Will Recruitment Advertising Agencies Rise to the Challenge?

There is a “best way” to do everything ó 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. But over the past two or three years, the Internet has altered this landscape, as has the nature of the labor market. The Internet has theoretically made it easier than ever to find people, yet we still struggle to source the highest qualified people while we are swamped with the resumes of everybody else. Where there used to be several qualified candidates for every position, now there are frequently scores of less qualified ones. As a result, the relevance of practices and institutions that were taken for granted just a couple of years ago ó like recruitment advertising agencies, newspaper classified ads, and Internet searching ó is in doubt. Here are a few thoughts on what’s happening and what’s evolving. Recruitment Advertising Agencies The recruitment 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 role to play in how we sourced candidates. The biggest and best of these agencies taught 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 of a need to create a unique image, because there were so many job seekers that 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 use a half-page or a quarter-page ad in the local newspaper. 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 whether the candidate had seen the ad, but rarely did we perform 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. Brand and Image But 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 pay roughly the same salary that differentiating one from the other is harder and harder for candidates to do. Creating a brand can help people identify with our companies more clearly and understand why we are different than the other guy. All of a sudden, we need very powerful image-building capabilities. During economic slowdowns like we are experiencing now, we may need to develop extremely targeted advertising and use the capabilities for e-marketing to get at just those who are most likely to be qualified and interested. What recruiters now need is help in developing an overall marketing strategy, combined with an image and branding campaign. And a key part of that has to be the Internet and the recruiting website. A Powerful Recruiting Website An exciting website 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 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 must have some sort of screening or testing component. Only a handful of companies have a really good recruiting website, and even fewer have a strong image building and branding approach. The recruiting advertising agencies haven’t been very helpful in this. They have been reluctant to get into web design because they lack the expertise and the understanding of how to make money doing it. They often don’t 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 ó especially when it comes to researching what works and what doesn’t work on a website. Do it Yourself? So where do companies go for these services? The firms that have pioneered great recruiting websites have not gone to their recruiting advertising agencies. Generally they have done it themselves by cobbling together the services of a variety of providers. Some of them have used their internal webmaster or their corporate marketing department; others have used product-advertising firms, web metrics and research firms, and a variety of screening and testing providers. Many small firms have sprung up to meet these emerging needs. There are companies that conduct focus groups and run surveys to obtain information about what candidates are looking for in a firm. There are also agencies that specialize in creating image campaigns and in developing websites that reflect the themes of the campaigns. There are products that track every “hit” to the website and determine how long each section of the website was looked at and which parts were skipped. All in all, it’s a tough mission and one that every recruiting manager I know needs help executing well. A slow economy doesn’t change the need. Print advertising for jobs is at a miniscule level but will probably remain as a way to attract certain kinds of people for certain kinds of jobs. However, print will not be used to go after the skilled professionals, the managers, the technical gurus, or the people who really create your organization’s wealth. They will be found using technology, websites, and referrals. Where Are the Agencies? The recruiting agencies are still in the best position to help you choose vendors, integrate products and services, and create a brand. I am hopeful that as the economy improves they will begin providing these services in a big way. If they don’t, smaller firms and other advertising agencies may jump in to fill the void. I would start demanding these services from them now. The question is whether they are too sclerotic to rise to the challenge!

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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 ERE.net, 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 kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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