Debbie Tuel, Symphony Talent’s Chief Joy Officer, teamed up with Sid Levy, VP of Talent Acquisition and Associate Engagement at Extended Stay America, for a candid conversation on leveraging recruitment marketing technology to hire at volume during today’s talent landscape.
Before the tech comes into play, organizations must build a strong foundation. Employer brands need to deliver an inspiring and believable message to the candidate. Organizations can then use recruitment marketing technology to efficiently allocate resources and prioritize media spending to have the greatest impact. Organizations should also adapt their messaging to reflect what is happening globally, reflecting on what they've learned, especially in the last 18 months.
For example, as the pandemic took hold across the country, Extended Stay kept employee safety top priority. They immediately introduced new safety protocols in all their hotels, as well as a new internal mantra, “Stay Strong.” Equally important was their push to help hiring managers understand that candidates without hospitality experience — but easily transferable skills — could be a rich source of fully engaged talent. Plus, if candidates understand that they can grow their careers in the hotel industry, their #journeyofyes is off to a fantastic start.
Debbie: [00:00:00] Hi and welcome to The JOY Podcast, where we get to shine a light on how global organizations are getting people back to work faster and with an exceptional experience. My name is Debbie Tuel, Chief Joy Officer at Symphony Talent, a global technology company that is leading this industry wide movement in partnership with our customers, partners, industry leaders alike. And it's a project that we're calling The Joy Pipeline. And we are so glad that you're joining us today on this #journeyofyes. If this is your first time joining us, this mission in this podcast is to help recruiting teams bring the joy back to the recruiting experience and empower them to create exceptional experiences that both the candidates and the recruiters need. Now, thank you to everyone who is joining us live today in New York. And for those of you that are tuning in, virtually. If you're listening later to this podcast and you haven't joined one of our virtual roadshows yet, I highly recommend and encourage you to visit thejoypipeline.com and register for our next show. Now, let's go ahead and jump into today's episode. I am thrilled and overjoyed to be joined today by Sid Levy, VP of Talent Acquisition and Associate Engagement at Extended Stay. And we're going to be discussing what we need to do with the TA and recruitment marketing tech stack to build true joy. Welcome Sid. How are you doing today?
Sid: [00:01:30] Great, Debbie. Thank you for inviting me.
Debbie: [00:01:33] Absolutely. We are excited for this conversation and I am really wowed and impressed by your background. You know, as I took a look and prepared for the conversation today, you really come from marketing really well known, global brands, Nabisco, Colgate-Palmolive, New Jersey Nets and the NFL. How did you make the pivot in your career to talent acquisition?
Sid: [00:01:58] Well, thank you for that. Yeah, I had my dream jobs pretty young. I'm classically trained in marketing. My MBA is from University of Michigan. And out of that, I did have some great opportunities to work in CPG and where I was classically trained on the four Ps of marketing and everything in that space. And I realized after doing that for awhile was what else I could do to make an impact on other people in the community, other people and my co-workers and associates. And I started doing more volunteering and doing things in the community. And from that I started doing more nonprofit space and managing foundations. I shifted my career at that point about 15 years ago to be more in the HR space, but on the nonprofit foundation side. So as I was there, I realized where my skills were able to help in other areas of HR so that is how it all started. It started for me, being a director of community relations for a brand marketing company in Charlotte called Snyder's Lance. And then from that I saw opportunities to grow in HRspace. So that's how it all worked out.
Debbie: [00:03:22] And I've got to imagine that that rich background really influences the way that you approach talent acquisition. Share with our listeners some of those foundational things that you learned that you're able to apply on talent acquisition.
Sid: [00:03:36] So what I realized with my understanding of marketing and understanding of consumers, I shifted that thinking to understand what that means for employees, employers. And for employers. When you think about consumers and new products, it’s trial and repeat. And you think about employees it’s more about considering to work for a company and being engaged and being retained. And once I realized that was the connection point in my marketing was not to get people to buy something, it was getting people to agree to to grow and develop and work for an entity that felt that that was going to be a great place for them to work. So that is the connection point for me and talent acquisition. And it all started with foundational things like making sure our employee brand communicated a great message that resonated with potential people that were interested in working for us, making sure we communicated the things that target audience for our roles wanted to hear about, like wellness plans, benefits, competitive pay, making sure they understood about other encasement tools that we do to make sure that people are developed and engaged and grow with the company so that those things really helped me understand how to reach them correctly.
