Tag Archives: public relations

The Era of Free Agent Employees

Where does a company brand begin and end? Does it embrace the employees — people who are the brand — or suffocate them?

More and more, I’m being asked by people — in both the corporate sphere, among those trying to control the brand perception, and by individuals attempting to expand their own platform and network — what are the dimensions of personal branding, and how does it fit with the corporate brand? What is personal branding? How do you do it? What’s the real value of the “[insert your name here] Brand”? And how do companies use it to their advantage?

Unfortunately, official corporate reaction generally is, “Why should I invest in employee loyalty when they’re at work scrolling through LinkedIn contacts and job postings, attempting to leverage the corporate brand as they are looking for their next job?”

We have all become keenly aware there are fewer and fewer retirement parties and gold watch presentations these days. We are fixated on our next gig because — well, because, what other option is there?

The employer-employee relationship has changed dramatically over time. Any perception of reciprocal loyalty has evaporated, along with the time cards and company picnics. We are no longer searching for the job of a lifetime, instead, we’re in search of a lifetime of jobs.

A wisely led company should recognize that personal branding is an important issue for employees and should encourage it. A study by Brightedge says, “Companies that have a greater proportion of their employees on LinkedIn have more followers on their company pages.” This means employees will improve equity-brand trust by attracting other great employees, improving brand reputation.

That’s a good thing.

Sadly, many times companies fail to recognize the benefits. They don’t realize these free agent employees can be strong assets to their company if they are recognized as thought leaders.

How did this employee free agent mentality start?

Roots of an Issue

Capitalism is, intrinsically, a dynamic system of supply and demand. Financial and intellectual capital jets about these days faster than ever. Markets grow and collapse right and left.

Once upon a time, it was good advice to tell college kids to prepare for careers with multiple stops and regale them with stories of that slow but steady climb up the corporate ladder. Now we tell people of all ages: Prepare for multiple careers!

This change has created what I call the free agent employee model, which has caused a rift in company and employee relationships. Why? Because companies assume these “free agents” aren’t looking for long-term commitment (e.g., the Careerbuilder.com report that says 76% of full-time workers would leave their job if the right opportunity came along.) But how should employees think about job security and company loyalty, especially when facing the likelihood of downsizing, right sizing, re-organizing and lay-offs along their career paths?

Check out N.F.L. free agents, a large talent pool of players willing to join the team offering the highest bid. This “jumping ship” approach reminds me of the show “Shark Tank,” except it’s not limited to fledgling entrepreneurs or N.F.L. athletes — it’s now everyone.

Look at Millennials; they’re the ones who have seen their parents adapt to the aftermath of the recession, and they’re the ones who will continue this free agent way of thinking. Actually, 50% of the workforce will be made up of Millennials by 2030, according to PEW. Companies need to take note by putting an emphasis on employee engagement.

Employees Need Lovin’ – Even Free Agents

Companies that fear and want to crush the free agent mentality are missing important opportunities to capitalize on employees’ personal branding.

If employees feel a sense of fulfillment when working for us, which is employee engagement, and have a strong connection with their manager, which again is employee engagement, then they’re more likely to commit to our company and become brand advocates, which can help bring in more customers and new employee talent right to our doorsteps.

Remember, employees will stay for the right manager, not the right job – and will leave for the same reason.

When you think about it, it’s the front-line employees who are dealing with the customers every day. They’re the ones who help build the relationship between the brand and the customer. Who wouldn’t want to encourage that? And they’re the investment that represents the brand as much as the CEO every day.

However, executives tend to think their role plays a bigger part in the public’s eye than employees. According to a recent New Weber study, “50% of executives expect that CEO reputation will matter even more to company reputation in the next few years.” In fact, the Edelman Trust Barometer says, “Employees rank higher in pu blic trust than a firm’s PR department, CEO or founder. 41% of us believe that employees are the most credible source of information regarding their business.”

What if companies engaged and promoted their employees more? Would the numbers reflect it? Would companies focus less on CEO transparency and public and media relations and more on employee engagement?

Moving Forward

The post-recession way of thinking is here to stay – at least in the foreseeable future. If we want our employees to start being loyal, then we’ve got to meet them halfway. We have to embrace their free agent way of thinking. And we have to engage them. Then, maybe we can stop looking over employees’ shoulders, fearing free agency, and give employees a company they believe in promoting.

Leap Year Season 2, Episode 10 – How To Bite


Leap Year Season 2: Episode 10 by Mashable

Now this is where the C3D team is at their best – all working together against a common (and real) foe.  It’s all a team effort, so when Aaron neglects his critical task to try and make up with Lisa, his good old slacker/turncoat/thief brother is there to make sure Andy Corvell gets his come-uppance in front of the appreciating crowd.  Andy told Bryn that he stole their prototypes, drained their bank account and created a fake competitor to “teach them a lesson.” Turns out this was a lesson that went both ways: C3D learned to think quickly on their feet and Corvell learned that sometimes there are actual, real-life consequences to his actions.

