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Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2007, 00:16 GMT
L'Oreal battles in the 'war for talent'
By Anthony Reuben
Business reporter, BBC News

Eight teams of three will compete to get to the International Final

Four and a half thousand players in 35 countries, one task, and jobs and prizes for the winners.

It sounds like an international version of The Apprentice, but actually it is L'Oreal's Brandstorm scheme, which last year led to 45 people being given jobs and another 75 getting internships.

Each country has heats to select a team of three people to send to the international final in Paris.

In the UK, they narrowed 30 teams down to eight based on written exercises.

Now the remaining teams have two months to come up with a rebranding, new packaging and an international strategy for L'Oreal's Redken for Men products.

It all seems like a pretty expensive way of recruiting staff - what would the shareholders think?

"Shareholders increasingly understand the war for talent," according to L'Oreal's human resource director Richard Humphrey.

"We are looking for creative students who are quite business focused, which is a delicate balance," he says.

Skills shortages

L'Oreal's move is a sign of the lengths to which companies are prepared to go to recruit the best graduates.

LAST YEAR'S WINNER
Katie Potter
It is slightly terrifying at times but you just prepare for it as well as you can and keep your fingers crossed
Katie Potter, Member of 2006 UK winning team

"It's competitive for the graduate recruiters, so whatever they can do to make themselves stand out they will do," says Richard Fern from the University of Warwick, where two of the teams are based.

Another challenge for budding business leaders is the Global Management Challenge (GMC), which is run by the recruitment consultants Hobsons.

Student teams from 23 countries compete in the GMC, managing a virtual business and competing to end up with the most valuable company on a virtual stock exchange.

Competitors may receive help from mentors at businesses ranging from Enterprise Rent-A-Car to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

'Fingers crossed'

Back at L'Oreal, the teams are finding out exactly what they're going to have to do to win the Brandstorm game.

If they reach the international final they will have to present their ideas to a panel including the company's boss.

A member of the team that represented the UK in 2006, Katie Potter, says that being cross-examined by the experts gets pretty scary.

"It is slightly terrifying at times but you just prepare for it as well as you can and keep your fingers crossed".

Step up

On the first day the teams heard from one of the winners from 2005, Alex Alston, who is now on the marketing team of the brand they are going to redesign.

BATTLE OF THE BRANDS
Brandstorm billboard
December: Initial case studies submitted
February: Final 8 teams briefed by L'Oreal
March: Creativity and presentation workshops
April: Work with Publicis advertising agency
11 April: UK finals at Tate Modern
14 June: International finals in Paris

He reminisced about his first day on the programme: "When I came I remember thinking: these people are so grown up and it's all so professional".

There's a range of courses represented, from students on the Fashion Marketing and Communication course at Nottingham Trent University to a team doing Manufacturing Engineering at Cambridge University.

"What they're expecting from us is much higher than I first thought - it's a big step to take," says Toni Symons from Manchester Metropolitan University.

Some of the contestants seem disappointed that they are working with a men's hair care range that is only available in salons instead of one of the blockbuster women's ranges such as Lancome Bodycare and Studio Line that contestants have redesigned in previous years.

However, they see benefits as well, with the awareness that there is more scope for innovation with a lesser-known product than there would be for a bigger brand.

Gender balance

L'Oreal says that the game helps it to recruit a diverse workforce because it brings the company to the attention of people who would not normally consider working for it.

"Blokes tend not to think of L'Oreal as a career and this is a way of saying look, L'Oreal is a huge company with a massive marketing team," says Alexander Snelling, Recruitment Director for UK & Ireland.

"We do in-depth analysis, we're a big business. It's not just about those fluffy TV ads with 'because I'm worth it' on - there's much more to the company than that."

In the coming weeks, the contestants will visit salons that sell the brand, talk to hairdressers, attend creativity and presentation workshops and spend time with an advertising agency before they present their ideas at the National Finals.

BBC News will be following them along the way.




SEE ALSO
UK faces 'looming skill shortage'
04 Sep 06 |  Business
L'Oreal plans Body Shop roll out
03 Oct 06 |  Business

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