Why recruitment advertising has gone back to 1980

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The other day I was reading that the number of recruitment advertisements is now at an all-time high with year-on-year growth. A recent Warc report shows a 3.9% growth last year. However, not surprisingly, the recession of recent years brought a steady decline in recruitment advertising expenditure from £354M in Q2 2008 to around a third of that in Q4 2010. Annual recruitment adspend was c. £1.2 bn in 2008, diminishing to around £500M in 2013.

The pre-recession spend won’t come back any day soon as the majority of advertisers have now embraced digital media.  A decade ago digital media took around 15% of the market compared with a forecasted 74% in 2015.

Now the number of recruitment ads might be at an all-time high - but, wait a minute - are there really that many new jobs? I suspect not. There’s clearly been a big jump in new vacancies, but there’s something else going on here. Employers and recruiters are embracing technology and, to make sure their ads are up and running quickly, they are posting their vacancies directly to job boards and their own company websites.  Some of the jobs they post are aggregated which means that once posted onto one jobs board, they are cross posted onto a raft of other sites. Aggregator sites like Indeed and Simplyhired crawl the web looking for jobs and post them onto a multitude of other sites - whether you want them to appear or not

Added to which there's a whole raft of new services that help speed up the process of writing ads for those Recruiting and HR professionals who are time poor  (in my opinion, you still can’t beat a good old-fashioned professional copywriter).

This is all very well and good apart from one thing – quantity v quality. I think in all the effort to save money, several organisations have forgotten one rather major thing – the candidate. The whole purpose of recruitment advertising is to attract the best quality candidates for the least amount of money.

Many years ago (no laughing, it was early 1980’s) when I started in advertising, I was doing my Communications Advertising and Marketing course and one of the key things we were taught early on were the ingredients of a good ad. It is called AIDA: Attention,Interest, Desire and Action.

I despair when I see the majority of recruitment ads on jobs boards today because not only do they not grab my attention but they lack anything contextually that sells the role.  Many feel like they have been written by a robot – badly phrased, with spelling errors and full of typos.

We have gone back in time. Situations vacant classified sections all used to be reams and reams of lineage ads and then one day someone said ‘why don’t we run an ad with some nice graphics, a proper headline – and which sells the benefits of working for our organisation?’ – and, guess what, it worked. This was display advertising and it spawned a raft of agencies like mine.  Thereafter all organisations that wanted to be taken seriously placed recruitment ads that were well crafted, well written and impactful – and the strange thing was – it worked.

Fast forward to 2015 and we have 2D ads with static text that are frankly dreadful. Are we back in 1980?

I was called to a meeting a few weeks ago to a leading law firm who wanted some advice as to why their recruitment advertising didn’t appear to be working very well.

This firm had handed all the recruitment ads to a graduate who had been with the firm for just 6 weeks.  They were placing all their ads on LinkedIn and on a jobs board, but there was nothing in the ads selling the business; nothing about why you would want to work for this particular firm, just a list of requirements.  The experience took me back to 1983.

So what needs to be done? Well, here’s a thing, we have the technology available. Much in the same way that recruiters in the '80’s migrated to quality display ads so the recruiters of today should be embracing rich media. The content should be informative, interesting; alluring advertisement copy that arouses interest in the organisation and really demonstrates that it understands the needs of the candidate.

In the hurry to be more tech savvy, save money and be more stream-lined the candidate experience has been forgotten about. It’s hard enough in 2015 to attract quality candidates to a reputable organisation with a well perceived brand. Organisations who are unknown will have a desperate struggle unless they up their game and put more effort into their recruitment communications.

Peter Gibbons