How Citizens Bank Invests in Employer Brand

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Talent attraction for banks can be difficult and competitive, therefore you need to very creative within your employer branding approach in order to attract the very best talent out there.

So we sit down with Debbie Celado, the Employer Branding Leader, VP at Citizens Bank to understand the strategies she has put in place to take the company’s employer value proposition and employer branding efforts to a new level.

Have a listen to the interview below, keep reading for a summary and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

Listen on iTunesStitcher RadioGoogle Play or SoundCloud.

What’s Citizens Bank and what’s the company culture like?

  • Citizens Bank is considered a regional bank and we are the 13th largest bank in the United States. We’re primarily on the eastern side of the U.S. in 11 states. We have 17,000 employees. We hire around 7,000 people a year. We are very well known for our work in the community and giving back. That’s a really big part of our attraction strategy for candidates.
  • We have a number of divisions within the bank. We have the retail side, so you think about your traditional branches where you go in and bank. We have the corporate side, we have commercial.
  • We certainly have a vast array of cultures I think that exist within our organization. But if you think about us, as a whole, who are we and what does it feel like to work for Citizens? I would say, collaboration across business lines with peers, with leaders. It’s certainly something that stands out.

What talent challenges are you faced with?

  • We have the retail division. You think about the roles there as for more in volume recruitment, you’re hiring a lot of tellers, a lot of personal bankers, licensed relationship bankers. So you’re working in that space and it’s really the volume, but getting those quality candidates who are really focused on building relationships with our customers and really making a difference. We’re really focused not only on the volume but getting those quality people in the door because that’s the most critical asset we have is our colleagues who interact with our customers.
  • Then we have specialty sales roles such as mortgage loan officers, you have business banking, you have commercial banking. You’re trying to find people with this, the unique skills side. You’ve got to go out and hunt and find those people and attract them to our organizations. When you think of employer brand on that side, it’s a very different strategy than it is on the volume retail side.

What’s the strategy behind your employer brand?

  • If we look back three years when I first joined the bank, it was really when we started on this journey in building out our employer brand function to where it is today. We looked at all the channels you traditionally use for marketing and worked collaboratively with our marketing teams to really build that on the employer brand side. So it starts with understanding our EVP and understanding what are the things people want in an employer and what does Citizens offer, what makes us different, what makes us unique? Then building an activation strategy to really get that message out there through a variety of channels. So, that was sort of a big piece where we started.
  • Now, I think looking forward three years we have a really great website. We have great storytelling, content on our career site, we have a strong media strategy, we have a very well developed talent community. Social media is really starting to pick up and get there for us. So, it’s really activating through your traditional marketing channels to really get that brand out there in the marketplace.

What is your EVP?

  • What it boils down to are four pillars and a positioning statement. Our positioning statement is “Maximize Your Impact”. I think that speaks to where we were and where we are now as a bank. We were going through an IPO, we were changing, we were becoming a standalone regional bank. As a colleague, you come here and you can really do some amazing things. I think about myself and the fact that I was able to build, with my team, an entire employer-brand function in a year. Across the organization, other people have had similar experiences.
  • Our first pillar is put your ideas into action. It really talks about the fact that your voice is heard, your ideas are considered, you have access to leadership to share these ideas. We’ve really put this into place and we’ve seen some really great things come from our colleagues to really make the bank an even better place to do business in our community.
  • Accelerate your potential, again, talks to where we are as an organization that you can start in the retail bank for example, and work your way up. If you start as a teller, maybe over the course of time, you get promoted into a license relationship banker. Maybe you want to be a branch manager, maybe one day you want to go into the good side and be a financial consultant. But it really talks to that opportunity to build a career within our organization.
  • Stronger together. Thi talks about that teamwork and that culture of collaboration that really makes up who we are.
  • Then drive forward with confidence. Citizens is actually a strong brand and it has a lot of history dating back to the late 1800s. So you have this legacy that really cements who we are as an organization and though we’re going through these changes and going through the IPO, and now a standalone regional bank, well on our way to success, you have that as your foundation.

Let’s get into how you communicate and activate this EVP.

  • The first thing that we did was a campaign, and we’re sort of looking at the creative aspects of messaging, the brand tone and voice. That was the first step in activation. We came up with three concepts. We actually sent those concepts out to several thousand employees, to get their feedback and 1,800 responded with their opinions on the campaigns. We really wanted it to speak from their voice. So we selected a campaign based on that and socializing through the organization with marketing and media relations partners, and HR, and strategic columns.
  • We did a lot of socializing to really get that creative in a good space. That creative really was activated in the career site that we redesigned and launched. We redid all of our marketing collateral, we wrote all the copy on our career site, and our marketing pieces. Then I think once we launched into content and storytelling, understanding how do we get these messages from our colleagues? That underscores those pillars, social media, again, weaving into all of our messaging those four pillars.
  • Then internal alignment with our strategic comms team. They were using a lot of that same language on our intranet and the pieces they were writing from our leadership. So those were some of the core ways that we activated. I think we’ve had some pretty good success with that.

Any initiatives that you’re particularly proud of?

  • The success we had in our first year was pivotal in where we are today. When I started, my role was really to rebuild this function from the ground up. Literally, starting with no files. I was new, my boss was new. You were really trying to figure out who are our key stakeholders? In the course of my first year, we had this very ambitious roadmap from researching, doing focus groups, executive interviews, nailing down our EVP. We moved from one technology to our career site to another technology. We redesigned, rewrote our entire career site, we launched into social content and storytelling, we launched an employee-referral program, internal communications for that, our Glassdoor communication, internally.
  • The experience that I was able to gain from that I think that’s a lot to do in the course of one year. We worked so hard, and we worked so collaboratively with so many teams and we just got it done. I think where we are today is due, largely in part, to the work we did up front.

