Is Print Recruitment Advertising Dead?

At a time when one of America’s largest newspapers is worth perhaps $1 — assuming it can be sold at all — is there any likelihood that the print industry’s single largest revenue category will ever even come close to approaching the $6, $7, and $8 billion glory days of a decade ago?

Not likely, say observers of the market (here’s just one) who have warned of the demise of the newspaper Help Wanted for years. The Conference Board, which once used the volume of employment ads in 51 of the nation’s newspapers as an index of labor health, discontinued its Help Wanted Advertising Index in July 2008. The Board explained the decision this way, “Because print advertising no longer comprehensively captures changes in labor-market demand, The Conference Board will focus its efforts on other indicators that better reflect today’s labor market …”

Earlier this month the Newspaper Association of America released the results of the first quarter newspaper revenues showing all categories down. But no classified category is down more than recruitment, off 67.4 percent from the first quarter of 2008. That’s a near disastrous showing, made worse because 2008’s first quarter was itself down by 35.4 percent from 2007.

In dollars, the drop means America’s daily newspapers took in $205.441 million in recruitment advertising from Jan 1 through March 31st. Compare that to the $119 million Monster took in from its North American job postings or compare it to CareerBuilder’s $141 million for the same period.

You don’t have to be a math wizard to see that just two online sites — the two biggest, to be sure — took in more job posting revenue than did all of the nation’s 1,400 or so daily newspapers. The newspapers also took in $3.1 billion in online revenue, with employment ads accounting for a piece of that total.

The accompanying chart shows the rise in employment advertising through 2000; its sudden drop with the tech crash of 2000 and then 9/11; it’s improvement into 2006; and, now, what is likely to be its final decline.

So definitive has been the crash of newspaper employment advertising that many newspapers are running help-wanted ads only on some days, rather than seven days a week. The Chicago Tribune, an owner of CareerBuilder, became the first major market daily to curtail recruitment advertising, when in early 2008 it decided to run ads only two days a week.

The rapid decline in newspaper employment advertising coincides with recruiter sentiment that newspapers don’t provide the same value as online job boards, employee referral programs and, increasingly, social networks.

In 2006, ERE in collaboration with Classified Intelligence surveyed several hundred recruiters visiting ERE and found they considered print advertising to be the least effective means of attracting candidates from among the five choices. Those choices were employee referral programs, job boards, career fairs, print, and social networks. We asked the decision-makers among the survey respondents about their spending on various media in 2006. Some 43 percent expected to spend less that year on print, while about that same percent expected to increase their spending on social networking sites, referral programs, and job boards.

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The numbers bear out those predictions.

That’s the glass-half-empty look at print recruitment advertising. If there is a half-full point of view, it’s not evident. We could point to ads in The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, and a few others that list available openings and point to online sites for more information. The Chicago Tribune does something similar with ads it runs for CareerBuilder during the week.

Recruitment advertising agencies that used to earn 15 percent commissions on newspaper ads that cost upwards of $3,000 on a Sunday have embraced other media, generating fees from buying online advertising, designing online campaigns and building career sites, and managing search engine marketing campaigns.

Executives from these agencies no longer spend time placing what used to be called in-line display ads in the daily newspaper. Now, they advocate using newspapers for integrated campaigns and for special events like on-site open houses and career fairs, where a wide net is desired.

How do you use newspapers for recruitment? Or do you? When was the last time you ran an ad in the newspaper and what was the result? We’re anxious to hear from you. So we encourage your comments on this issue as we prepare a more in-depth article on the use of newspapers for recruitment advertising.

Post your comments below or email me directly by clicking the link at the top of this story.

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.


24 Comments on “Is Print Recruitment Advertising Dead?

  1. I could not agree more with this article. Our recruiters rarely place print ads, primarily because it rarely reaches the quality and target audience. The only situations where we still use it is when we have opportunities in very rural locations. However, we are beginning to challenge that approach even today.

  2. I don’t believe we’ve advertised in a paper in quite some time. Of course we’re not advertising much of anything anywhere, which is kinda the point here.

  3. While this article is factually correct bear in mind that newspaper help wanted has undergone a paradigm shift. I place my clients in the paper when they are looking for number one, someone currently employed not someone whose been on the sofa or on their computer in their underwaer applying to dozens of ad per day; number two, preferably within their industry who’s interest in peeked as they peruse the Sunday help wanted section; and finally, ideally with a competitor, the best higher of all. Responses certainly don’t rival the 100’s or in some case 1000’s that on-line advertising produces of which a very small percentage actually bothered to read the ad and are qualified. The dozen or so highly qualified, motivated responses that result from a print ad are a much better outcome in many instances. On-line advertising does cast a wider net for open houses, entry-level positions, etc. but print does result in a more stream-lined and often much more efficient search.

