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Petit Bateau uses brilliant viral campaign to attract new talent


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Founded towards the end of the 19th Century, Petit Bateau has always combined high-quality craftsmanship with great marketing to win the hearts and minds of consumers. Though while the company continues to enjoy commercial success around the world, the competitive talent market in France, together with a growing need to introduce new skills and mindsets into the business, meant action was needed to turn Petit Bateau into an employer, as well as brand, of choice.

In April 2017, Petit Bateau launched the first of a six-part online campaign promoting its employer brand. Aimed at capturing the essence of the talented people behind the French children’s clothing maker, the campaign also shrewdly reinforces how the company is “plugged into the childhood universe.” In the superbly shot clips which combine real and animated sequences, employees of Petit Bateau, ranging from the finance director to the supply chain manager, are joined by their young relatives (sons, daughters, nephews and cousins) who give their interpretations of what their adult companion does at the business, before the grown-ups step in to clarify some of the finer details.

The short films are the brainchild of Petit Bateau’s recruitment and development manager, Natalie Monjo, and creative agency Adesias. Natalie, a long serving customer service and recruitment specialist within parent company Group Rocher was on the verge of leaving the business in 2015 after twelve successful years when the Petit Bateau challenge came along. It was an opportunity she couldn’t resist as she explained to Nigel Wright: “After helping set-up international call centres, running corporate induction programmes and, for the last five years, leading the student recruitment strategy for Yves Rocher, I felt my next challenge would be outside the Group. But, I wanted to work on human capital innovation projects and I immediately recognised the huge opportunity for Petit Bateau to grow its talent through effective employer branding.”

Her first year was spent benchmarking Petit Bateau’s employer brand with its competitors and brainstorming ideas with colleagues of how to raise awareness of careers. These investigations highlighted one main issue. In Natalie’s words: “Petit Bateau products are famous, but its reputation as an employer didn’t match the great affection the public had for its brand. Yes, our reputation for careers in traditional marketing and specialist technical roles in textiles was good, but in other disciplines such as Finance, HR, Business Development, Digital and Data Analysis etc. Petit Bateau wasn’t considered an obvious choice.”

To change this perception in the market, the HR team established the Petit Bateau Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and four core values (authentic, complicit, agile and intrepid) which help reinforce it. The EVP intends to deliver confidence, autonomy, balance and sense to all employees in return for their collaboration; and the values capture the essence of what it means to work for Petit Bateau, as Natalie explains: “All employees demonstrate an authentic passion for our products. Complicity shows ‘we’re in it together’ and proud to represent Petit Bateau and the wider Groupe Rocher business. Agility relates to our fast-paced, innovative, spontaneous and audacious style; and we have intrepid ambitions to grow our brand.”

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With these tools, Natalie sought to generate interest in careers at Petit Bateau. Rather than use “bland corporate language,” however, it was her vision to bring the values and EVP to life in a way that would make an emotional connection with viewers. After an external process to acquire a creative agency, Adesias was selected to lead the project. They came up with the concept of using real employees and their young relatives, in an unscripted scenario, where the children would lead viewers to discover something about the employees. This, as Natalie highlighted, was a perfect way to capture a combination of spontaneity, authenticity and complicity, giving viewers and potential employees the chance to see if they “identify with Petit Bateau’s DNA.”

The messages are honest too. Finance Director Stéphanie Le Maoult, for example, tells how she often has a short lunch break and admits sometimes arriving home at 9 pm after her son reveals this aspect of his Mum’s job. But Natalie claims this shouldn’t put people off: “It reflects the reality of what it can sometimes be like working here and shows our employees are intrepid and committed to the cause. It’s not a nightmare, it’s our life. If you want to be part of our journey you must accept that lifestyle.” She added: “The key message is that our employees are everyday people, just like you, and that together we’re one big extended family.”

The short films are all adapted for social media and have been widely circulated via Petit Bateau’s YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn and email marketing channels. Natalie explained how employees across all Groupe Rocher subsidiaries worldwide have been encouraged to share content and the business has been overwhelmed by the campaign’s success: “Some of the videos are now the most watched on Petit Bateau’s YouTube channel, overtaking those which showcase our products. We’ve also had lots of applications, so far, from people who have made a connection with the messages and want to join our growing team.” The videos will be supported by a print campaign (flyers, posters etc.) targeted at universities and business schools and posters will also appear across all Petit Bateau’s locations, including its factory at Troyes where eighty percent of the production still takes place.

The project doesn’t stop there though. As well as identifying ways to better attract talent, Natalie has also sought to “raise the bar” of the recruitment process in general. Targeting graduates through business and engineering schools with strong international, digital and textiles programmes was a key aspect of this and senior appointments also benefited from a more “professionalised” approach: “Interview questions were created, aimed at teasing out examples of how candidates demonstrated an affinity with our core values. Managers were then trained on being less influenced by someone’s personality or technical skills during interviews, and more attuned to candidates’ broader qualities beyond those narrow parameters.”

Furthermore, training and development have also taken precedence during the last two years. Whilst attracting new talent was important, Petit Bateau needed to retain technical knowledge and expertise, as well as ensure its new employees chose to stay long-term in the business. To do that, Natalie emphasised a need to provide opportunities for people to demonstrate their skills: “Now, graduates are given responsibility for projects as soon as they start and gain visibility of the broader strategy of the business while meeting different people across Group Rocher.” In addition, Petit Bateau runs a Manager Academy, which provides managers with the tools and best practices they need for getting the best out of their staff.

Natalie noted that this “intrepid” mindset can sometimes be stressful, but the business believes that working under a small amount of pressure is good for development: “It helps people become high performers, quickly, and by having a real impact on the brand they feel encouraged and motivated to stay on at the company.”  

In addition to entry-level training and development, Petit Bateau also leverages a non-traditional co-development management practice. Managed by Natalie’s team, this takes the form of group sessions consisting of up to ten managers from different areas of the business who come together to share their day-to-day issues in an honest and transparent format. The group, which meets once per month for 8 months, must then find collective solutions for one problem shared by each manager: “It’s a great way to build understanding and collective action across the business.”

She added, “All these efforts will ensure Petit Bateau remains an iconic French brand and a company of the future.”

To view all of Petit Bateau's recruitment videos, click here.