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Recruitment Review

By The Drum | Administrator

January 17, 2007 | 9 min read

Recruitment consultancies – the hard-working, often vital, occasionally maligned companies dedicated to providing clients with the best candidates for their job vacancies. In the marketing industry, where so much hinges on employing staff with the right creative skills and brand knowledge, recruitment consultants are arguably even more essential than in other industries.

In recent years, the Midlands and north of England have seen a marked increase in the number of recruitment consultancies which cater for media and marketing companies. With this increase in activity, The Drum decided to take a look at the recruitment market to find out how the consultancies are competing and see how the market is changing.

“It’s definitely more competitive now compared to five years ago,” says Dean Bartle, director of Leeds-based Better Placed. “There used to be three main players, but now there are a lot of smaller niche companies.”

Rob Tennant, managing director of Birmingham-based Freelance Store, agrees. The consultancy specialises in recruitment for freelance creatives such as Mac operators and designers. “It’s definitely more competitive between the agencies,” he says. “Most agencies weren’t really offering a freelance service before, but lately they’ve started to expand into the freelance market as well.”

This increased competition hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing for the more established recruitment companies though. In fact, Mike Carter, managing director of Manchester’s Orchard, which was set up in 1992, says the growing number of companies in this sector helps older firms such Orchard make their mark. “The sector’s becoming more competitive,” he says. “But in the last nine months or so, we’ve actually been finding it easier to stand out because, as more and more recruitment companies come up from London, a lot of people are finding it more reassuring to go with an established, Manchester-based consultancy.”

Increasing competition is something all marketing agencies will be able to sympathise with, and for recruitment agencies – as with their marketing counterparts – it’s crucial that they stand out from the crowd. This can be particularly important for recruitment agencies working within the marketing industry, as candidates and clients alike tend to understand the importance of having a distinctive brand.

Darren Scotland, managing director of Character Creative, explains: “I think branding is pretty crucial really. You’re providing quality recruitment staff and you can’t profess to know what you’re talking about unless you have quality creative to back it up. You’ve got to practise what you preach.”

Midlands-based AF Selection’s managing director, Simon Pettigrew, agrees. “It’s very important to have a strong brand,” he says. “Hence why we’ve always spent quite a lot of money on advertising. It’s a lot like walking past the same shop every day – if it disappears you might just forget about it.

“A fair bit of our spend is going on the internet now. We try to have a strong image and a good reputation, but not to be too much in people’s faces.”

The importance of branding isn’t lost on Paul Wood, director of Purple Consultancy, either. “I think branding is very important,” he says. “We had a rebrand just before Christmas as it’s really important to stand out. A lot of consultancies look at doing lists of job vacancies when they advertise in publications, whereas we’ve been looking at more of a brand approach. Good advertising and good design always stand out, and that’s what people want to see if they’re a good designer or creative. It shows you understand the market.”

And of equal importance is how that brand is conveyed to potential candidates and clients. The days when newspapers and magazines were the only routes of recruitment advertising are over. “Attracting candidates is now very much a combination of different routes,” says Ollie Purdom, client services manager at Blue Skies. “Historically we’ve invested a huge amount in trade advertising, and that will continue, but these days we’re diverting more money online. The industry is moving much more towards an internet model.

“Having said that, the networking side of things is also very important to us, because we find that good people tend to recommend good people. We do find we benefit from the fact that we’re a known, trusted brand, and as a result we get a lot of referrals and repeat business. In addition, our UK network means we also benefit from a good volume of relocators.”

It’s the same story at Better Placed. “We use a combination of advertising and networking to attract candidates and clients,” says Bartle. “We’ve always been successful in getting referrals, but for general awareness of your brand, it’s important to advertise.”

Attracting candidates and clients is, of course, only part of the challenge. Keeping them after an initial placement can be even tougher – but Orchard is known for rising to this challenge. “I think what you really need to do as a consultancy is know your clients really well as a business,” says Carter. “Clients will ask you to find them staff, but they won’t often articulate their needs as a business, so spending time getting to know a company can make for a much longer and more successful relationship.”

Of course, providing quality candidates for a position is perhaps marginally more straightforward if the job is desirable. Marketing businesses are constantly in need of skilled individuals to improve their teams, making the best talent highly sought after. In a increasingly candidate-led marketplace, do companies have to make more of an effort to lure potential employees?

“I think salary is the draw at the more junior end of the scale, but as you go on in your career, things such as pensions come in,” says Claire Tuffin, director of London-based VMA, which has just launched a Manchester office. “Benefits are becoming much more the mainstay of the business. Shareholder pensions are becoming more normal, as well as healthcare, holidays and things like gym memberships. These are nice to have, but the financial package is always the most important thing.”

Character Creative’s Scotland agrees. “The biggest factor is still salary,” he says. “Once you get to the upper echelons – the director positions – other factors come in, but mostly it’s salary that attracts candidates.”

Despite this, the team at Purple Consultancy have noticed that benefits are becoming a more common part of a job package. “There are more benefits than there ever have been,” says Wood. “But people are generally looking at the whole thing, from the job title to soft benefits such as a car allowance, as well as company holidays and away days.

“Individual growth is a factor as well, like whether they might get a year’s paid sabbatical after they’ve been with a company for a few years. And things they’re not getting at their current company are always important. Salary is always going to draw some, but working on award-winning clients will probably sway creatives, whereas account handlers are more financially minded.”

As well as offering various perks and competitive salaries, employers have recently been faced with another challenge in the form of new age-discrimination laws. The legislation states that companies must not limit their job vacancies to specific age groups, and there are now strict rules governing the wording of recruitment adverts. In the marketing industry the effects of the new regulations have included the removal of long-established job titles such as ‘senior copywriter’ and ‘junior account handler’.

“The legislation hasn’t affected VMA because we’ve always been an equal opportunities employer,” says Tuffin. “It’s always been down to the skills and how the candidates present themselves. What we have found though is that some of our clients have to be educated. It can be tempting to say, ‘We’ve got a studio of 20-somethings; we’d like another 20-something.’ And it can also be the case that clients are too busy doing their own jobs to keep up with legislation changes, so we consider that as part of our job as the recruitment consultant.”

At Freelance Store, Tennant has found that the new rules have few implications on what they do. “On the freelance front, the new legislation hasn’t really had an impact,” he says. “If people are looking for a good, solid Mac operator to come in for a few weeks they don’t care what age the person is as long as they can do the job.

“Of course, if somebody is looking for a graphic designer to come in and work on a new bar or nightclub and you send them somebody who is 65, the client probably won’t be happy because that person wouldn’t have their finger on the pulse of that particular market. That said, age isn’t usually particularly relevant.”

Far from being seen as a nuisance or hurdle, the general feeling towards the new legislation seems to be positive. “I think Blue Skies’ clients have really welcomed the age-discrimination laws,” says Purdom. “The marketing industry is often perceived as being a fairly young industry, but client feedback is that it’s not age they’re interested in, but the talent, skills and intellectual property a candidate can bring to their team.”

Pettigrew adds: “I wouldn’t say the laws have had a massive impact for AF Selection. And to be honest, they’ll probably add value to the industry. In the build-up to the legislation I went to a lot of legal talks and people assumed the marketing sector would be the hardest hit, but there haven’t been a lot of massive changes.”

It seems that increased competition and regulations have served only to keep the recruitment sector on its toes, ensuring it provides as strong and reliable a service as possible. All of which is good news for the recruitment industry – and surely even better news for the marketing industry as a whole.

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