What hard lessons can you share with us?

  • Something I think I’ve learned just in doing this two companies now is just understanding who are the key players. Having someone in a senior leadership position who can champion the work that you’re doing. It can help bring those stakeholders to the table. If people are apprehensive and working across silos, having that senior leader that sort of bringing people together so it opens the doors to collaboration. I think the earlier you can identify those players and bring them to the table and show that you value their opinion and that you want to work collaboratively to be successful.
  • Within marketing, you might have your brand team, you might have your creative team, your social media partners. So for us, those are critical. We have a great relationship with our strategic comms partners, we have very big community effort. So we work closely with our public affairs team, media relations, and then our HR partners like our HR business partners. Then, ultimately, our head of HR is a huge champion for us.

How do measure ROI on employer brand?

  • On the employer brand side, we might look at things like our Glassdoor score or our Indeed score. Within that, would you recommend us to our friends? We have surveys that go out to new hires, so there’s data from that side.
  • On the recruiting marketing side, I think it’s a bit easier to measure. So when we look at our media metrics, we look at time to hire ratios, the cost of hire, cost perhaps, the source of hire, what was the path to apply and what other media are influencing the candidate? Then we have our SEO, we have all of our website analytics, we have our social media we look at engagement rates and click-through rates. Then email marketing, we have all the data on that side.
  • Another thing that we’re working on is really understanding the quality of hire by source. we’re trying to match up our media data, our double click tag data to either performance data or assessment scores over time. I think that’s something that’s certainly a work in progress for us.

What are your top 3 tips for employer brand managers?

  1. When you’re starting out, try to create a strategy and a vision of where you’re going: What are your goals, how are you going to achieve them, and then drawing out a roadmap. Having a game plan and timelines and doing your very best to stay the course because you will certainly have roadblocks, you will certainly have bumps in the road, have a lot of challenges. But I think if you can really stick to your vision, work to your timelines, leverage your champions. You can have great success if you stay the course.
  2. Finding a champion for your work who is influential in your organization. I would say the two companies I’ve worked for, we’ve had very senior leaders who were supporting our efforts and really able to help us make that, whether it was the business case or bring key leaders to the table. I think having that champion who’s influential is key.
  3. Different people are going have different opinions. I would say you really need to have some form of a budget to do this work. I know people have done it for very little. Some people have done it on no budget. But for the work I’ve done, you certainly needed to have some form of a budget and understanding what the costs are, being realistic about it, doing your research, and then putting together a business case to really advocate for those dollars. I did this on healthcare and certainly, there are challenges in nonprofit to get a budget. But I think, ultimately, if you can prove the need and success stories, whether it’s people in your same industry using data to really build a case to get those dollars. I think that’s really critical.

What employers out there inspire you?

  • I would say I’ve had some really great interactions with Zappos. I was that Inbound not too long ago and listening to Lane Sutton. He pointed out Zappos and their candidate experience and what they look for in talent. I tweeted them and they tweeted me right back. Just a fun dialogue and I think they create that really great, “wow,” experience whether you’re a customer or you’re just someone who’s tweeted at them.
  • I’m a big fan of Starbucks. Their social responsibility, how they talk about their partners in the restaurants, you go into Starbucks, they have right up on the counter who’s their star of the week, here’s why they’re the star of the week. It’s a meaningful recognition. I think they really do a lot for the people who work for them and I just think they have a really positive message and create a really positive brand experience.

What’s up next for employer brand at Citizens Bank?

  • Next year, we are going to revisit our EVP. Being a couple years out now, I think we, as an organization, have shifted and there have been some really great changes, I think, to our culture. We want to recognize that in our EVP.
  • Another really cool thing I’m excited about is empathy mapping. You build your candidate persona, you map out their candidate journey, and then you identify the emotions that this person feels along the path, and then you create your communications to align with that.
  • We are in the process of building an internal career site. We really want to focus on our colleague candidate experience. We have a really great external-facing website, really great search functionality, great content, and we want to bring that to our colleagues. They are a top source of hire for us and we want to mirror that experience.
  • Then I would say, we’re in banking and we’re probably a little bit further behind than some in the social space. I think we have a really great plan in place, we have great partners on our social media team with the bank. I’m really excited to see how we grow and expand in the social space next year.

Connect with Debbie on LinkedIn.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


Play Video

Recent Articles

The Impact of Remote Work on Employer Brand

Recognizing the importance of a strong employer brand in attracting and retaining talent (Bali & Dixit, 2016), Link Humans has for several years provided its clients insight into how their employer brand is perceived via its Employer Brand Index (EBI)....

How Thermo Fisher Scientific Measures the Impact of Employer Branding

Many of the employer branding professionals we speak to on the Employer Branding Podcast are chasing the same thing: how do you measure the impact of employer branding? That’s why I was so excited to sit down with Kenty Brumant,...

Why Activision Blizzard Manages 3 Employer Brands with 3 EVPs

As you can imagine, we talk about EVPs a lot on the Employer Branding Podcast. It’s a distillation of what makes your organization a good fit for potential hires. A shorthand way of saying, “these are my people.” But what...