November 1, 2015 BestCompaniesAZ

Skipping Black Friday – An Employer Brand in the Spotlight

The power of employer branding is on center stage as outdoor retailer REI uses its employer brand to disrupt a whole industry.

Retail, and our consumer centric culture, is reeling from the announcement that REI will close on Black Friday and give its 12,000 employees a day off with pay instead, to promote their innovative #OptOutside campaign. Is the CEO nuts, or is REI rolling out a brilliant strategy?

Employer branding has recently become a priority in companies, thanks largely to digital natives. For millennials, there is no mystery about brands. Unfiltered experiences with organizations are splashed across social media. The relentless spotlight on both product experiences and work environments means that branding now involves an authentic, consistent experience across the board. Thus, employees have become a huge component of branding. The concept of employees as brand ambassadors, once a rosy ideal, is now a reality.

In the past, employer brand and its accompanying culture were often considered “nice to have” frills that could be ramped up or eliminated according to the business climate. Certainly skipping Black Friday to accommodate employees wasn’t on the table. In a counterintuitive way, REI’s decision makes perfect sense in a world where shoppers extend the purchasing season all the way back to the first of November, and companies have experienced a backlash for opening on Thanksgiving.

REI’s #OptOutside campaign is built with both customers and employees in mind, guiding employees and customers alike into the healthy outdoors and away from the crowded competitors’ stores. It brings together all elements of their brand. “It’s an act where we’re really making a very clear statement about a set of values”, said REI President and CEO Jerry Stritzke.

Strong culture is not new at REI. They are one of 12 companies that have been on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For since the first list in 1998, they are ranked #58 this year. Other organizations that have put their money where their motto is include Charles Schwab and Vanguard, who each offer a full work day of volunteer time off. Charles Schwab also matches employee charitable donations up to $1000, while Vanguard builds relationships with nonprofit partners by organizing team volunteer days.

REI’s employee-centered Black Friday decision gained extreme publicity. Before the #OptOutside splash, however, REI had made a name for themselves as a great place to work. If you think your organization is a great place to work and you’d like others to know it, start like REI did – competing on a credible workplace award list. The Top Companies to Work For in Arizona program is open for nominations right now. You may not break the internet yet, but you’ll be on your way.

About the Author
Lee Vikre – Hiring Jedi
A workplace culture maven, writer, and speaker, Lee Vikre has helped numerous companies develop “best company” cultures, gaining recognition at the local and national level. Lee has been called the Jedi Master of hiring because of her exceptional recruiting abilities and friendships with people who love Star Wars. Her favorite activities involve matching people with their dream jobs at award-winning best companies. Lee coaches CEOs but still hasn’t been able to train her three dogs not to bark during conference calls.