Operation Revenge was a winner, but not because Corvell was led out of the auditorium by Detective Doyle.  That was sweet, but the positive feedback from the crowd, the many business cards from VCs Jack had in his wallet afterwards and, most importantly, Glenn Cheeky’s kiss of success are what will make a difference in the long run. The product launch was their graduation from a start-up into an all grown up business.  So, what’s next?

First, they need to keep spreading the word through PR and social media.  The reporters won’t always be there and it’s now up to C3D to keep their company and product top of mind.  Which leads nicely into their second task.

Second, C3D needs to keep influencing the influencers.  A positive Tweet or blog post by a tech industry thought leader could be the key to C3D’s commercial success. Sending free C3D conferencing systems to some top Silicon Valley media and investors would be a nice start.

Finally, they need to define the C3D brand in the marketplace.  This is about meaning something specific to the right people, not everything to everybody.  People like to hide behind texts these days, how can C3D get them to invite their friends and family around the world into their living room via hologram?

It’s been great to see C3D roll with the punches, keep finding new ways forward and never lose their will – just like thousands of successful startups have before them.  This season both the team and the business matured into better versions of themselves.  Their next step will be no easier – going from concept, to reality, to actual commercial success.  And that’s the thrill of entrepreneurship, no matter how high the next hill is to climb, if you believe, work hard and get the right support, you can make it to the top.

Leap Year: Season 2, Episode 2 – One Of Those Nights

From the looks of things, C3D has started to attract a lot of attention in Silicon Valley. Some of this is positive buzz from the press like the semi-successful appearance Jack made last week on What’s Trending. But the specific attention to the C3D office — that is smashing it up and stealing their latest prototypes — is much less welcome. Not only did Jack promise a product launch in three months, three times faster than they planned, now Bryn will need to start from scratch to get their new product ready in record time.

Maybe their benefactor Glenn Cheeky can help? Kind of, but while he did put them in touch with detective Smiley, he also instructed them not to file a police report and suffer the related bad publicity. Glenn’s advice makes sense. Bad press can quickly rub the shine off an exciting new company for analysts, investors and consumers. But operating without funds can do just the same — and probably quicker.

The C3D team is in a unique situation with the intense media and gossip network of Silicon Valley influencing their judgment. But what if this was just a normal business? How would they get back on their feet after a break-in?

Well, if C3D had a business owner policy (BOP), they would have been able to get compensated for their damaged equipment to start out, even if it’s leased. This policy typically also pays to remove debris left behind from the break-in and for damaged personal items. It will even pay to restore electronic data destroyed on electronic files (luckily Bryn learned from last year and started to back their files up off site) and for business interruption claims for lost income due to the break-in. Since C3D is a startup working to get a new product on the market, business interruption might not apply, but for many businesses this coverage can be a lifesaver and keep a temporary setback like a break-in or a fire from becoming something that truly threatens the future of their businesses.

So, what’s the next step for C3D? Finding the people who broke into their office could let them exact some revenge, but will it help them get their product to market on time?

Leap Year: Season 2, Episode 1 – A Train Wreck


A Train Wreck – Leap Year | S2E1 by LeapYearTV

The whole crew is back for Season 2 of Leap Year, and things haven’t slowed down a bit. The mad scramble at the end of Season 1 to get the C3D holographic messaging prototype finished has now been replaced by a push to get their product finalized, generate buzz and start selling. To top that all off, they’ve also moved to Silicon Valley — land of the startup.

The circumstances have changed, but the Leap Year characters are still taking on their familiar roles:

Aaron is worrying about his wife and new baby daughter (thanks for the help, Sergei), Bryn is wearing dark clothes and secretively working on the prototype, Olivia is talking up a storm to everyone she meets (sometimes about C3D, sometimes just about cakes), Derek is doing … something, and Jack is using his patented sales tactics on potential customers, partners and every woman he meets.

For a startup, each hurdle you get over often seems like it is replaced by another, more difficult hurdle to clear. With $500,000 secured thanks to Andy Corvell, and a last minute assist from Glenn Cheeky, the group is on the clock to deliver a product to market that will impress the media, analysts and their investors. Like many startups, C3D is feeling pressure to get their product out to market as quickly as possible. For their sake, I hope most of them have CEOs that are a little more reliable than Jack. But hey, he did show up for the interview just in time, even if he didn’t really know what he was supposed to say. Wildly overpromising the features and launch date for a new tech product? The CD3 team is playing with fire, but that’s par for the course in Silicon Valley.

CD3 is really starting to build a buzz. But something about those guys smashing up their offices tells me not everybody in Silicon Valley is rooting for them to succeed. Wonder what’s in store for next week? What do you think our characters have in store for them this season?

How can you build a buzz for your startup/small business?

At Hiscox, we want to do everything we can to help your business succeed. This isn’t just about protecting you against risks and possible mistakes, but also providing helpful news and information. If your company wants to raise their profile like CD3 did in this episode, here are some helpful tips from our Small Business Blog:

The Small Business DIY Guide to PR

First three steps to small business branding

Create your small business marketing plan