Adidas Putting Finishing Touches on Big New Careers Site

Adidas will be going live at the end of August with a corporate careers site it’s convinced will be an “industry disruptor.”

It took a year and a half for adidas to put its new site together, with help from Carat (which is now Freestyle Interactive). Steve Fogarty, adidas North America Recruiting Captain, was the project leader. Other major stakeholders included adidas Group Global Head of Recruiting Steve Bonomo; Reebok Recruiting Manager Tara Gallone; and TaylorMade Recruiting Manager Kate Hinshaw.

Fogarty, who with Bonomo is speaking at ERE’s conference coming up in Florida, is underwhelmed by what he sees in corporate careers sites. (He does like, however, the U.S. Army’s recruiting work — “they put genuises behind it, Fogarty says” —  helped by a huge budget and support from McCann Erickson. He’s also fond of Microsoft’s Hey Genius campaign, and what Cirque does with its high-profile entertainment jobs.)

Anyhow, Fogarty found that most companies either brand themselves well, but make it hard to find what you want on their career sites, or they do the flip side of that: offer a truckload of information but the brand is lost.

In a recent issue of the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership, as part of an in-depth article on branding, Fogarty said that the best-marketed products don’t let the customer forget the brand:

Absolut Vodka is one of the best examples of this. The Absolut bottle has a distinct shape. Every single ad over emphasizes this shape by creatively integrating the ad into the shape of the bottle. When you walk into a liquor store, whether you are looking for Vodka or not, your eyes always go to the Absolut shelf …

Let your creativity run wild. How can you develop advertising and marketing campaigns that burn your brand positioning into the minds of your candidates?

On top of that, the sites, he finds, are rarely genuine: usually, they’re loaded up not with actual employees speaking candidly, but with stock photos, carefully calculated to check off the right diversity boxes.

The adidas recruiting department got the company’s marketing department to let it borrow, so to speak, some of the star athletes who are adidas sponsors. “Our employment brand,” adidas recruiters told adidas marketers, “is as important as our consumer brand. You give us an athlete and we’re going to shape what they do. We’re going to script what they do.” In other words, canned, generic messages from athletes that didn’t relate to employment wouldn’t be pigeonholed into a recruiting site.

Adidas doesn’t want candidates to think of athletes as the demigods they’re often portrayed as in the media. At this company, a superstar is someone you might actually meet through your job. Says Fogarty: “We take athletes off their pedestal so they become more like you and I.”

A trio of these adidas sponsors will be featured prominently for candidates who land on the new site. There’s Candace Parker, of the Los Angeles Sparks’ WNBA team, Ben Watson, from the New England Patriots, who is associated with Reebok, and golfer Natalie Gulbis, pitching the TaylorMade brand. Current employees, talking about their jobs, are also featured prominently.

Right now (with the old site), adidas has one group website representing all brands. Fogarty says, of the new site, that “Instead of saying the group supersedes the brand, the group is symbiotic and made up of the brands.” So if you want to work for TaylorMade, you’re immersed in a golf-careers site. The parent company adidas group, Fogarty says, “should be thought of as the collection of brands.”

Fogarty believes the site will work because it won’t fall into the trap so many career sites do. Companies have been playing up their “best company to work for” and “employees are our greatest asset” catchphrases that aren’t really differentiators. They clutter up their career sites with confusing navigation, boring corporate-speak, the stock photos we mentioned earlier, and unnecessary multimedia.

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Focus group participants, in fact, told adidas they didn’t want tons of cluttered information thrown out them right away when they land on the site. So the site, Fogarty says, will “serve up information as it becomes relevant. Only when it’s narrowed down to the thing you are most interested in will it give you the majority of information on that particular area. Most candidates don’t care about 50 bells and whistles. They want it to be easy. I really don’t give a &*()& how my refrigerator works. I just want my food to be cold. The technology shouldn’t be apparent on the site. It just should work.”

“Companies run together for me,” Fogarty says. “Even the best of the best out there aren’t doing it well. Google does great at marketing tactics. I’ll give them all the credit in the world for that,” he says, referring to such things as clever recruiting billboards. But Google, Fogarty says, largely failed to use its real differentiators, such as employees’ ability to spend 20% of their time on experimental projects.

