From a potential client checking online reviews of your company to a job applicant checking with his or her network before sending a résumé, you can safely assume anyone engaging with a staffing firm today can — and will — check out that firm’s reputation before making any commitment.

This means cultivating a strong staffing brand — and managing that brand online and off — is critical to your success as a firm. The first step in brand management is finding out what employees and clients think of your firm, though it is not always easy to get an accurate picture. Even more challenging is to manage the brand so that your firm’s reputation reflects the values you want to project to clients and workers.

Monster, the global leader in connecting jobs and people, has been actively working with many large employers and staffing firms to help connect these dots. We spoke with Tim Robbins, Monster’s vice president of staffing sales, to gain some insights into how staffing firms can identify, develop and maintain a strong, positive brand.

Q: How important is having a staffing brand?

A: Incredibly important. Brand is about reputation in the marketplace, from the perspective of both potential employees and potential customers. For example, no longer do job seekers just come to Monster and decide whether they want to work for a particular company or not. They’ll go online and do some research, for example via Monster’s partner, employee reviews site kununu. It’s no longer, “I see this job, I can do this job, I’m going to apply.” It’s: “I’m going to do some research and make a decision.”

The results of that research are important: Data suggests that when an applicant hears negative news about a company or sees poor reviews of what it’s like to work there, the candidate very likely won’t apply. So it’s crucial to have a brand that clearly conveys your company’s core values, the services you offer and the experience you deliver.

Q: To whom should the brand speak?

A: Branding is a broad topic that touches a lot of bases. You need to create a positive perception first for potential customers — they’ll put their money behind a good reputation. In addition, you need to be viewed positively by the people you are trying to recruit to fill clients’ openings. If you’re turning away good candidates because of what they’ve heard about you, you’re doing your paying customers a disservice. Those candidates are your assets to sell to customers. Finally, you want to make sure you’re conveying the brand values for the staffing firm’s own employees and candidates.

Q: What is the value of having a well-executed brand?

A: Your employer and customer brand supports the three Rs: recruiting, retention and referrals. More than 50% of candidates used reviews to assess a job. [Based on a Monster post-apply survey of approximately 85,000 candidates from April 2016 through June 2017.] Candidates are using sources like kununu and looking at everything from pay to senior management ratings to culture. Companies that have a strong brand (and manage that brand) benefit from improved candidate engagement — they get more applications and higher levels of interest.

Even though staffing firms are recruiting people to work for other companies — their clients — the reputation of the staffing firm is critical. A significant majority of job ads do not advertise who the client is, so the job seeker is not going to be able to research the client. Instead, they will try to find out the reputation of the staffing firm. They’re looking for the experience of others who have temped for those companies, with regard to onboarding experience and on-time payment. Many of these are professional jobs, in IT or healthcare, for example, and people are managing their careers through those agencies. Will they take another assignment? Will they refer a friend? Answers to questions like these are critical to the health and growth of the business. And the better the brand management, the higher the chances of getting potential candidates to fill those jobs.

Q: Should the brand message be the same for candidates and clients?

A: We think the core attributes of the brand should be consistent. You should be able to encapsulate it in an elevator pitch. Then you can modify it for each target group within your audience. Know what’s top-of-mind and what phrases they generally search on. Then develop materials, both online and offline, in a format they prefer: for clients, downloadable white papers or handouts for events; for employees, videos and learning modules.

Q: What is the relationship between a staffing firm’s brand and that of its client?

A: As a staffing professional, you’ll want to have a handle on the client’s brand and how to best convey it. For example, in an interview with a candidate, you might ask: How do you feel about working in a place where everyone’s voice is heard? Can you see yourself being a mentor to others? The goal is to signal to the employee the strengths of the client’s brand. This is also important for helping get your clients the best cultural fits. The development of this relationship takes many forms. Staffing firms can help customers write effective job ads that reinforce their brand, for example. Recruiters are brand ambassadors both for their employers and for their clients. And in a perfect world, the employees placed by a staffing firm become brand ambassadors for both the client and the staffing firm as well.

Q: Where should a staffing company begin when formulating its brand?

A: It starts with asking a lot of questions: Gather feedback from clients, employees, recruiters and salespeople. Put aside any preconceived notions that you already have around the brand. Work from a clean slate. Ask things like: What is it like to work at the company? What does the company mean to employees? This will help you enhance the brand both from a customer standpoint and internally.

There’s a second reason to ask these questions: You may learn about areas where the business could be improved. Successful companies work hard at developing their people and are constantly on that journey of getting better. For example, if there’s a perception by senior management that the company is great at listening to its employees, but employees say they’re not feeling heard, that’s the time to pause and find ways to improve on that. You’ve got not only a brand issue, but a talent retention issue.

Another approach is to use a customer advisory board. When putting together a panel like this, it’s important to include a cross-section of customers that you can trust to provide honest feedback, not just the ones you know love you. You can do the same thing internally. For example, at Monster we have a sales advisory board from whom we can solicit honest feedback and advice.

Additionally, you want to take a measure of control over your online brand. Start with the material you put out about yourself — Monster’s employer branding solutions include branded job templates that help you showcase your company’s values and profile, through which you can tell candidates more about what you stand for.

Q: Should your brand’s positioning align with the services you offer?

A: Absolutely. We think alignment is key. A brand is a reflection of your staffing company’s actual offerings. Your staffing brand should be demonstrated in the resources you provide to customers and include your value proposition for them and for candidates. Don’t try to overpromise with your brand — because that can come back to bite you — but showcase your truly best attributes.

Q: Do you have any recommendations on managing online reviews?

A: It begins with deciding who in the organization is responsible for monitoring online reviews. Companies that are very sensitive to their brand assign someone to monitor online commentary. Even if you don’t make this a formal role, make sure you decide who is going to respond to the reviews. Clarify the triggers that should prompt a response — at a minimum, respond to incorrect information. We recommend avoiding back-and-forth exchanges that can become inflammatory. Keep it cordial.