Online vs press recruitment
Scotland is nothing if not steeped in tradition and that has been no different in the recruitment sector for many years. Traditionally, if you wanted to find that new job you'd check out the Scotsman and the Herald on a Friday and before you knew it you'd be negotiating your new company car with your new boss and accidentally scratching your old gaffer's car shortly after clearing your desk.
However, unlike many of Scotland's traditions, Scottish recruitment is changing and in no small part that is down to, you guessed it, the internet, where applying for that life changing opportunity is as easy as getting an unsecured loan from the Student Loans Company at the age of 17.
In the last few years the internet has had a marked effect on all commercial sectors, but perhaps none more so than the recruitment sector. No longer are the Scotsman and the Herald considered 'no-brainers' when it comes to advertising your latest vacancy.
Websites such as Scotland Online's Scottish Appointments, TMP's Monster.com, S&UN's Scottish Recruitment and, more recently, S1jobs from SMG and Scotsman.com, from The Scotsman Publications Ltd, are all taking a growing piece of the newspaper recruitment pie and recruitment revenues are migrating out of press and into online - a trend which could have significant repercussions for newspapers, which have traditionally relied heavily on recruitment revenues.
The reasons for this migration are various, as discovered after speaking to a number of Scotland's recruitment experts.
Alex Masefield, prinicipal consultant at TMP Melville Craig, says: "As a recruitment consultancy we are definately seeing a large increase in the number of candidates that we find via the internet. In terms of efficiency and time scales the internet is much quicker and far more cost effective than press advertising. That said, using the internet for recruitment is not always the right thing to do for your clients. It depends on the individual client. Maybe trade press or national press would suit a particular client better than using the web alone."
For the recruitment consultant, and Scotland perhaps has more than its fair share of those, the growth of the internet, and more specifically the explosion in dedicated recruitment websites, has proven to be a positive boon for them, as John Currie, former advertising director at the Scotsman, explains:
"The people really using the internet on a grand scale are the recruitment consultancies. They are trying to get as many candidates onto their books as they possibly can and as cheaply and efficiently as they can. Effectively, the recruitment consultancies are in direct competition with the newspapers. They say to their clients that they can fill that position for them and save them having to go to the newspapers to do it. Any way they can increase the size of their candidate list they will do.
"The internet is definitely taking money away from the press, particularly money from the recruitment consultancies. Take a consultancy like Search or TMP they will certainly not be doing as much press advertising as they were two years ago or even a year ago."
Masefield at TMP backs up Currie's claim: "In the future we will be spending more money on the internet and less on press. To be honest, I have not run a lineage ad for some time now. As a company, TMP would never pull out of press completely, but in the future we will perhaps be looking at more press and internet packages. From a recruitment consultancy point of view, finding people is not the big issue, finding the right people is."
As a buyer of recruitment media, Tony Harding, recruitment director at Feather Brooksbank, is ideally placed to comment on the current trends in recruitment advertising.
He says: "There is obviously now more people with internet access at home so looking at the long term there's no doubt online recruitment will increase. But at the moment you couldn't really say recruitment money has moved out of newspapers as quickly as you would have expected it to, though we have not been doing as much advertising in newspapers in the last two or three years as we were before.
"We thought we would be putting much more recruitment online now than we actually are. But I suppose the future depends a lot on ratecard policy of newspapers. The Herald and Scotsman have pushed costs through the roof. When costs go up it can put a client off advertising. They find other ways of advertising their vacancies.
"Our aim is to give value for money to my clients. If online is more suitable than press for one particular client then we will do whatever is best for them. My view is that s1jobs.com has worked well for our clients and will continue to do so. However, to say that we are close to using online recruitment solus would not be accurate. I think the industry is still quite away from using the internet alone."
If there is a drawback to the internet as a recruitment tool it is, as Currie points out, how the medium is used by those people less enamoured with the whole online experience.
He says: "People use the web and newspapers very differently when looking for jobs. People who look in newspapers don't necessarily know what they are looking for. If you look through you might spot something which grabs your attention. However, when using the web you have to have a pretty good idea of what you are looking for, be it telesales, public sector or whatever. You have to know where to find it."
It's a good point, but Scotland's newspaper publishers such as SMG, The Scotsman Publications and the Daily Record, have all taken a defensive line in an effort to ensure the recruitment money being stripped from their newspaper titles is merely being redirected to them through their associated online ventures, such as S1jobs, scotsman.com and icScotland.
Currie says: "I am sure the Herald and the Scotsman would admit that they have lost money to the internet, but perhaps not as much as they had anticipated. They are not running around like headless chickens, but they all know that they need a strong web equivalent as a defensive measure to stop that revenue going elsewhere completely. Recruitment through newspapers is very expensive and now, more so than ever before. People will not experiment with untried and untested methods. Business am has not really taken off in recruitment because it is still largely untried and untested."
Ewan Colville, head of marketing at website S1jobs.com, says that with unsubstantiated traffic claims by many job sites and a general misunderstanding among recruiters of which sites are populated by Scottish-based job seekers, some internet-based recruitment sites are doing themselves no favours.
