Recruitment Ad Agencies: Most Don’t Get It (How To Assess A Recruitment Ad Agency)

Since the war for talent began several years ago, corporate recruitment managers have been begging for help from “recruiting support” firms. Unfortunately, one of the key players in our industry, recruitment advertising agencies (RAA’s), have often failed to meet this new challenge. If you are currently considering selecting (or changing) a recruitment advertising agency, it’s important that you raise your standards and your expectations and only consider those firms that meet most of the criteria listed below. Why raise expectations? “Old” style agencies have been basically “ad designers and placers,” which was fine before the Internet, branding, and low unemployment forever changed the way companies find candidates and the way candidates look for their next job. When it comes to internal programs for retention…RAA’s never even tried. Why have these agencies been slow to adapt? Some got complacent while others just lacked the right kind of talent to do branding, web pages, assessments of recruiting software and candidate market research. Selecting A Great Recruitment Ad Agency (RAA) There are five basic areas you should look at when assessing a recruitment advertising firm:

  1. Programs and services offered
  2. Web recruiting and technical expertise
  3. Market data they have
  4. The account executive you are assigned
  5. Do they base their fee on service levels and results

1. Programs/Services The Best Should Offer Placing ads in newspapers have long been the primary (and often sole) function of many recruitment ad agencies (RAA’s). However, as unemployment rates have dropped and the Internet has grown, placing ads has become and an increasingly small part of modern recruiting. World-class RAA’s need to morph into “recruiting consultants” and offer programs that go well beyond placing ads. The best need to offer (in addition to traditional “ad” services):

  • Referral Programs – Referral programs produce high-quality, low-cost, fast hires. The best firms offer program designs with data to prove their effectiveness.
  • Boomerang/Alumni Networks – Programs that help firms keep track of former employees in order to use them as referral sources and for potential re-hire.
  • Branding And PR – The best firms can help you get “listed” on the best-place-to-work lists. They can also help you manage what your employees say about you and can get your people practices written up in leading publications.
  • Retention Programs – It doesn’t help firms to recruit top talent and soon afterwards to see them walk out the door. RAA’s that offer well-designed retention programs that show firms how to identify top talent, what are the causes of turnover and to provide effective retention tools for managers are the ones to seriously consider.
  • Strategy Help – RAA’s have often provided tactical help, but they have frequently failed to provide “big picture” experts and advice on what overall recruiting structures and strategies have proven effective.
  • Training – As firms are forced to hire large numbers of inexperienced recruiters, they desperately need help in bringing them up to speed. RAA’s should play a major role in developing these recruiters (and managers).
  • Internal Market Research – If you want to retain top talent you have to know their expectations and frustrations. Management needs data on why people are leaving, where they are going and who might leave next. Surveys, focus groups, first-day interviews and post exit-surveys are all tools that RAA’s can offer to help a firm prevent the loss of the talent it recruited not that long ago. RAA’s can also help identify the necessary competencies that are necessary for a new hire to be successful.
  • Metrics And A Feedback Loop – Most recruiting departments just “run programs” with no data (closed feedback loop) to prove what works. Management needs help in identifying the appropriate metrics for assessing the overall effectiveness of the recurring effort as well as which individual programs work.
  • Rewriting Job Descriptions – As firms realize that most recruiting is just basic marketing, they need help not just in writing ads but also in writing exciting job descriptions that directly answer applicant questions and simultaneously excite the applicant.
  • Web Search Tools – Finding top talent on the web requires a special set of skills and tools. RAA’s need to be able to provide search tools that allow you to find talent in chat rooms, on list servers, and through the prospects personal web page.
  • Screening Tools – Finding talent is only part of the equation. Top firms can advise you on what tools are the most accurate in screening talent. The best also offer advice in on-line assessment, “fit” assessment and effective interviewing.
  • Benchmarking Database – True experts know what others are doing both in tools used and in results achieved. The best firms can save you time and let you know what results that the best in class firms are achieving.

2. Help With Recruiting On The Web And Recruiting Technology Most recruiting tools were developed long before the birth of the Internet. Recruiting managers need all the help they can get in mastering this new tool. Unfortunately, many RAA’s don’t know the web. Check out their own site to get an idea on how often they fail to “practice what they preach”. Do they utilize streaming videos, push technology, feedback options, morphed web pages on their home page? Just like candidates, judge a firm by its site. If it’s not a leader go elsewhere! Some of the web/technology related services you should expect top firms to provide and help you with include:

  • Corporate Web page design
  • Resume-less application processes
  • Advice on which job boards are most effective
  • Robots, chat rooms and search tools to find individual resumes
  • Choosing the most effective applicant tracking systems
  • The effectiveness of online assessment, referral and alumni programs
  • Web-based remote college recruiting
  • Understanding the value of on-line ads and links to other pages
  • Permission marketing and “push” technology

