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Employer Branding: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Top Stories.

Employer Branding stories are all over the news this week. Our top stories:

  • Vice Media and Gawker Media—two rivals known for their exposé journalism— use their talents to attack each other’s employer brand, and things get ugly.
  • Google teaches us all the best way to prevent an embarrassing exposé:  expose oneself.

Vice Media Logo

The Bad & The Ugly: Vice Vs. Gawker

Vice is one of the fastest-growing media companies today, last year receiving a $70M investment and speculated to be valued in the billions by 2016. Known most popularly for its HBO series that covers stories often left out of the 24/7 news cycle—such as rising rape cases in India and child deaths caused by US-sanctioned drone strikes in Pakistan—Vice’s content is very aligned with the counterculture ideals and truth-seeking, exposé journalism its fans have grown to expect from the brand.
So if Vice is rolling in money and influence, why are their workers so angry and underpaid? 
At least that’s what rival media company Gawker asked in its exposé “Working at Vice Media is Not as Cool as it Seems.” In it they detail actual salary numbers as reported by Vice employees.

“One intern two years ago was excited to receive a full time position—until the company offered him a salary of $20K. Employees who have worked there full time within the past two years say that salaries well under $30K are routine for “producers.” … Editors who worked on Vice’s verticals (music, video, fashion, sports, etc.) tell us they started at salaries of $24K-$26K.”

After showcasing quote after quote from disgruntled employees, Gawker then summarizes the issue with a few final blows aimed directly at Shane Smith, co-founder and CEO of Vice Media:

The main thing that we heard from current and former Vice employees was frustration. Frustration at Shane Smith’s failure to share any of the company’s spectacular financial success with his workers; frustration at being taken for granted, on the assumption that Vice was too cool of a job to ever quit.

Gawker Logo

And just when you saw it get ugly, it gets worse.
Vice counterpunched with its own written response, which was—how should we put it—strong, direct, and colorfully-worded.
Although Vice does not directly refute any salary numbers Gawker had reported, Vice does take a few solid jabs at Gawker’s employer reputation citing a class-action suit brought about by some of Gawker’s own disgruntled former employees.
When you reach the end of the response you realize the damage is done: Vice and Gawker have lost some–if not all–of our trust as employers, and quite possibly as reliable news sources.

The Good: Google

Yes, beyond this dark tunnel of bad brand behavior, there is light:
Google revealed for the first time their not-so-diverse workforce demographics and openly expressed its challenges in recruiting and retaining women and minorities.
The post is a must-read for anyone involved in employer branding, marketing, and reputation management. The opening alone is PR gold:

We’ve always been reluctant to publish numbers about the diversity of our workforce at Google. We now realize we were wrong, and that it’s time to be candid about the issues.

Getting ahead of bad press is a risky, but rewarding, PR maneuver. These types of moves are especially valuable in the tech world where the spirit of transparency and the aspiration for ethical business practices is a cultural paramount; the very movement to align corporate identity with a higher, moral purpose was practically founded and led by Google and their “Don’t be evil” mantra.
Tech companies are in no way immune to bad employer press, and the pressures of today’s tech “talent war” sometimes directly combat this aspiration for diverse hiring and better employer practices. But with their latest statement, Google has proven why they continue to lead in Employer Branding—in the tech community and beyond—even when they admit to present failures and promise to buckle down for the tough work ahead when it comes to employee diversity.

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