of their work life expectations.

“We asked them one question, and the question was: If you walk into work on the first day, and it is the job from Hell, why is it the job from Hell? Why is this terrible? So we’re able to find out what they don’t like or what they’re not interested in,” he said. “Then we had them flip it over to go: Okay, well, if you don’t like this, what’s the opposite of that? To find out what they are positively looking for.”

Cinquino was impressed and thankful with the frankness of the people that were interviewed as part of the toolkit project. “Everyone was incredibly generous,” he said, noting they tried to do a range of interviews to include “manufacturing, automotive, tech, bookkeeper, we have hospitality. So we really wanted to cover all the industries.”

SoHo Creative Studio has been in Portsmouth since 2020, its founders having transplanted from New York City. Theirs is an example of how the pandemic changed the mindset of company leaders. Cinquino said he and his partners, in wanting to get out of the city then, did some Google searches, and New Hampshire consistently came up in the results of being among the most business-friendly in the country.

“One of the great many great things about Portsmouth and the Seacoast area and New Hampshire in general is that we’re able to just meet people and go: Hey, what do you need in your business? What are some challenges that you might have? And then slowly but surely we were able to connect the dots and become a branding agency.”

While the toolkit is currently live, active and chock full of ideas, more content and strategies will continue to be added.

“We are thrilled that this toolkit is now available to help businesses with implementing solutions to attract, develop and retain top talent on the Seacoast and beyond,” Jen Czysz, executive director of the Strafford Regional Planning Commission, said in a statement..

“Special thanks to our regional partners at Rockingham Planning Commission, Regional Economic Development Corporation, University of New Hampshire, the City of Portsmouth, Town of Exeter, City of Dover, and the NH Small Business Development Center. These partners met regularly to collaborate on this important tool for the region’s businesses. We can’t wait to promote it widely.”

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