01/18/2013 11:29 am ET Updated Mar 20, 2013

Employer Branding Lessons From the NHL Lockout

Hockey teams will soon be dropping the puck on a new, albeit shortened, season after a 113-day lockout. The fight between the National Hockey League and the Player's Association officially ended on Jan. 12 when the two signed a memorandum of understanding after nearly four months of back and forth.

This agreement will last for 10 years, with a potential opt out in year eight. Most importantly, it allows hockey players and league owners to walk away from the bargaining table and into the rink once more.

Unfortunately, it might be too late for the NHL employer brand to avoid taking a bone-crushing, hockey-style hit. Fans are angry that nearly 480 games, plus the Winter Classic, were cancelled during these prolonged negotiations.

Fans, however, weren't the only ones hurting from the NHL lockout. The lack of games impacted many small businesses, local communities and cities. The city of St. Louis estimates it lost an average of $1.3 million over the course of the lockout. Pennsylvania cities Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, meanwhile, estimate they've lost between $1 million and $2.2 million per game, respectively.

Many companies will experience a setback of some kind with the potential to hurt your employer brand. But you can't let your setback become the story, or you'll have a hard time attracting and retaining the kind of employees you'll need to change up your narrative.

Here are some employer branding lessons you can learn from the NHL lockout in order to rehab your image after hitting a bump in the road:

Know the importance of your brand

The key component to salvaging your employer brand is to understand just how important this brand is for driving talent. In fact, 83 percent of recruiter cite an attractive employer brand as a key component driving talent into the company. The employer brand is the first aspect of your company talented potential recruits are likely to know.

If your employer brand has been hurt recently, like the NHL's has been by the lockout, don't assume candidates won't notice. It might be a tough economy, but you still need top talent in your organization and these candidates aren't likely to be impressed by a second-tier employment brand. The first step to repairing your image is knowing just how important this brand identity is for attracting the employees you need to move forward.

Address the issue head-on

Because you know the importance of your employer brand and you must assume candidates are paying attention to your company, the best way to deal with a situation is to deal with it directly. It's not as if the NHL can pretend the league has been playing games for the last four months. There will be a lot of ruffled feathers to address with fans, small businesses, and even the players themselves. These hurt feelings and bad blood cannot be dealt with if the NHL chooses to pretend everything is normal.

When it comes to connecting with the top talent you need, it's time to face the music. If there is an issue hurting your employer brand, address it directly on your company career site. You should also address the issue when you speak to top contenders for your open positions.

Whether the interview is in person or through online video, use the one-on-one time to give a fuller picture of your company culture. Let talented candidates know what the company is like straight from the source, so they don't have to rely on outside information.

Use social media tools to reconnect

During the NHL lockout, social media became a powerful tool to connect with fans and gain supporters. It was used especially well by the Player's Association who put together videos and connected with fans throughout the negotiations. This allowed the players to tell their side of the story in a direct way to fans.

Social media can be a powerful and easy tool to disseminate your messages. If your employer brand has recently taken a hockey-sized hit, it might be time to take to the social airwaves to reconnect. Use social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to address candidate concerns and listen to what your talent pool is saying about your company. Using social media, you can widely circulate your side of the story just like the hockey players did during the strike.

Your company might not have just settled a multimillion dollar lockout, but there are always plenty of bumps along the way which can hurt your employer brand. Fixing this brand can be as easy as recognizing the problem, addressing it, and reconnecting with your talent pool. Just like the NHL, you need to get back into the game even if you've taken a hit.

What are some employer branding lessons you can learn from the NHL lockout? Share in the comments!

Josh Tolan is the CEO of Spark Hire, a video powered hiring network that connects job seekers and employers through video resumes and online interviews. Connect with him and Spark Hire on Facebook and Twitter.