Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Trends for 2010

Very shortly, I'll be getting married, growing up, and buying a sensible family car. Yeah right.

Not quite true: while I'm getting married, I'm also taking ten weeks off work, travelling through India with my beautiful wife, then spending Christmas on mud island with my parents.

I don't expect I'll much care for my blog during this time, so I'll leave you with this stonker of a post, and encourage you to read through my earlier entries and let me know what you think.

I started this blog with no other view in mind than to contribute my views to the marketing/advertising/recruiting industry I truly enjoy being part of, and collaborate and learn from others. But what do you think I should I write about? What do you enjoy reading? Is it enough to offer opinion or comment, or does it need to be important, current and valuable news pieces?

Or should I just pack it all in because, let's face it, you'd rather pay Rupert Murdoch to hear his tired old hack's views?

2009 has been a year to forget for the recruitment industry, but one that has forced us to do as my dad would to say and 'take a good look at ourselves'. And, during some of the worst months, 'wash your mouth out with soap, you potty-mouthed young advertising exec'.

The future in a nutshell?
  1. First: More organisations that choose to 'do it for themselves' with supporting companies developing smarter ways to help this automation approach.
  2. Second, a significant number of organisations who need to grow, but lacking the experience to do so, and turning to strategic agencies (like my own) to help them close the gaps between perception and reality, current beliefs and ideal beliefs, internally and externally.

  3. Third, a return to creativity in recruitment advertising. The demographics of a tight labour market still exist, and it's time for Australian business to recognise that the choices people make about choosing a job are affected by powerful advertising imagery that influences candidate ideas and beliefs. Let's get beyond simply promoting 'benefits'.
  4. Fourth, a huge growth in employer branding work, due to the need for organisations to understand more about what they stand for and use this to work to produce meaningful bottom-line outcomes.

  5. Fifth, consolodation, fewer players, and a trimmed down, more transparent industry offering higher returns and greater value for money for your Average Joe employer.

As for me, I look forward to taking some time out, and getting down to some seriously interesting work in 2010.

Over and out.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Atlassian - if I could critique for a moment

Yesterday, I went to the fantastic Open House at Atlassian (feature pictures are owner-entrepreneurs Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, both 29).

Atlassian are an amazing growth story. And recently, they have been making waves in the recruitment industry, by taking a firm approach with recruiters, and a word-of-mouth campaign to influence software developers to head their way.

There's no denying this is a very very smart company. Product-wise, culture-wise and peer-wise, it's up there with Google. But it's a very interesting time for Atlassian, since it's starting to reach that size where it stands the risk of losing its close-knit feel. It's gone from one garage to a series of 'international garages'. It's owners are young, innovative and driven, and they're refreshingly informal in communicating what they value.

But, even though this potentially-stellar business is recruiting an extremely sought-after group of people with a $4.5million investment, the one thing they don't seem to have is an advertising strategy.

A glimpse of the future? I for one, hope not.

You see, Google doesn't really appear to have a particularly strong or noticeable recruitment advertising strategy either. But then, they're the seventh biggest brand in the world right now and everyone knows that the hurdles are high to get there - because it's seemingly the best place to work, learn and develop.

(That's not to say that all views about Google are accurate - I'm sure there are many misconceptions out there. But right now those perceptions are not enough to stop Google attracting the best of the best.)

Atlassian are not necessarily wrong in their strategy: it's clearly a choice they've made, a channel they've chosen to avoid, and it may pay-off. I hear they've already attracted a high level of talent, somewhere in the region of 600 shortlisted candidates*, simply by this approach informing people of their benefits, values and culture. Good on 'em I say - much better than the 'post and pray' approach of so many others.

*Please correct me if wrong.

But by not having a clear advertising strategy, they are still only promoting words on a page, as surely as if they tried to sell me a Mars bar by saying it's smooth, chocolatey and sweet. Sure, those are benefits. But that's not enough to give me the impetus to buy it, even less to buy it when a Snickers has nuts in it, and, well I prefer smooth, chocolatey, sweet and nuts.