Sid: [00:05:26] And then there's another big piece of that is how are we advertising our roles and how we attract people to apply? And there's so many new tools out there. And Dotcom, obviously, with all these job boards, we also have the ability, because of my understanding of marketing, I've been able to work with our marketing team to leverage our social media assets to make sure we're cross promoting opportunities that work for us, opportunity to grow with us and all of our social media platforms. And that is how I initially connected with Symphony Talent is making sure we were effectively spending the right money to reach our target audience or using programmatic media buying. That was a big plus for us because it's very expensive to promote your jobs on social media. With job boards, we hire about 10,000 people a year. So if we wanted to sponsor and promote every single one of those jobs, we just didn't have the financial ability to do that. So we had to prioritize that. And that goes to my marketing background, understanding your core markets that are in need, understanding the core demos and understanding which markets we have to prioritize and our media spend because of that and over index on job ads. So that is how I built out my plan, which is very similar to how I build out a new product launch plan and brand marketing. But in this case, it's not about people to buy something. It's about people to engage and come work with us.
Debbie: [00:06:59] That's a great point, Sid. And I'd love to kind of double click into that a little bit because I do think that a lot of the market is still learning about programmatic media, the benefits of programmatic media, understanding that the cost to advertise shouldn't be the same for those roles where you get high volume or in locations where you get high volume and it differs for those roles that you can't find the right talent or you struggle to find that volume. Using programmatic media can help you leverage technology to understand the spend, the investments, turn things off, turn things on when they need to be without having to manually go in and move those levers. So it sounds like you guys have found that tremendously valuable, applying that marketing technology into recruiting.
Sid: [00:07:47] Yeah, and the big piece you mentioned is about analytics. It's like so I can have a consistent view with a dashboard to see who's delivering, what media outlet is the most effective for us, what is our cost per hire. And I could really prioritize. It's been based on those results. And prior to being able to do that in a centralized platform, it was difficult to consolidate the KPI analysis I was getting from different job or partners because they all had their own way to do that. And I could never get apples to apples analysis completed in that framework. So I like the ability to have it in the central place to do it. And by the way, once I realized that the marketing team was already using this and our core revenue advertising strategy with our core dotcom business for revenue and sales, and I figured if it's good enough for her to drive the revenue of our company, it should be good enough to drive how I do our media buying to get talent. so that that partnership with marketing initially was how I was able to validate and get advice and to make sure that we were going in the right direction and to get confidence in my ability to decide to do this. And yeah,
Debbie: [00:09:12] Synergies with how you're advertising versus how they are that while they may be looking at filling rooms and you're looking at filling roles, that you can use the same type of advertising strategy, data and analytics to do that and how to get that buy in from leadership outside of recruiting.
Sid: [00:09:31] Yes.
Debbie: [00:09:33] And Sid, you guys at Extended Stay are part of hospitality. Hospitality has had a really tough time during the pandemic. How has that impacted the way that you guys are going to market and how you guys are pivoting as a business?
Sid: [00:09:49] Wow. I mean, it's a great question. I mean, like everyone else, initially, it was a big shock to our system in terms of where are we going in the future. What are we going to do to sell our rooms? What are we going to do to take care of our guests, to make sure they're safe? And our associates. So taking one step at a time, one thing we did initially was to make sure that our associates knew that we were taking care of them. So we immediately went to safety protocols, immediately went to making sure we invested and putting safety protocols in all of our hotels in terms of all the PPE and all the restrictions and requirements that the CDC and the federal government, we made sure that everyone knew that we were there to protect and serve them. We also created a mantra and we were very big on that at Extended Stay. It was called Stay Strong. And so that was our internal mantra, that we're strong during this pandemic and we're going to be strong and we're going to come out of it. So externally, our marketing team created a similar mantra for consumers and guests called Stay Confident. Confident that they would have that we were going to make sure that we were safe for them, make sure that we were going to be socially distanced, just to make sure we were going to do all of the requirements to make sure our hotels were clean and safe and they could be confident to stay with us. One thing that our hotels have that other hotels don't, particularly full service hotels, is that our hotels all have kitchens in each room.
