culligan afr  091105  photo by louise kennerley  andrea culligan unimail has just won telstra business woman of the year award for afr education story by rachel lebihan SPECIAL 00116726

Brand builder: The Unimail Group chief executive Andrea Culligan. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Finding ways to attract and retain top talent is emerging as a key concern for many businesses in the face of an ongoing shortage.

This is why so many are turning to employer branding, which is giving them the edge needed to win the best in the market.

A recent survey by social media platform LinkedIn found that 70 per cent of companies rank employer branding as one of their biggest priorities in 2013.

Steve Barham, senior director, LinkedIn talent solutions says employer branding is the key to improving staff retention rates.

''The ability to better understand how your company is perceived among key professional audiences empowers you to take steps to better engage the professionals you most want to hire,'' Mr Barham says.

It's hardly surprising given what employer branding can achieve for a business. According to research by the Corporate Leadership Council a few years ago, successful employer brands access up to 20 per cent more of the talent market, enjoy a 30 per cent increase in productivity, can reduce new hire compensation premiums by up to 50 per cent and reduce staff turnover probability by up to 87 per cent.

Aside from this, a successful employer branding strategy can add profits to the bottom line and save on recruitment and advertising costs.

Employer branding refers to building brands that people want to work for, Andrea Culligan, chief executive of Sydney employer communications firm The Unimail Group says. Organisations with effective employer branding propositions are better equipped to source some of the more difficult pools of talent in the market, she says.

''Unlike general consumer branding, which brands a product or service, employer branding is about the employee experience,'' she says.

''Just like having a unique value proposition for a product, a unique employer value proposition adds clarity to how you position yourself, what type of people you hire and how you engage them in your business.'' Inquiries from businesses wanting to learn more about employer branding are growing each year, she says. ''Organisations are looking to define themselves in the war for talent as they're finding it difficult to recruit and retain players without a strong brand,'' Ms Culligan says. ''As a business, you want to make sure you're finding people that all want to play in the same sandbox. Employer branding makes that very possible and much easier to achieve.''

Melbourne online retailer CatchOfTheDay made a conscious decision to implement some employer branding techniques, putting several initiatives in place to attract and retain its 600-strong workforce.

Given workers are mostly Gen Y, tactics have ranged from encouraging casual dress, creating hammocks and chill-out zones around the office, adding a basketball and tennis court for employees, a gym, barbecue areas, free pizza and drinks for those working late and fun work excursions.

Founder Gabby Leibovich says employees can simply go and relax for a while if the creative juices aren't flowing. ''We want to provide a work environment that feels like a home away from home.''

Recent research by RedBalloon suggests that top performing organisations spend between $1000 and $3000 on engagement activities per employee each year to communicate the employer brand in the workplace. ''When you consider that a disengaged employee can cost as much as $50,000 in lost profit through their negativity it's a pretty sensible investment,'' RedBalloon corporate engagement specialist James Wright says.