Recruiting Advertising Agencies and the Future: The Changing Landscape

There is a “best way” to do everything: the best way usually meaning the fastest, the cheapest, or the most effective. For years the best way to source candidates has largely involved advertising in newspapers and magazines. Over the past two or three years, the Internet has altered this landscape, as has the tight labor market. The Internet has theoretically made it easier than ever to find people and yet the supply is small and of poor quality. Where there used to be several qualified candidates for every position, now there are frequently none. The relevance of practices and institutions that were taken for granted just a couple of years ago are in doubt: two of them being the recruiting advertising agency and the newspaper classified ad. Here are a few thoughts on what is happening and what’s evolving. The recruiting advertising agency has had a nice run. It has been a kind of niche business, primarily being a buyer of media space while offering a smattering of advice and creative guidance along the way. For as long as I’ve been involved with recruiting (and that’s a long time), the agencies have had a large part to play in how we sourced candidates. The biggest and best of these agencies taught many of us the basics of recruitment ad placement, advised us on our campus advertising strategies and helped us place all those ads that were necessary to tell candidates about who we were looking for. There wasn’t much need to create a unique image because there were so many job seekers just getting out the word was good enough. The toughest decisions were where to run the ads and how big they should be. I remember having long conversations about where to place posters on campus and whether or not we should pass out flyers at the student union. A large portion of the advertising we did was local and required very little specialized knowledge of the candidates. Tracking was haphazard – some of us tried to find out if the candidate had seen the ad or not, but we rarely did a scientific analysis. The general thought was that the agencies knew the market, knew how to write and place the ads, and were more creative than we were. Besides, we always had plenty of good candidates. Today’s market has created an entirely new set of challenges and needs. Now, we need to create a recruiting image and build a brand for ourselves. There are so many companies that seem to provide the same kind of jobs and to pay roughly the same salary that differentiating one from the other is harder and harder to do. Creating a brand can help people identify with your company more clearly and understand why you are different than the other guy. All of a sudden we need very powerful image building capabilities and many of my clients find that their needs are just about the same as the needs of the product marketing or service marketing divisions of their firms. So why do we need two different agencies? Why not piggyback on the corporate marketing and advertising strategies? The ads that position the products, also position the recruiting function. It should be possible to leverage the ads for the products or services, by adding a few words about key opportunities in the firm. And this is exactly what I see evolving. The need for a specialized agency for writing and placing recruiting ads is gone. What recruiters now need is help in developing an overall marketing strategy and approach, combined with an image and branding campaign. And a key part of that has to be the Internet and the recruiting web site. But, an exciting web site needs to be built on market research about what works and what doesn’t work in attracting the candidates we seek. That means that each site has to be very carefully researched, designed and the results tracked so that changes can be made. The site is almost like a living being because it needs constant attention and tweaking to obtain optimum results. It needs interactivity, has to provide real time responses, and build in some sort of screening and perhaps even testing. Only a handful of companies have a really good recruiting web site and even fewer have a strong image building and branding approach. The recruiting advertising agencies haven’t been very helpful in this. They have not had the ability to develop web sites nor do they really have the knowledge of the company and industry that is necessary to develop image and branding strategies. Many of these agencies have limited market research capabilities – especially in researching what works and doesn’t work on a web site. So, where do companies go for these services? The firms that have pioneered great recruiting web sites have not gone to their recruiting advertising agencies. Generally they have taken the network approach and have used the services of a variety of providers. Some of them have used their internal webmaster, their corporate marketing department, a product advertising firm, a web metrics and research firm and a variety of providers of screening and testing services. Many small firms have sprung up to meet these emerging needs. There are a companies that conduct focus groups and run surveys to obtain information about what candidates are looking for in a firm; there are agencies that specialize in creating image campaigns and in developing web sites that reflect the themes of the campaigns; there are firms that track every “hit” to the web site and determine how long each section of the web site was looked at and what parts were skipped. There are firms that drive people to your web site via the search engines, job boards, banner ads, and even billboards and radio advertising. And, there are firms that offer to outsource all of this for you and provide you with candidates (although I am a bit suspect about this). Will the recruiting advertising agencies adapt and begin providing these services? I would certainly demand it from them or I would seek alternatives, as have so many other companies.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at


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