“Look, I know you’re not following what I’m saying anyway, right? That’s OK. That doesn’t matter. The real question is this: was all this legal? Absolutely f****** not, but we were making more money than we knew what to do with.”
Image credit: Paramount Pictures.
Leonardo DiCaprio tells the viewer as he strides confidently through the office, clad in the 1980’s sartorial cliché of a wide pinstripe suit. A walking commercial for Brylcreem set against the backdrop of late 80’s excess in the finance world. It’s an iconic passage of dialogue from Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street but – I can already see your brows furrowing – what on earth has The Wolf of Wall Street got to do with employer branding? Well, everything, actually. This scene is a masterclass from Scorsese in how storytelling can be used to build trust with your candidates.
Allow me to explain. Scorsese is famous for employing the fourth wall break, which occurs when an actor or performer acknowledges the audience’s presence. Think Rob Gordon asking the audience what came first, the music or the misery in Stephen Frears’ High Fidelity or Frank Underwood sharing his truths in House of Cards. Why is it important? Well, that’s what I’m here to talk about. Wolf of Wall Street protagonist Jordan Belfort is undoubtedly an obnoxious master manipulator, but Scorsese knew that there was a risk audiences in 2013 would see the film as a poorly judged hedonistic celebration of his immorality, especially with the banking disaster of 2008 still keenly ringing in their ears. Aware of this risk, the Oscar-winning director uses frequent fourth wall breaks to obliterate any ambiguity around the profound immorality on display in the film. Scorsese knows the message he wants to convey – and he employs fourth wall break storytelling to ensure his audience hear that message loud and clear – and that’s where the lesson is for anyone working on their EVP marketing strategy right now.
Martin Scorsese built Jordan Belfort’s character to epitomise the horrific excess of the finance world in the 80’s and early 90’s. Employers can use this skill to cement their employer brand. Whilst I’m not suggesting that you go in hunt of the Jordan Belfort in your business, I am suggesting that there is someone – or better still – some people in your business right now who can do a far greater job of connecting with candidates than any C-Suite exec ever could. Just as breaking the fourth wall used to be seen as a cheap trick – using employees to create content was a no-go area tied up in horrified looks from both HR and the C-Suite – now it’s a power play for brands who know their candidates trust authenticity. Who wants a scripted message from the stiff collared CEO when they could hear from the guy they’re going to sit next to in the canteen every lunch time?
We’ve long extolled the virtues of user generated content – well, I’m calling in the era of EGC – employee generated content. In 2024, the average employee is living on social media every day. They’re savvy to trends, cultural shifts and community engagement. Succeed in matching that with love and enthusiasm for your employer brand and that’s where the magic happens. We’re already seeing the crossover from employee to influencer with people like Mohammad Taher who worked at Heathrow as an Aerodrome Systems Specialist and has grown a community of over 500,000 people as The Airport Guy. Just ask the 53% of current engineering apprentices at Heathrow who found their role via his social channels. The best businesses understand the power of employee brands – just look at Peloton and the way they empower each of their online coaches to build relationships with their customers by developing their own personal brand.
Looking at broader socioeconomic factors, establishing trust with candidates will be a key performance metric for employers in 2024 – but don’t just take my word for it. In Edelman’s 2024 Global Trust Barometer report, 61% of respondents said they felt business leaders purposely try to mislead people by saying things they know are false or are gross exaggerations. That’s a big problem for employer brand teams but the answer is already in your office. In 2024, recruitment marketing teams need to step away from the boardman and into the staff room, and ask their teams:
‘Who is the most popular person in our office?’
‘Who has a side hustle in social media content creation?’
‘Who has generated the most employee referrals?’
And here’s an even bigger takeaway. To outthink your competitors: let them lead the way on content creation. Put down the script and the corporate comms strategy, encourage them to bring their ideas to life – and reap the rewards of building trust with your candidates through authentic first-person storytelling.
As Scorsese once said ‘your job is to get your audience to care about your obsessions’.