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HR Innovators: Paychex Employer Brand Manager Debra Luna

Tips from an Employer Branding expert.

For most people, employer branding is like venturing into the great unknown. There’s no standard template or industry rulebook to follow, and employer brand professionals are often left making their own way through the wilderness. Such was the case for Debra Luna when she first started out with the simple idea to create social media graphics for Paychex’s sales recruiting team. Unbeknownst to her, she was headed in a direction that would change the trajectory of her career as well as the company’s hiring and retention strategy

Now let’s get to know Debra Luna, Paychex’s employer brand manager.

With employer branding being such a new field, I always love learning how people end up doing it as a career. How did you find your way into your current role as employer brand manager at Paychex?

Prior to my role now of a little over two years, I was in a recruiting role supporting the sales organization. My manager at the time saw that I had a passion for creativity and social media and empowered me to just start creating some social media graphics to support our recruiting initiatives in sales—visuals that would catch the attention of a sales candidate on LinkedIn, Instagram, or Facebook. We also wanted to help our hiring managers see the importance of having an online recruitment presence. We would often tell them to be active on LinkedIn so candidates can get to know them and reach out, but we would always get feedback that they didn’t know what to share or that they weren’t comfortable figuring out what to share on their own. So a lot of the content I was designing was being done in an effort to provide managers with content to share. 

Full disclosure: I’m not a graphic designer by any means, but I just started tinkering around in easy-to-use platforms like PowerPoint and Canva. Some hiring managers were early adopters who really jumped right in and things quickly started to gain momentum. As a result of the hiring managers being more active on LinkedIn and sharing content—not just recruitment marketing content but general Paychex content as well—they began to see more candidates passively making their way into their pipeline. That made our recruiters’ jobs a bit easier because instead of fishing in a lake with 1,000 fishes—850 of whom are qualified but only 200 of whom are really what you’re looking for—they were able to call out the people that weren’t the right fit right out of the gate.

After we saw the ROI right from the beginning, we started to think, “What if we started to do some videos?” So me and another recruiter on my team started putting together these really garage-band-style videos with a MacBook. We did videos on recruiter tips, how to update your résumé, and what to do in an interview, things like that. 

All of these efforts sound like part of an employer branding role—but you said you were in recruiting? 

Well, what happened next is that me, my director at the time, and another manager on my team were at a conference in Boston and we kept hearing this phrase “recruitment marketing” or “employer branding.” Speakers were talking about activating employer brand content and the impact of recruitment marketing materials, and we just looked at each other and thought, “This is what we’ve been doing and it has a name! There are companies that have teams of people who are dedicated to this work.”

That’s when my director said, “We need to make this legit and a real job for you and get you away from the day-to-day recruiting.” Not only that, but they also got me out of only handling work for sales and into other divisions that we recruit for as well. And that’s how I came into the role.

Wow, you were doing employer branding before you even knew it was employer branding! So once your role was official and you started to work on other departments, did you find that you had to change your prior strategy in any way? 

Certainly there’s some degree of customization that comes along with how you market to different people. The type of content and messaging that we curate for our candidate audiences and the way it’s presented needs to be relevant to what they want. What’s important to a mid-level sales rep might be different than what’s important to an entry-level customer service call center rep. Taking it one step further, what’s important to an entry-level customer service call center rep might be different than what’s important to a seasoned, high-touch service provider, which we also recruit for. You have to identify what you have to offer the audience, what’s important to them, and then make them aware that they can find it here—authentically. It’s no different than a consumer brand marketing differently depending on the different demographics that they’re marketing to. 

The way that we deliver our content also shifted a little bit. Previously, we were only doing social media graphics and a few video clips here and there, but now we’re doing podcasts and more video content. We’ve also partnered with some additional vendors that are helping us amplify our content externally, so the way that we’re delivering the content is also evolving as time goes on.

What it sounds like you’re doing is creating candidate personas for each department. How did you go about understanding each persona? Did you have to do a lot of internal research? 

Yes, we had lots of conversations with frontline leaders and individuals who were successful in their roles and open to sharing their insights. We also looked at internal employees’ quarterly reviews as well as exit company reviews because that’s really valuable to us. If there are opportunities for us to have potentially delivered a better employee experience for that person or areas where we missed the mark, we really leverage that insight to improve.

