How Merck Trusts Employees to Activate the Employer Brand

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

What’s the best source of talent attraction at your company? Chances are it’s your own employees. This week, we’re speaking to a pharma giant has a strong human focus in its employer brand activation.

John Graham Jr. is the Global Talent Acquisition Social & Digital Strategy Lead at Merck. In this episode, he shares his journey with the company, the culture inside the organization, the EVP used in all employer communications. We also learn why John believes personal branding is so important for employer branding, where he thinks employer branding is heading in the future and what tech stack he uses on a daily basis.

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

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Describe the culture at Merck

  • The unique and consistent thing about the company it has an extreme culture of inventiveness.
  • The purpose of the organization is to discover products that save and improve lives around the world.

What about the talent challenges you face at the company?

  • In the pharma industry were competing for a very limited talent pool, from oncology talent to digital talent. Were all fighting in a war for talent, but also in a war for attention.
  • If your in the sciences and your aware of most of the major pharma companies then our name rings bells to you. But it’s the areas outside of pharma that we struggle because that talent is not familiar without legacy. Which is why I came into the company, to raise awareness of our employer brand and hiring talent outside of our norm.

Whats your employer brand strategy?

  • We started gathering data and formulating our strategy in 2016. We spent a lot of time understanding what ‘best-in-class’ looked like from a consumer point of view. We leveraged a lot of data from brands outside of pharma, developing our EVP through things like internal surveys, and we worked with external agencies and recruitment marketing partners to develop an EVP that is authentic to Merck.
  • Our employer brand strategy is enterprise-wide, and the work I do supports over 92 countries now.

What’s your EVP tagline and pillars?

Invent. Impact. Inspire. A continuous cycle of invention, making an impact and using that to inspire internally and externally.

We do have 4 pillars:

  1. Exceptional reputation and image in the biopharmaceutical space.
  2. A culture of applied inquiry, which speaks to our culture.
  3. Work that changes things. Really having a genuine connection with the work you do.
  4. A disciplined fearlessness. We need boldness because of the impact we have on people.

What’s unique about your EVP and how do you activate it?

Our concept of inspiration. With 68,000 employees worldwide, each employee carries a significant story. This drives our content, the work we do, how we treat patients, how we leverage our products and more.

We’re active on all socials, we have several series of content that promotes thought leadership and everyday experiences of our employees. We a strong focus on user-generated content, because we realize that people don’t respond to the polished-type of content that you usually see. People connect with people, and the content we provide reflects that reality. Everything from live events to spotlight series of employees that enable our employee base to share and express their culture. We are very much employee-centered. Our employees are the best source of hire for us.

We do extensive training on personal branding as a means of supporting our employer brand strategy. So when you talk about employees being the best source of recruitment marketing, it’s on us to help them improve their capability on social media. For example, on LinkedIn, we help employees understand how to upgrade and update their profiles to help them stand out.

What hard lessons can you share with us?

  • You can’t know everything. When you activate a global strategy, you are never going to know everything up front. There is a lot of discovery, especially in terms of what works culturally. So be ready for that!

What’s your tech stack?

  • My phone for starters!
  • CRM tools, Social Studio, Sprout Social and more.
  • Our internal network is Microsoft’s Yammer which I highly recommend for crowdsourcing talent and content.

Give us your top 3 tips for employer brand managers out there!

  1. Be very very friendly. Have a good relationship with your legal department and define what is in and out of scope in terms of your content.
  2. Know your audience. And tailor your content accordingly.
  3. Leverage your global perspectives. There is so much value to understanding all your local markets that could affect how you do things globally.

Where is employer branding heading?

  • AI is coming. But I’m a huge proponent of human-to-human connections and organic experiences.
  • Companies will become more and transparent in sharing their work culture and their day-to-day.

Connect with John on LinkedIn.


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