Deloitte gets creative in recruiting wars

Unique outreach efforts have helped accounting firm battle rival entities in attracting new talent

Unique outreach efforts have helped accounting firm battle rival entities in attracting new talent

Deloitte LLP wants to make it clear, very clear, that it is hiring. It is looking to fill between 5,000 and 10,000 positions a year for the approximately 40,000-strong US subsidiary of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, says Keith Lindenburg, director of national PR for Deloitte Services. That means the auditing and consulting firm is trying to get creative in attracting talent, mostly entry-level, from schools around the country.

Indeed, all the big four accounting firms - Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers - face the same issue today of bringing in recruits to an industry that isn't always seen by undergraduate business majors or MBAs as the most glamorous of financial professions.

But Deloitte, unique among the other accounting firms in that it has retained its consultancy practice, does offer a wide range of potential work. Plus, as Lindenburg notes, forensic auditing - typically done in the aftermath of fraud or in the course of litigation - "is a sexy part of the business."

One stab by Deloitte last year for creative outreach to potential recruits was an in-house contest in which employees were encouraged to create videos of "What's Your Deloitte?" Some 2,500 employees formed teams to produce about 400 videos then used for recruiting purposes on school campuses and posted (some of them, anyway) on YouTube. Top prize for best video: a trip for the winning team to the Sundance Film Festival.

"It was a team-building exercise and it was also important to help in bridging the generation gap that exists in the work force today," says Dana Muldrow, manager of national PR for Deloitte Services. "From a PR perspective, externally, it gave us an opportunity to try new things from a social networking standpoint."

Reaching that younger generation, sometimes called Generation Y, is indeed a key need for the accounting profession, notes Dr. Robin Roberts, director of the University of Central Florida's Kenneth G. Dixon School of Accounting. Such folks tend to expect to gain more autonomy at a younger age and to have more of a "work-life" balance. Thus, Deloitte is naturally eager to promote its high placement on lists like Fortune's "100 Best Places to Work," though the reality of life at these big firms tends still to involve very long hours, Roberts notes.

Along with communications devoted to recruiting, though, the PR team at Deloitte engages in a few other key types of outreach, Lindenburg says. These include "community involvement," in which staffers donate their time to various charitable causes. Many corporations do this, but Roberts notes that the accounting industry is recognized for being genuinely committed to charitable activities. In addition, the PR team works hard to create interview opportunities for partners and other executives, both nationally and regionally, that help foster a sense of the company's "thought leadership" in a range of areas, including educational, regulatory and financial issues.

For competitive reasons, Lindenburg declines to say how many people exactly are on his PR team, though he said it's a "few dozen," and also declines to say how exactly the various PR firms on retainer for Deloitte provides services, though they include Cone, Hill & Knowlton, KCSA, and MWW Group. Not covered by the PR outreach is public affairs in Washington related to regulatory issues, that have arose since the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation in 2002, following the Enron scandal involving the now disbanded Anderson.

Reputational issues for the accounting industry seem to have mostly dissipated in the aftermath of Enron, which Deloitte had nothing to do with, although Deloitte did pay $50 million to settle charges by the SEC in 2005 after failing to detect fraud by former client Adelphia. Roberts notes the accounting profession has always been regarded as ultimately needing to serve not so much the client per se but the public's trust in financial information. Lindenburg says that trust has been largely repaired and that the reputation of the profession "has really turned around in the last year or two."

PR has been crucial to that turnaround - Lindenburg says the firm does little advertising - and indeed the idea that accounting can be a kind of moral calling helps aid that ongoing, consuming need of the accounting firms to recruit new employees.

"What we wanted to do was sort of work to rebuild the public's trust and confidence in financial capital markets, and the fact that the accounting firms are the stewards of the public's money," Lindenburg says. "There were a couple of situations that were highly visible, but we've been working overall to show the public can have trust in the accounting profession, and that the accounting profession is a noble profession."

At a Glance

Deloitte (US)
CEO: Barry Salzburg
US REVENUE: $9.85 billion in 2007
KEY TRADE TITLES: CFO, Accounting Today, CEO, Consulting, Financial Executive
PR TEAM: Keith Lindenburg, director of national PR; Dana Muldrow, manager of national PR
PR AGENCIES: Cone, Hill & Knowlton, KCSA, MWW Group

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