  4. Our market may be a little different (perhaps partly due to the highest, or very near, literacy rate in the country), but it’s not quite so dire here. We have one client, a regional bank, who gets 50% of their hires, not response but hires, from their print ads. A local automotive dealer just ran a full-page recruitment/branding ad in last Sunday’s Sports section of the StarTribune. And, while there has been a migration to online, those who run print and online get terrific results (even prior to this recession when talent was harder to find).

    For some position types (trades, hourly, restaurant, labor, health care, etc), our clients say print brings them a better quality of match than any other source.

    Like radio did in the face of TV, print will re-invent and re-invigorate itself and come out stronger, so I’d be cautious about pronouncing a death sentence!

  5. “Like radio did in the face of TV, print will re-invent and re-invigorate itself and come out stronger, so I’d be cautious about pronouncing a death sentence!”

    As someone who just recently left the print/online recruitment advertising world, the quote I’ve pasted above is EXACTLY the reason I left — because no one in that business does or ever will understand what has happened to their business and have any clue on how to “reinvent” themselves.

    I came into the newspaper I worked for with a world of innovation in my mind, ready to eat up the market and save the newspaper. I did everything from building a custom online job fair with chats, podcasts, articles, profiles, shot videos, etc., to doing live resume critiques for job seekers every day.

    I had started to “reinvent” classifieds and had started to make them more interactive. But I realized I was already too late — this is an industry that has been ignoring the problem for a decade, and in doing so, have buried themselves so deep and so bankrupt that they won’t ever be able to attract “reinventers” to come help them waste their time.

    So while I’d like to see some hope for newspaper classifieds like I once did, I’m afraid searching for a job in a paper does indeed have a death sentence, and it’s coming very soon.

    Look for sites like Indeed (which already steals half of their traffic) to continue to rise as they fade away.

  6. As a hiring consultant for small companies in Maine, I have stated that the newspaper has seen my last recruiting dollar. My positions range from office managers of small companies to a non-profit VP and I only work for companies who do not have HR Managers. I use http://www.JobsinME – the local division of http://www.JobsintheUS exclusively.
    Two years ago, I realized that top candidates did not apply to my last three newspaper ads. What is invaluable is having a strong local jobs website that is easily searchable for those who are currently working and quietly looking. Interestingly, Syracuse New York has an excellent site that is the property of their newspaper. They got it right.

  7. I am a media buyer that specializes in print, but over the past couple of years we have made a shift to online job postings for our clients. Though the online postings produce more applications, they aren’t necessarily all the quality of applications that we are looking for. We still do a lot of print ads and with the rising unemployment numbers, I have found that our print responses are increasing, too. I still recommend print to the right clients. A healthy balance or online and print would be the ideal answer to most recruiters’ needs.

  8. I just thought of another take on this: who is the most consistently committed to running most, if not all, job ads in print? The Goverment. Where is most of the job growth occurring now (and likely to in the years to come)? The Government. May bode well for print recruitment advertising!

  9. This was an interesting article that mirrors a conversation I had with my wife this weekend. She was reading the paper on Sunday and thought she would look to see what jobs were available. Much to her surprise, they didn’t have any. Much to my surprise she was unaware that newspaper job advertising is expensive, and the results have not been the greatest in quite a while. (she hasn’t looked for a job in a long time) With several papers linking up with national job boards, the need for newspaper print advertising isn’t there.

    I will occasionally advertise in the paper for driver and mechanic positions, but I still get better responses from print resources like the Employment Guide than in a traditional newspaper. I have even done well using the PennySaver for those types of positions by targeting zip codes that our employees live in.

    If I run a 4 inch in column advertisement in the local paper it is $1,100 +. Then, in a publication like the Employment Guide I run a full page, color add for $500 for a two week run. I’ll get more face time with the Employment Guide, better ad quality, and more responses for half the money.

    I don’t know that the Classified Section in the paper is dead, but it is in ICU. Depending on the positions you are hiring for and the area you live it may still be a viable resource.

  10. I’ve noticed that circulation figures on NP rate cards are dropping but not the pci price. There are too many other options available to tie up ad budgets with NPs. For print it is far better to target trade journals and specialty publications and, even then, only for specific clients and openings. Today’s printed newspaper is yesterday’s buggy whip.

  11. On a local level, in metro markets, you are right. We’re seeing forced online buys with higher rates than ever. The metro papers aren’t smart about how to compete. Thank goodness we have contracted online rates with Career Builder, Hot Jobs, etc. We are able to get our clients out of placing the online ads through the papers and paying their inflated rates!