A nice little takeaway I heard from one of the conferences I went to this year was that your employer brand should repel more than it attracts. If you think about it, your employer brand should be such a lucid understanding of what the employee and candidate experiences at your organization that you as the candidate should be able to look at it and either see yourself or not see yourself there. Having candidates be able to recognize whether or not they are a culture fit for your organization is a better situation than making yourself everything to everyone and then having it be an incongruous experience for them when they get here.

One of the benefits of social media is that it provides an opportunity to show candidates who you are before they apply. How is Paychex currently using social media as part of its employer branding strategy?

From the recruiting standpoint, the social channels that I manage are the Inside Paychex Instagram, the Facebook careers page, the Twitter careers page, and the Life section of our LinkedIn page. I think we have a lot of opportunity to increase our social presence, but right now we use social to show people what life is really like at Paychex in markets where we don’t have as much of a name brand presence or areas where we have a name brand presence but people might not know what it’s like to work here.

You have to identify what you have to offer the audience, what’s important to them, and then make them aware that they can find it here—authentically.

We want people to know that we go out and do fun activities together such as charity events or recruitment events and things like that. We also have so many great employee stories that are touching and impactful, and we want to use social media to amplify those messages so people know what an amazing team we have here and how we support each other whenever we need to. 

That’s great to hear. As you mentioned earlier, it sounds like your team collects a fair amount of data from employee feedback to exit surveys. What are the key metrics that you use to measure the success of employer branding?

We look at growth in followers and members of our talent network who’ve been pulled in—not just being added to the talent network by a recruiter, but someone who’s actually raising a hand and saying, “Yes, I’m interested in learning more.” We also look at the sources that they’re coming from, such as social media or branding. Depending on how they come in, they may get manually tagged or our ATS might tag them as coming in from a branding avenue.

A lot of it is also anecdotal. It’s hearing from candidates when they’re in the interview process that they chose to apply because of something that we put out. We do send out regular campaigns to our talent network and we check the open rates and click through rates for those, but a lot of that right now for us is benchmarking because it’s a new process for us so we don’t know what good looks like yet.

It’s always a mix of anecdotal evidence and data.

It doesn’t happen quickly either, that’s the other tricky thing. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Brené Brown, but she’s phenomenal. For a while, I would consistently see Brené Brown quotes or someone would say, “Oh yeah, when I read Daring Greatly, it said this and that.” Every time it would have an impact on me, but it took a while before I started following her myself on Instagram and reading Daring Greatly. In the same way, I’m not going to post one social media graphic as a recruiter and all of a sudden all my reqs are filled—it doesn’t happen that way.  

It also can’t be measured that way either, because you never know if a year from now a conversation with a recruiter or an infographic about interview tips or whatever it may be will suddenly make a candidate think back and say, “Wow that was really helpful. Where was that from? That was Paychex—let me go see if there’s something going on over at Paychex, they seem like a cool company.” It’s not that cut and dry, so being able to measure it is a little daunting.

That’s so true. Okay, so I’d like to end on a timely question: with all the rumblings out there about an impending recession, do you think employer branding will be just as important if say the market is no longer candidate-driven?

Yes. I would say potentially moreso. Right now, being a candidate-driven market, the employer brand content that you’re sharing is giving them their pick of the litter or, like I said earlier, it’s giving them an opportunity to self-select where they most see themselves aligning. When that wave shifts, which it will—it always does—and we go from one candidate looking for a job to a hundred candidates looking for a job, I want those hundred candidates looking at the employer brand at Paychex and saying, “Yes, I see myself there,” or, “No, I don’t.” Hopefully they say, “Yes, I see myself there” not just because they want a job, but because they truly feel like they are part of what we’re trying to do here, know that we’ll give them the freedom to succeed, and see that the culture and values here aligns with their culture and values. It becomes just as important on the other side of the coin.

Although the predominant goal of your employer brand is to attract talent, it isn’t the only goal. It’s also your way to properly illustrate what life at your company is like and that’s important no matter what the market is like.

Do you know a HR Innovator? If so, send in your nomination to Joanne Chu at, as we will be featuring employer brand trailblazers all year long!

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