How Virgin Group Defined a Global Employer Brand

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Virgin Atlantic. Virgin Mobile. Virgin Hotels. Virgin Trains. Virgin Active. The Virgin brand is used in many guises, but what about employer brand?

Amy Sawbridge was the Brand Director & Head of Employee Experience at Virgin Group, during her 10 years under the Virgin umbrella she was responsible for defining the global Virgin employer brand, building a collective of Virgin People experts, distilling the ‘essence’ of great Virgin leadership globally, transforming multiple regional, generic employee discount schemes into one strategic global branded platform and more.

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

Listen on Apple PodcastsStitcher RadioGoogle Play or SoundCloud.

What’s your definition of employee experience?

That’s a tough one. There is no one definition, but for me, it is all about the culture and environment that we create for our people at Virgin that is consistent of what the brand stands for, and ensuring that throughout our employee’s journey with us they are thriving.

Employee experience and employer brand are very closely aligned and actually, I get quite frustrated when people look at them in isolation. Understanding what your employer brand is, is essential to delivering and cultivating your employee experience.

What’s the culture at Virgin like?

Because Virgin Group has an interesting structure, one size definitely doesn’t fit all and we have some businesses that are startups and some that are 30 years old, operating in various sectors, but there is absolutely a ‘red thread’, common values and themes that stem throughout all of our different businesses.

We typically have an allergic reaction to formality and anything that is somewhat normal or structured. Some of our values are contradictory. For example, there’s a real sense of family at Virgin Group but there’s also a real sense of restlessness about us and we don’t like to get too comfortable.

How does Richard Branson influence your employer brand?

His influence is clearly evident throughout our culture and throughout the values, even the ways that our leaders lead their teams. They take inspiration from his ethos and philosophy of how to lead.

Why does Virgin need an employer brand with such a strong overall brand?

Often when a brand is very well known, it can actually be a double-edged sword because it means that people have a lot of assumptions about what type of work is being offered at the company. Virgin has presented itself as a very fun place to work and Richard Branson has a very visible public persona that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. But the reality is that we work very hard.

So we defined our employer brand to be much more consistent and to be much more proactive in how we present ourselves externally. And to ensure that this is aligned with all of the other brand experiences and representations.

Tell us about your famous employee discount scheme.

Virgin Tribe has been around for quite a while, but about 4 or 5 years ago we realized it wasn’t fit for purpose anymore and it didn’t feel like a brand asset. So we re-imagined it and re-built it and now it’s much more than just employee discounts, but also about engaging our global community of businesses and how we help them connect and communicate with each other, and feel part of something unique that only being part of the Virgin network can offer to you.

What were the hard lessons you learned along the way?

  • In a lot of occasions, people didn’t understand employer branding. So we have to continue to help people understand what it means and how to differentiate EVP, employer brand, and employee experience.
  • The other thing that’s not necessarily a lesson, but something that is reinforced but it’s that every single person has an impact on your employer brand and we have to understand the role that they play in order to bring your employer brand.
  • After we landed on the final version of our people promise, and I spent a lot of time talking to higher level executives, I was very underwhelmed by their response and they didn’t show much excitement but only “yeah that feel’s right”. It might not be the one I wanted but at the end of the day they were on-board, and that’s all I can ask for.

How do you measure your employer brand?

There a number of questions that we ask in our employee surveys that enable us to measure our employer brand such as:

  • Are we creating more effective talent pipelines?
  • Are we reducing employee turnover?
  • Are we getting more positive reputation rating?

So there a number of hard measures that we are tracking, alongside the reporting from our people in terms of how well they feel we are delivering on the promise we make.

What arere your top tips for employer brand managers?

Don’t try to retrofit your employer brand to any of the other values or missions already within the business. Because it’s an opportunity for you to define your people promise and understand what is really going on.

Being aware of the complexity of the brand exosystem that’s in place. Understand how all of these things sit together and making sure you can get a clear and clean articulation of all of that. Otherwise, it will just serve to confuse people even more.

Connect with Amy 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

COVID-19’s Impact on Employer Brand

What we do here at Link Humans is helping our clients understand how they’re viewed by talent online, so they can improve their employer brand. Our approach is The Employer Brand Index and there are a host of use cases...

How Coronavirus Responses Define Employer Brands

People are going to remember what your company did during the Coronavirus epidemic. John Elkington's triple bottom line model of "People, Planet & Profit" could not be more true today. Now is not the time to focus on profit, and...

EVP Pillars in a Time of Crisis

A pandemic, or any crisis, will be an acid test for your corporate furniture such as purpose, values, principles, behaviors, etc. In the employer brand world, we have to ensure our EVP is robust and is delivering what it promises,...