Under Armour sharpens image of itself and city to attract talent

Under Armour's marketing relies on a mandate to "tell a great story" about its products and celebrity athletes to deepen the brand's connection to the public.

But there's one story the company says it must do a better job of sharing— what it's like to work at Under Armour and live in Baltimore. Selling job candidates on the company and the city are critical to fulfilling founder Kevin Plank's ambitious vision for growth.


The company's stated goal is to hit $7.5 billion in sales by 2018, up from nearly $5 billion this year, and eventualy surpass Nike, which reported $32 billion in revenue in its last fiscal year. To accommodate that growth, Plank is developing a new campus in Port Covington that could support as many as 10,000 employees, nearly five times the 2,100 people on its current headquarters staff.

In recent months, Under Armour began developing an employment "branding" strategy. It says it wants to better project an image about itself as an employer with youthful ambience and ambition and a waterfront vibe.


"It's brand new for Under Armour this year," said Chris Hong, the company's senior vice president of talent acquisition. "We've never really delivered an employment branding strategy. We have a great consumer brand but we don't really have a great employment brand.

"Why do you want to work here? Why is Under Armour a preferred employer of choice? And why should Baltimore be a destination location? Employment branding and marketing does all that," he said.

The company knows its ability to successfully recruit talent is tied to Baltimore's image, as well as its own.

Plank has said he wants Baltimore to be "the coolest city in the world," using the superlative he often applies to his own company and products.

Michael Phelps

The fortunes of the company and the city are, in many ways, linked. That can be a concern during difficult periods such as the rioting following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody and surging homicides in the past two years. Hong said the unrest didn't slow the company's growth, and other recruiters and analysts discounted its long-term impact.

"I've had experiences as a recruiter where I couldn't get people to come," said Stephen Braun, chief executive officer of Search Consultants International of Baltimore. "But it's an attractive destination, and when people get there they find this is a really nice town."

"If something bad happens in Oregon, I don't think people think negatively about Nike," said Matt Saler, vice president of sports marketing for Baltimore advertising and marketing firm IMRE. "This is a global brand."


Under Armour competes heavily with Nike for top talent in footwear and apparel design, marketing and countless other jobs.

"This is a war for talent — the key word being 'war,'" Hong said.

But Under Armour needs to get its story out there to become an even more attractive employer, he said.

As evidence of the need, Hong said Under Armour is not listed among the best places to work by, a careers site that solicits employee reviews.

"We should be," Hong said. "They say we have no employment brand image out there."

A number of other well-known brands — including Facebook, Google, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines and In-N-Out Burger — made the list.


Under Armour has had success attracting millennials, according to Braun and others.

"They sure do attract a large number of people just out of college and just out of graduate school," said William H. Cole IV, the former city council member who now leads the Baltimore Development Corp. "There are dozens and dozens of other small companies that are tech and science that are attracting similar types of employees. So this is becoming a very fertile ground for millennials."

The environment that Under Armour pitches seems suited to millennials. Under Armour, which moved to Tide Point in 1999, touts employees' ability to live in the neighborhood and to walk, bike, skateboard or take a water taxi to its complex of brick buildings where Procter & Gamble once manufactured soap products.

Under Armour will often take prospective executives to visit Baltimore attractions and will quickly set up top candidates with a Realtor to discuss neighborhoods. "We talk about Port Covington, about the growth of the city. It's a big city but not so big that you lose yourself," Hong said.

The jobs section on the company's website highlights the city's "hip and trendy neighborhoods," historic sites and festivals as well as "family-friendly activities."

But Hong said Under Armour can promote itself more effectively. He said its workplace messaging is being overhauled and expanded.


"It'll just have more content that's specific to what it's like to work here visually," he said. "It'll be more user-friendly. We'll have a section on locations of Baltimore — more Baltimore-rich content."

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A former Under Armour talent acquisition executive, Kristie Matthai, was moved earlier this year into a position overseeing employer branding and marketing. Her tasks will include pitching Under Armour's work environment on social media.

Without effective employer branding, Hong said, it's easy for misconceptions to spread.

"I spent seven years at ESPN and ESPN is a great consumer brand, right?" Hong said. "But people have a perception of it. Do you have to know sports to get hired? Do they hire women? Are they based in L.A.?"

Part of Hong's job is to set the record straight.

"What we're doing is painting a vision," he said.