Sid: [00:11:24] And because of that, the restaurants closed, and other amenities closed, people could still do all that with our hotel where they could cook and do everything inside their room. And we also have, you know, limited interaction with the guests inside their room. We're not in there every day like a full service would be. So the idea that you could be safe, you could be isolated if you needed to be could still manage your environment. And ironically, during the pandemic, we didn't have to lay off any employees. No furloughs for the entire pandemic. We had some properties that were, you know, lower occupancy. And, you know, there were adjustments made with staffing and hours in that regard. But overall, we maintained a very high occupancy rate. Our hotels were pretty much operable throughout the pandemic. And coming out of this, I mean, well, we're still technically in it. I mean, we're we are you know, we are relaxing certain things with our for our guests. But, you know, we are still making sure that our employees are wearing personal facial coverings and other protective measures to make sure that we're safe and clean, making sure all surfaces are still wiped down. And other things. We've started rolling back out different things that we would do in our lobbies around breakfast and coffee. So certain things like that we’re starting to roll back out. But overall, we believe we lived up to our mantra, stay strong. We came out of this and we're still in it. But we're coming out of this stronger, more confident or guests are more confident in our brand. And we've learned a lot from this.
Debbie: [00:13:11] Absolutely. I think each organization has to kind of look at what they've learned in the last 18 months. Learn from that, apply it. And it's great to hear that Extended Stay is coming out of this stronger. That you're staying strong. Customers can stay confident. And, you know, that kind of makes me think about what we're seeing across industries around this Great Resignation, as they're calling it, where a lot of employers are struggling to hire back talent that they've lost or even backfill the roles of the talent that is resigning or choosing to leave the workforce or stay home or move on to another opportunity. Have you guys seen an impact at Extended Stay with bringing talent back or different roles maybe that you're having to look outside of your traditional talent to hire for?
Sid: [00:14:05] Yeah, I mean, that is an industry, you know, across the board impact and in hiring back to fill certain roles for us is primarily our frontline roles, which are range from housekeeper to night laundry to mechanical engineer, maintenance engineer, we call it. So these roles are in all of our hotels and they're full and part time. So, yeah, you're absolutely right. We were impacted by this. So we had to step up our efforts to be aggressive. And what we're communicating in terms of our employee brand, like I mentioned before, talking about our benefits, our perks, what I mentioned earlier about the fact that our hotels were very stable and grew are growing outside of the pandemic coming outside of the pandemic and we also really are trying some things, you know, we've mentioned programmatic media buying and so we did increase that. We have to increase that a little bit and we're seeing some positive momentum on the flow there. We've also tried several things that you see across the country around sign on bonus, referral bonus, things of that nature. And we're looking at different ways that we recruit and attract candidates. We're also looking at making sure that people are hiring managers, understand their different skill sets and things that they may be able to find that people didn't work in hospitality, but still, still may be relevant for work for us, maybe a retail, a quick service restaurant. So we're making sure that we understand that when we go out to market and we are starting to see we're hiring a lot of people and we're starting to see that things are turning around a little bit. The biggest thing that we need to be aggressive on is retaining people. So we want to hire good people, but we want them to be willing to stay and grow and understand that we're a good place for them to grow their careers and learn how to work in the hotel industry. So that's the biggest piece that I've been working on, is the retention part.
Debbie: [00:16:20] And one of the things that we often hear employers talk about when they're looking at retention, because it's a really great point, you know, you can hire all of the talent that you want, but if they're slipping out the bottom of the bucket, then you're just constantly having to refill. And it's a nationwide problem right now, a global problem of retention. And part of that retention strategy for you guys is launching a new employer brand, Genuine Goodness. Tell me more about its origins, its meaning and what you hope the impact will be with Genuine Goodness.