"Obviously quality and quantity of response to vacancies posted on job sites are a key metric which enable recruiters to evaluate their online spend," says Colville. "With most job sites facilitating direct email application to vacancies from their sites, the 'application-trail' is now infact measurable. Furthermore, the recent introduction of online traffic audits - the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has created guidelines for auditing and appointed approved and independent auditors - ensures a standardisation and transparency of traffic claims."
The first quarter of 2002 will see s1jobs.com become the first website to publish ABCe audited traffic stats. A recent survey by Forrester research indicated that a staggering 84 per cent of internet users in Europe have explored the web for career-related information or advice.
Sally McPherson, Scottish regional manager at Monster.co.uk, says: "Candidates love the internet as a career tool because it is incredibly fast and easy to use, it provides them with all the information they need to make an informed career choice and most importantly, it opens the doors to new opportunities they have never considered. For that reason, using the internet can drastically reduce employers costs and shorten their hiring cycles.
"In the future new laws on work permits - which will make importing new talent far easier - are increasingly likely continuing the growth of online candidate databases. Candidates will continue to turn to the web for jobs and career advice - and employers will need to take this into account when they develop their war strategies to attract the talent they need to succeed."
Interestingly, trying to get a handle on exactly how much money is now being redirected into online recruitment from traditional press media is a contentious one. After all, who's to say it wasn't always destined to be used online anyway? Also, as a senior industry source points out, perhaps the current economic climate of today does not provide the best barometer for any measurement.
He says: "The migration of revenue out of press and onto the internet is hard to pinpoint at the moment because the recruitment market is quite slow. Paginations are down across the board by as much as 50 per cent in some cases. Many organisations have got recruitment freezes on so that is one reason why the Sunday Times recruitment section, for instance, is down from 28 pages to just 10 or 12. You cannot really say at this time that the internet is a primary reason for that. The Scottish newspaper titles have been more fortunate and both the Herald and the Scotsman maintain a 10-12 page section."
Leaving the nationals behind, recruitment revenue is also a very important factor in the survival of local and regional titles. If smaller titles also have to take a significant hit in the recruitment revenue wallet then things could become even more bleak for Scotland's ever under fire regional press.
However, Scottish & Universal Newspapers' Kevin Gallagher believes that regional titles can offer recruiters a cheaper alternative to the nationals and another affordable option to the internet.
He says: "People can no longer afford both the Scotsman and the Herald and have to consider more cost effective options. There are big opportunities online and agencies also have to learn to buy their print advertising more intelligently.
"What advertisers have to do is perhaps choose one of the nationals and upweight it with a local or regional title. A more intelligent way of buying print would be to buy either the Herald or Scotsman and then upweight that with S&UN in Lanarkshire. Clients are doing that more so now. In the past few weeks we have had blue chip clients such as Abbey National, Sky, First Direct, Standard Life and Morgan Stanley.
"Looking at the market in Scotland, online activity is only having an effect on how people are looking for jobs not how people are advertising them. The costs of online are so small that people are doing online at the moment as an addtion to their normal press activity. The online media owners are building their market at the moment basically by giving it away to advertisers. I do not think that is devaluing online recruitment, but I do think it'll have to change in the future. As the internet becomes more commonplace owners will be able to offer a premium on it."
At present the majority of newspapers with associated websites offer package deals; basically you buy an ad in the newspaper and get an ad online for next to nothing. That is all well and good for recruitment agencies in the present, but is such a sales approach only serving to devalue the online recruitment sector?
One senior industry source says: "There is a very real concern that there will, over the coming years, be a very heavy migration of newspaper recruitment revenue to online. The bigger concern, though, is whether online can actually make up the monetary difference. I believe rates for online recruitment have got to go up if they are to make up the difference for publishers that own both press and online recruitment sites."
TMP's Masefield concurs: "Because of the rates and packages being sold at the moment then inevitably there will be a shortfall for the newspaper publishers as recruiters migrate to websites such as s1jobs.com and scotsman.com. It is going to be a big issue for them and they will need to find a way of replacing that lost revenue.
"They need to be looking at the long term. I don't think it is a question of them underselling their internet recruitment at the moment, but in the future they will need to market their sites better to ensure that people are visiting them regularly."
Harding agrees that online recruitment is not in danger of being seen as a cheap option in the future, therefore devaluing it and ultimately meaning that site owners will fail to make it pay in the long term.
He says: "I think that it is likely to work the other way and online as a recruitment medium will become more valued by clients. There may be people thinking that newspapers such as the Herald and Scotsman aren't taking as many recruitment ads because of the internet, but there are many more ways open to them now such as the Metro and so on.
"Clients have always paid through the nose for recruitment advertising. Now they have to think hard about where to place their ads. If you took public sector and education advertising out of the Herald and Scotsman there would be little left.
"S1jobs and Scotsman.com show great promise in the Scottish recruitment market, but they have to ensure that people continue to visit them on a regular basis."
So, as it stands, it is still difficult to assess exactly how much revenue the internet is taking out of newspaper recruitment as the recruitment market is in decline. However, all the signs point to the day when the first thing people will reach for when they are fed up with their job situation is a computer keyboard, as opposed to a newspaper.
You won't even have to leave you desk to find yourself a new job. Bliss.