As Tech Unemployment Drops, Demand for Billboards Soars

Dice billboard campaignWith a 2.5 percent unemployment rate, and demand so far outstripping supply that some firms are offering hiring bonuses to interns, Silicon Valley’s tech firms have turned to a decidedly low tech way of attracting candidates.


Up and down Highway 101, the Valley’s major artery, billboards have become so dear that the firms that own them have waiting lists six months long. Monthly rentals can go for as much as $40,000 in the most desirable locations. But even the cheapest ones are anything but cheap at $15,000.

The last time recruiters turned to billboards in such numbers was during the Internet frenzy at the turn of the century. Then, $5,000 was the going rate.

One of the more provocative campaigns launched late last fall when Dice, the tech careers site, came up with a billboard featuring nerdy tech workers clothed only in the skivvies. “Find the hottest tech talent,” the headline on the 50-foot wide billboard reads.

“We wanted to make people smile when they were stuck in traffic,” said Natasha Raja, vice president of marketing for Dice, told Bloomberg News.

Whether anyone smiles in the Valley’s notorious traffic is almost beside the point. The highway’s billboard forest is a mix of hard core messaging and vanity branding. But if it helps hiring, that’s what matters.

Dice tech unemployment Q4 2014Just this week Dice’s quarterly Tech Employment Snapshot, reported the unemployment rate for computer and math occupations averaged 2.5 percent for the last quarter of 2014. The rate has been declining nearly every quarter since late 2013. Even at the height of the recession, when the national unemployment rate was around 10 percent, tech professionals had an unemployment rate of 6.1 percent.

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Drill down to some of the specialties and you find network engineers have the lowest unemployment rate at 1.4 percent. Web developers are at 3.4 percent.

“It proved to be a particularly good year for programmers, computer and information systems managers and computer support specialists, whose unemployment rates were nearly cut in half from 2013,” the Dice report observes.

Especially in Silicon Valley, as the unemployment rate for computer and math professionals began to decline, tech firms began to ramp up their use of billboards. Taking a cue from an early Google campaign, puzzle boards became popular for recruiting.

Two years ago, Rocket Fuel, a media advertising automation company, bought a billboard that read “X=The largest 15 digit perfect square palindrome,” and listed its Internet address.

That campaign was aimed at candidates, prequalifying them with the puzzle. xAd did something similar last year.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


3 Comments on “As Tech Unemployment Drops, Demand for Billboards Soars

  1. Very funny billboard but a subpar product. If anyone is interested in sourcing the web for IT talent, try TalentBin or Entelo.

    1. Funny that Dice’s Open Web has more customers than TalentBin or Entelo combined. Not bad for subpar.

      1. Scott – Not sure why that’s funny or relevant. The number of users doesn’t equate to a better product.

      2. And McDonalds sells more hamburgers than Morton’s Steakhouse. That doesn’t mean that McDonalds has a better burger.

  2. Interesting. Thanks John. I worked with several companies in the late-90s that made good use of billboards for talent acquisition and employer marketing. Given how competitive STEM recruiting has once again become, it doesn’t surprise me to see this making a comeback. In most urban areas, billboard locations are tightly zoned. The limited space for this kind of advertising makes it a great way to cut through the noise of other media channels and get a message across. Of course, it’s not at all “targeted” but proven effective none the less.

    Doug Friedman
    LinkedIn Profile

  3. If technology companies paid a fair market wage and provided a stable working environment they would not need billboards.

  4. Billboards seem the last ditch attempt by a company that does not embrace social & digital recruitment. kinda desperate dude.

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