This study examines strategy development in employer branding based on structuration theory, focusing on the interplay between employer branding structures and the (inter)actions of employer branding strategists. To analyse this interplay, this paper draws upon a series of strategy meetings in an employer branding project of a multinational construction company. This study adds to the current debate on employer branding by advancing the understanding of the structural embeddedness of strategizing in employer branding. Furthermore, the study proposes that strategy development shifts employer branding engagements into contested territory due to various and contradictory structures strategists need to deal with.
Employer brands have become an essential strategic concept in human resource (HR) management (e.g. App, Merk, & Büttgen, 2012; Backhaus & Tikoo, 2004; Edwards, 2010; Martin, Gollan, & Grigg, 2011) due to the current and expected labour market shortages of qualified employees (e.g. Dögl & Holtbrügge, 2014). One stream of employer branding research examines the effects of employer brands on current employees (e.g. Edwards & Edwards, 2013) and potential applicants (e.g. Auer, Edlinger, & Mölk, 2014). Another research stream concentrates on the management of employer brands, the ‘employer branding’ (e.g. Aggerholm, Andersen, & Thomsen, 2011; Elving, Westhoff, Meeusen, & Schoonderbeek, 2013; Foster, Punjaisri, & Cheng, 2010; Leekha Chhabra & Sharma, 2014; Moroko & Uncles, 2008). Related contemporary research examines the conceptualization and implementation of employer brands in organizations. This study contributes to the latter research stream, and further deepens the understanding of the management of employer brands. Specifically, I examine strategy development in employer branding, focusing on the interplay between employer branding structures and the (inter)actions of employer branding strategists. I define the structures of employer branding as sets of functional and organizational rules and resources, strategically generated by organizations (e.g. target audience, budget) or given by the context in which the organization is embedded (e.g. labour market conditions, social welfare system). Employer branding strategists are agents responsible for the development of employer branding strategies, mainly employer brand heads, HR and brand/marketing managers, executive board members, or external consultants. Besides individual actions on strategy, this involvement also comprises interactions in strategy meetings (e.g. discussions, negotiations) in different patterns and at various points in time. Existing empirical research on management practices in employer branding emphasizes the role of politics in employer brand management (Mölk & Auer, 2018), embeddedness of employer branding through organizational HR practices (Russell & Brannan, 2016), role and activities of employer brand managers (Edlinger, 2015), and employer branding as an HR strategy-in-action (Martin et al., 2011). Despite thorough research, we know little about strategy development in employer branding. This is because most studies—including those specialized on management practices in employer branding—assume employer branding strategies as a given. Thus, employer branding research largely neglects the impact of strategists’ (inter)actions, as well as the contextual embeddedness and organization of the strategy development in employer branding. Therefore, I suggest that the empirical studies of strategy development in employer branding can answer the following research question: how do employer branding strategies develop among strategists and what are the influences of employer branding structures on this process? Therefore, on one hand, this study looks at (inter)actions that strategists engage in to develop employer branding strategies. On the other hand, it considers the structural contexts in which strategizing in employer branding is embedded: the organizational, professional, and project environment.