Adidas’ version of the famous Google 20% rule — in other words, adidas’ employee value proposition — is a focus on sports and in particular on athletes, as people you can get to know and not merely worship, and how that is part of the adidas employment experience. If a job candidate leaves the site feeling like they could, if hired, someday get to shoot a hoop or two with Candace Parker, adidas will have succeeded.

We’ve said before that companies often redo their career sites, and leave the job descriptions boring. Fogarty wants to avoid that. It has created what it calls a “brand book” for recruiting leaders in every country. It’s basically a presentation showing, among other brand examples, samples of what the company wants to see in a job description. “We will hold the recruiters accountable for writing good job descriptions,” Fogarty says. “Right now that accountability is a little loose,” he says, with so much work being done on getting the new site up, among other things. “It’s a huge focus for us,” Fogarty says of job descriptions. But, he says, a good job description doesn’t make up for a bad job. “Is the job itself crappy?” he asks. “I’d rather have the job right than a perfect job description.”

Indeed, Fogarty wrote in the Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership:

Our hope is that a top candidate who may have browsed the site and then left without action in the past is compelled and inspired now to apply. No matter how great your brand positioning is, your candidates won’t come back if your jobs suck. This is where you need to work up front to ensure your organization’s jobs are scoped correctly and you are writing compelling job descriptions.

Adidas is still working on the site and the way it coordinates with its back-end applicant tracking system from Jobpartners. Originally scheduled to go live in the Spring of 2009, it should be ready later this month.

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8 Comments on “Adidas Putting Finishing Touches on Big New Careers Site

  1. Rob–technically until something is in the market and actually acts as a disruptor it’s unproven. The statement isn’t meant as a broad market statement but from the standpoint of corporate talent acquisition. I have yet to find a main corporate career site (non micro-site) that is built:

    1. As a conceptual site–uses the full capability of what’s possible on the screen. Almost all sites are still built with the mindset of “pages” and most are moving in the direction of a “blog” template look and feel. We are using the web as open space–you can move forward, backward, side to side–the possibilities for interaction become limitless with this format. The brand can be personalized through experience versus copy, widgets and gadgets.

    2. Brand Principles & Differentiation–almost all sites we have seen still try to sell candidates on HR Speak—Work-life Balance, Benefits, Training, etc. Very few are truly differentiating or applying true marketing and branding principles–the industry approach has become homogenized. The approach here is simple–keep it to one single truly differentiating factor. In our case it’s “You get to come here and shape the future of sports and work with your favorite athletes while doing this.” I can go to hundreds of career sites and I can find a lot of stuff about the benefits of working at the company–but I’m hard pressed to find the single differentiators. If we can show that this allows us to derive a disproportionate amount of the “RIGHT” talent we believe others will follow suit. Product marketing experts get this. If you were to ask Harley what their single differentiator was they would say it’s about a middle aged accountant putting on chaps and driving through his/her neighborhood feeling like a bad ass. They wouldn’t go on and on about the companies great assembly line process. That doesn’t sell bikes. Yet this is how our industry tries to sell jobs.

    3. Interactively Serving Information—the industry tends to serve all information up front and with a lot of corporate jargon. Global Operations may mean something completely different in five different companies. So instead of following traditional HR/Corporate Jargon paths we use consumer logic. Figure out what things our consumers are interested in and let them follow a path that takes them to deeper degrees of information. Nobody reads anything anymore unless it’s highly relevant—so why serve it to them unless they are ready. Our site allows interaction between the job seeker and the athlete to narrow down their interests and only then serve up the deepest level of information. Of course if the consumer wants to skip all that they get this option as well. It’s about keeping it elegant and working without the consumer having to have any understanding about the internal bureaucracies and corporate talk unless they need to.

    From my point of view if we can show that this concept allows us to derive a disproportionate amount of top talent then we have done our job. If that’s the case we believe others will follow. Then this disrupts—It changes how sites are built, how brand principles are applied and how we interactively serve information. This wouldn’t disrupt in the product space because great brands already get this—it should disrupt in the Corporate HR/Talent Acquisition space. Then again, it may not disrupt—but if that’s the case then we go back to the drawing board, learn from others and our mistakes and go at it again, and again, and again until we do. In the end it’s about our candidates experience more than anything else. Impossible is Nothing.

    Thanks for asking the question Rob!

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