    Most of the network and smaller community paper buys have it figured out. They are offering deep discounts and free weeks that keep the advertisers coming back. Too bad the large dailies do not take that approach!

  12. This was a good article and is something we have been aware of for sometime, however, it does need repeating.
    It will also be interesting to track what happens to job boards with the rise of sites like iProfile in the UK which is also spreading down to Australasia.
    The difficulty for the recruitment industry is that while print was king, recruitment agencies could usually buy better rates from the print media than clients which gave us an edge. With job boards and the rise of the RPO Model, independant recruitment companies will need to continually review our value proposition to clients.
    Down here in the Southern hemisphere we are seeing a growing incidence of companies recruiting directly.Our industry is experiencing rapid change at present.

  13. As recruitment marketing practitioners, we have moved most of our clients’ job marketing efforts online.
    We still have some success with smaller city and rural newspapers when sourcing jobs that are difficult to categorize and that may appeal to the newspaper-reading demographic.
    We point readers to custom Web landing pages and we track response with Google Analytics, paying special attention to the days right after publication. To our surprise, we have realized excellent results with these types of positions.
    But “print” itself is not quite dead. Newspapers and journal classifieds may be going away, but micro-targeted direct mail can be very effective when sourcing the “passive” candidate.
    Some innovative companies are also using posters, flyers, business cards and other printed materials along with QR Codes ( to allow folks with mobile devices with cameras to go directly to a landing page. Look to Japan and Europe for examples. The U.S. may eventually catch up.

  14. While the topic does seem one that has been discussed for many years now, it clearly has not sunk in to all areas of the market, with Government, Education and Not for Profits wasting millions of dollars each year on print advertising that delivers no returns. So whilst most of the corporate sector are savvy and measure ROI and do not like to see money wasted, it seems when it is a case of ‘other people’s money’ i.e. tax payers $ or donations, then they are happy to throw it at ineffective advertising channels.

    While these institutions are all for stats and measurements, too many are not measured internally nor do they even measure the effectiveness of their employment advertising campaigns. They are stuck in the old way of doing things and too many have so much invested in not changing. I will clarify that not all government departments, education al institutions and not for profits are behaving in this fashion however the majority are yet to evolve.

    All of us who are at the cold face and working in HR and Recruitment are pretty wised up to what works and what does not when sourcing talent, and we know that the vehicles available to us are growing in choice and decreasing in cost. It is an exciting time to be in these professions and we can deliver a lot of value to our organizations if they let us. If our employers embrace and support us to move with the times and the marketplace, we can deliver them great talent to help drive and grow their organizations.

  15. True…newspapers..the most consistently effective recruitment tool for 50 years..That filled close to 60% of all jobs annually in the US for the most part is now officially..for all intents and purposes dead!! Sure it was costly..sure it was frustrating (the amount of unqualified responses)sure it wasn’t very timely (had to wait till Sunday..IT DELIVERED A HIGH CONCENTRATION OF THE AUDIENCE WE NEEDED..

    Now what??? Newspapers would deliver every Sunday the highest penetration of active and passive job The LOCAL MARKET..How do we now reach that same audience
    through the web considering today there are now thousands of Job Boards where these same jobs are now scattered.

    Whereas in times past we would know where the candidates would be (the classifieds)when they would be there (on Sunday)and they would almost assuredly see our ad if it was there..WE HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE NOW..of IF they will go online..WHEN they will go online..WHERE they will go online and IF they will see our posting when they get there..

    Job Boards will never be able to deliver the same penetration to the total number of active and passive job seekers that newspapers did BECAUSE THERE WAS ONLY ONE MAJOR SUNDAY NEWSPAPER and now that readership is fractionalized across thousands of Job Boards..

    So the real dilemma now is WHAT’S THE NEXT BEST WAY to reach the job seeker..

  16. I think everyone missed the major point of why newspapers aren’t utilized…metrics. When I started using pay-per-click in 2004 I realized that I can get better metrics and even track an applicant to a keyword. Your hoping that applicants that you find will cite the source of where they saw the ad but we all know this is never the case.

  17. It’s easy to apply metrics to print advertising and I see it consistently. Just use a unique email address dedicated to the print campaign.

    It’s funny, when a client told a co-worker of mine no one reads print any more he posed a challenge: “I’ll give you a free ad if you offer to $500 to the first five people that apply”…guess what? The client didn’t like that idea.

    For those that believe print is dead – want to try that challenge?

  18. As a media selling professional I know how the newspapers treated recruitment advertising. The brought in not just the revenues but also the readers. Apart from trying to increase the rates they never offered any value to the advertiser. In fact most newspapers charged a premium over display advertising for recruitments. The advertisers were looking for an option and online happened.

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