3. The Top Firms Have Market Data And Make Data Driven Decisions It is difficult for most individual corporations to keep track of the “big picture” in recruiting. Unfortunately, many recruitment advertising agencies also have a narrow tactical perspective, which prohibits them from being strategic. RAA’s often rely on intuition and tradition, and as a result they fail to gather data on whether their ads work. They often also fail to benchmark what other firms are doing or to forecast future trends. Demand that any firm you deal with have a wealth of data and a variety of tools to gather it in the following areas:

  • What Sources Work? – Consultants need to have specific data on which sources work and which do not for each major recruitment tool.
  • Market Research – What does it take to convince applicants to apply for and to accept a position? It’s hard for individual firms to gather enough to data to know for sure but larger recruitment advertising firms should have data to show exactly what it takes.
  • Providing A Competitive Advantage – Individual corporations need to know what they have to do in order to gain a competitive advantage over other firms that recruit the same talent. RAA’s need to provide information and analysis on what the direct “talent” competitors are currently doing and are likely to do in the future. Ironically, many firms also sell their services to several direct competitors in the same industry and therefore provide no competitive advantage to any single firm.
  • Benchmarking Data – Client firms need to know what “world-class” recruiting is and who is doing it. RAA’s need to compile checklists, which outline which specific program elements and critical success factors, are necessary to transform recruiting programs into world-class ones.
  • Quality Of Hire – Firms need help both in decreasing the cost of hire and also in improving the average performance score of those that it hires. Recruiting firms can provide data (competencies) as to which tools find and accurately select top performers.
  • ROI – Recruiting managers need help in selling recruiting programs to top management. RAA firms can help by providing HR professionals with the tools that allow them to calculate the return on investment (ROI) of recruiting and retention programs compared to other business functions.
  • Forecasts – If recruiting managers are to become leaders they need data forecasting future economic, unemployment and related business conditions. RAA’s are now in an ideal position to provide a broad range of accurate forecasts for it’s clients but in reality few actually do any forecasting for their clients. Hiring a large volume of people right before a downturn is expensive and embarrassing. RAA’s should be able to help us develop effective workforce plans that help us prepare for the future. They should also warn their clients about economic cycles, so that they can plan effectively.
  • Where Are The People? – RAA consultants should be experts in identifying regions (for plant location) where there is a surplus of talent. They should also know which firms are laying off, which firms to poach from and which firms should be considered for purchase (because of their wealth of talent).
  • Know Where The “Passives” Are – Traditional “ads” attract unemployed people or “active” lookers. Unfortunately these are generally not the top performers most firms want to attract. RAA’s should have extensive data on how to find (what do they read, sites they visit etc.), attract and sell these people that are not looking for jobs in the want ads.
  • Know Where The “Diverse” Candidates Are – Traditional ads attract traditional people. Unfortunately firms also need diversity in order to survive. RAA’s should have extensive data on how to find (what do they read, sites they visit etc.) and source diverse people that are not attracted to companies in the same way as “traditional” candidates are.

4. The Consultant/Account Executive You Are Assigned Selecting the right agency is important, but it is equally important to make sure that you get a highly skilled account representative. Many recruiting firms have recently suffered high turnover as well as rapid growth. As a result, you have to be careful to make sure your account rep has the right set of skills to meet your needs. Some of the skills you should expect/demand from your account rep include:

  • Knowledge of metrics
  • Understanding your industry
  • Knowledge of your firms products and culture
  • Knowledge of your direct “talent” competitor
  • The ability to sell top managers (in dollar terms) on the importance of recruiting and retention
  • Market research skills
  • Knowledge of technology and the Web
  • Strong customer service skills
  • Knowledge of effective recruiting and retention tools

5. Service Levels And Pay For Results If your current agency isn’t up to speed it’s time to:

  • Insist on a service level agreement with minimum performance levels. Demand that they measure and provide a fast response time, low costs, global coverage and high quality candidates.
  • Demand that they have a fee structure based on a “pay for results” model. Offer them incentives to “nudge” them into increasing the variety and quality of the services they provide, or
  • Fire them!

Additional Factors To Consider When Selecting A RAA Firm

  • The geographic scope of the firm
  • It’s reputation among it’s clients
  • How it handles “errors”
  • The degree of creativity and innovation it demonstrates
  • The accuracy of its past forecasts

Conclusion Don’t pick a RAA just because they are big or well known. Be precise. Use this checklist to set your priorities and to determine your critical selection factors. Continually change (raise) your expectations as technological advances and the changing economy dictate. Remember, in the old days knowledge of advertising might have been all RAA’s needed to succeed, but today you should demand that RAA’s be experts in technology, recruiting software, the web and data driven decision making. If they don’t provide you with a competitive advantage…why bother with them?

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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