Sid: [00:16:58] Yeah, it's actually that's our new corporate brand, Genuine Goodness, which we are working to transition that to something that could be relevant as well for our employees. So that's the process that we're working on now. And that goes back to working with the marketing team, working with the marketing agencies to understand that General Goodness is around. It's also genuine care of our associates, genuine care of our guests. And for us, being genuine is about the wellness plans that we offer, the development initiatives that I mentioned before about making sure people grow. It's really about owning and living up to our values, which include developing our own people, integrity, caring for the community, putting people first. So those are all tie into what we believe will be an easy transition to the employee brand piece to answer your question. Specifically around retention, what we did, which was very good idea, is that during the pandemic, we decided to invest in the social engagement survey. So we did a company wide survey during the middle of the pandemic and we came out of that with a lot of great feedback and positive stories about how people really felt that ESA was a great place to work. So that was a good thing. And we also came out of that understanding that we had some opportunities to grow in other areas that may help us with retention, specifically on reward and recognition. So the feedback was that, you know, my manager did not give me enough recognition for a job well done or I rarely have opportunities to win or achieve an award throughout our company. So we worked with O.C.Tanner to create a new employee recognition and award program, which we launched earlier this year called Stay Appreciated. So we're already seeing some really big positive momentum around that. And it's not all related to money and incentives and gifts is really just giving people feedback and having a central place to do that. Because remember, a majority of our associates are not on an email all day and are not sitting in front of a computer all day. So for us to have a central way for them to get information or get a resource or get a thank you would be good. And that's what we launched. And about four years ago, we launched another communication tool called MyESA, which is an employee app. And that's another tool that we felt was important in going back to what I said earlier. So people across all of our hotels and over, you know, the majority of the country where we have hotels, it's very difficult to reach everyone. So with MyESA, people can opt in to have an app on their phone where they could see almost like MyESA Facebook page, where they could see different stories, different photos across the country of what people are doing and being engaged. If someone's rewarded or recognized something, we'll make sure to share that on MyESA as well so they could see it and understand how they could get recognized and rewarded for something. So that connects to engagement, connects to retention. And that's what we're hoping will drive, you know, making sure that we have our hotels fully staffed to deliver on genuine goodness for our guests.
Debbie: [00:20:28] Absolutely, and Sid, I know a lot of our listeners are nodding their heads right now that they have the same challenge that not all of their employees are sitting in front of email or traditional means of communication. They don't have Slack. They don't have Microsoft Teams. It does make it challenging. So I think these are really great tools and tactics that you're sharing on how you can still reach them and communicate with them, keep them feeling involved. And I would love to share with our audience, who owns that within Extended Stay? You know, that type of employee communication.
Sid: [00:21:03] I do It’s part of my team.
Debbie: [00:21:08] And that's where the employee relationship with marketing comes into play.
Sid: [00:21:14] It definitely does definitely work with marketing initially to design the creative for the app landing page to have menus. But the actual management of the program, negotiation of the partnership and execution of it, it falls under my area.
Debbie: [00:21:37] Amazing. And as you watch those different areas, where do you see that you get the most engagement? And I've got to imagine this is a fluid process, you're probably trying new things all the time. But for those that are listening, that don't have an audience that's sitting in front of their computers, 9:00 to 5:00, what have you guys found that's been the most successful?
Sid: [00:22:00] Well, I mean, going back to MyESA, for example, we track the percentage of employees that have signed in and downloaded the app, so we've been trending for the last year, 50 percent of our employees. So that's roughly 4000 people. And keep in mind that probably 90 percent of those people are not on an employee app I'm sorry, employee email account, and they're not on a desktop all day. So right there we see the engagement is helping us be able to communicate and share information so that's works really well for us. And I mention the reward and recognition program... that one just launched in the early second quarter. So we're still growing that. But we're seeing some initially some great stories, some great excitement, great energy around it. So is your typical reward recognition program where you have the ability to collect points and then those points can be turned into different items that you can redeem for. We also integrated different ongoing messaging. So, for example, if you get a new job in our company previously, you've just got a new role.
Sid: [00:23:17] And your manager, maybe your co-workers, they would have known about it. They would have said congratulations. But now we have this new system. So we created a special called an eCard, and the eCard says congrats on your new role. So anyone who gets a new role in a company, they'll get an e-card basically saying that. And there are also different e- cards for their birthdays automatically. The managers also know when they get awarded for different things so they could surprise them or say something during a team meeting. We've also integrated all the milestones. So anyone who's got a milestone anniversary, they'll get a special certificate points and other ways to redeem information. So all that's part of the Stay Appreciated program and previously to launching that, these raw individual initiatives that either we have to download a database feed from ADP or we had to run an Excel spreadsheet, send that to a vendor to do fulfillment. You could imagine it was kind of a pain to do that monthly. So now that's all automated within one system.
Debbie: [00:24:25] And I've got to imagine this kind of comes full circle, right, the more recognition that you're able to give publicly. It also helps you on the talent acquisition side, where you tell those stories. So it's helping almost farm some of those stories for you and surface some of those that are doing really great things out in the field that you can use for recruiting collateral. So this becomes kind of its own feeding system for getting those stories out of your own employees that you can then re share to help recruit others.
Sid: [00:24:52] It's very funny you mention that, Debbie, because I was just on a call for a marketing team yesterday. We're trying to figure out the best way to do testimonials to focus on key associates, tell their story, and that will help, like you said, drive potential applicant flow, candidate flow. And it may also encourage guests, you know, to consider our potential guests consider staying with us because they could see that we have a great staff that's delivering on our employee brand and our corporate brand, which, like you said, is a genuine goodness.
Sid: [00:25:44] Yeah, thanks for the question, Debbie, from a company standpoint, we've launched a new premier suites brand which is rolling out and across several markets as we speak. These hotels have newer signage. They also have newer furniture and different things inside, maybe different paint schemes as well. We are also looking at adding different things to our non premier suites so they'll have Extended Stay suites on their signs as well. So those are different things we're doing. And there's a new advertising campaign that our marketing team is working on to promote all this across a variety of different social channels. We've also worked with having that used for our talent acquisition piece, like I mentioned earlier. So I've been working a lot with marketing to figure out how we can do that. We recently redesigned ESA.com, which is our core revenue driver for people to book rooms with us. But we've also used the redesign as an opportunity to redesign our careers platform. So that is a big, big element for us, that we're going to really use that to really share what's important, that people can use them when they're considering work for us.
Sid: [00:27:51] Obviously, there's the benefits. There's different packages that we will explain for full and part time. We have a great benefit that everyone who works for us gets a combination of free room nights. We call them MyNights and discounted nights that they could use for friends, family and for themselves. Other different things that we want to make sure that we share and in a good way that if people are really, you know, trying to decide if this is a great place to work for them, they may want to be interested in what we're doing for the community, things that we're investing in with in an environment, socially conscious things we're doing around diversity, equity and inclusion, things that we're doing around the military. And going back to diversity, equity, inclusion, there's different things that we're going to be doing more internally to engage our associates around that, particularly with employee resource groups and other internal, we call them crucial conversations, different things that we could do to help people understand the importance of diversity, the importance of of that not only for our guests, our associates, and understanding the connection point for that, for who we are, at Extended Stay America. So I think that that will drive the… and plus, you know, we're still dealing with the pandemic. So we've got to still stay strong throughout all this and make sure our guests are staying confident, comfortable and confident and comfortable. Yes. So those will be a big piece for the remainder of the year for us.
Debbie: [00:29:25] I am excited to watch where this goes in the next year and circle back and find how some of these new initiatives are working out for you guys. Sid, it's been such a joy speaking with you today. I would not do us justice if I didn't wrap with one of our favorite listener segments, Confessions of a Recruiter/Candidate, an opportunity for you to share some of your war stories from either recruiting talent or being recruited. So to end on a light note, share with us just one good story around recruiting that's experience for you.
Sid: [00:30:04] I would say it's all good. I've had very good experiences with personally being recruited. It's interesting you asked me how I got into HR. I didn't plan to get into H.R. I was recruited in there once my boss saw the ability for me to pivot in that area. And I'm glad I did. So I was recruited without knowing I was recruited
Debbie: [00:30:31] The soft recruit. Yeah.
Sid: [00:30:34] And the aggressive recruiting, I would say that surprised me was the NFL. I mean, I didn't really anticipate leaving. I was with the New Jersey Nets at the time. So I ended up, you know, having a couple of conversations, NFL and I wasn't sure. But then they came back and a couple of times and I ended up joining them. And it was a great experience. I had a great time there. And I just remember the first week that right before I started, they sent me a care package with an NFL football and an NFL notebook. I thought that was really cool. And ironically, I should have mentioned this earlier. That's one of the things that I'm working on as well, is making sure our new hires are engaged, you know, before day one, make sure they get something from us, get information on the company, make sure they're reassured that we understand that they're thinking of us and investing in us and we're investing in them and making sure that they understand everything that I went through today on this podcast. They have a clear summary of that prior to when they come in to day one for our company. So that experience with the NFL actually helped me realize that we had a gap here at ESA, like once someone accepts an offer and maybe it may be up to four to five business days before their day one on average could be longer, depending on how long a background check takes. So during that time period, we want to make sure that they're still understand that things are proceeding smoothly.
Debbie: [00:32:05] Absolutely. I've got to say, I've got three little boys, if somebody sent me an NFL football, I would be a champion at home. So it definitely went over my family. Well, thank you for those that are listening. I hope you found some really great takeaways from our conversation today with Sid and learning about the Extended Stay story. If you are interested in some of the tidbits that we talked about around DEI, we do have another podcast around belonging. Highly recommend that you go back in our archives and take a listen to that one. You can visit us at and follow us on the Joy podcast on Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And until next time. Thank you so much for joining us.