I digress, but only slightly. What Atlassian appear to be missing is an central 'idea' which leads to a certain ideal set of attitudes, beliefs, and ultimately, behaviours. One thing Google has going for it is a powerful brand identity which is a powerful tool for their recruitment. Ultimately, Atlassian should be aiming to create something similar - when I think of their name, I shouldn't simply be able to list some facts like 'one week's paid holiday before starting'.

Atlassian needs to be assoicated with positive experiences. When I think of Atlassian, I want to feel something about them.

Let's say someone already works at Google (potentially the 'ideal candidate'). What is it about Atlassian that makes them want to leave Google and join them (since surely that must be the aim)? What conscious or sub-conscious drivers tie them so strongly to Atlassian that they'll throw their hat in the ring?

Sure, there are perks at Atlassian. But will the ideal candidate buy the Mars bar, or will they stick with the Snickers because it's got nuts in it?

Once the newspaper has been binned and the last beers from the Open House are drunk, where's the one cruicial touchpoint that acts as a consistent reinforcement of the main messages - a strong employer brand and advertising strategy?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hey Hey It's Black-up-day!

Maybe I'll never be a sub-editor with that catchy headline, but jeez.

Can anyone in their right mind, who isn't Alf Garnett, or Bernard Manning, or Hitler, or doesn't live in the 1950s, or doesn't agree with the slave trade, or isn't a member of the Ku Klux Klan, please explain how the presenters of the Hey Hey It's Saturday show can possibly think it acceptable to paint their faces black and mimic the Jackson Five.

It's not as if any member of the Jackson Five has ever painted their face white, is it? I mean, at least not in any kind of jokey ironic way, at least.

Seriously though, if you did this in the UK, you'd be shot. If you were the BBC and you did it, you'd be shot in public, and quite possibly have your MBE rescinded.

Special guest on the show, Harry Connick Jr said:
If I knew that was going to be part of the show I definitely wouldn't have done it.

I bet.

And which Hollywood megastars are going to be queuing up to be on the show, after this? Maybe Seinfeld star Michael Richards? After all, it's all in the name of comedy, hey (Hey)! If you don't get it, well, that's not my fault. You obviously don't understand cutting-edge humour. You're not down with it.

Seriously, I hope that Australia is not 'down with it'.

I hope that now everyone's seen the base, juvenile - erm - racist stuff they put on this show, the guests will dry up and the presenters will cry a little, and the audience figures will send Hey Hey back to the graveyard of crap lite entertainment shows.

Hey Hey Good Bye!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

FlashForward F*ck off

(There's some swearing in this post, but no one's forcing you to read it.)

Funny story, I start watching Casino Royale on Channel 7 on Sunday night.

The film starts, and I've not noticed a small icon in the bottom right corner of the screen. Mrs AerHead points it out to me, and there, in all its shameless glory, it is.

Oh, f*ck me, FlashForward is on tomorrow night. Wowsers, it's on at 8.30pm. Thank you very much shameless icon. I did not know that. Thanks, and now please vacate my TV screen.

Mrs AerHead is absolutely livid. This little icon, trying desparately to be polite in the bottom right corner, remains there the whole time, during a fight, a chase scene, even during a brilliant scene where Daniel Craig actually runs through a wall. I love that scene, it's just so crap.

Then there's an ad break. And a reminder ad that FlashForward is on tomorrow night. Yes, you've told us. Monday night. 8.30pm. I might watch, I might not. I am not, however, a completely unforgetful goldfish of a pr*ck. F*ck off.

The film starts again. Phew! The icon isn't there. Then I glance over at my cat, Alan, who is doing something cute with a ball of aluminium foil. Pretending it's a mouse from the future, or some such.

Guess what happens next? If you've guessed that Alan starts doing the robot dance, you've guessed wrong (but I love your thinking). What happens next is much, much worse. The polite little shameless f*ck of an icon is back on the screen!

What's that? Oh, FlashForward is on tomorrow night, oh great... useful. 8.30pm, just after tea-time, that's good. Thanks for the tip. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah - all the f*cking time, that's all. Now, f*ck off shameless little repetitive greaseball of an icon, my cat's more entertaining than you, and she's a girl cat with a boy's name. My cat = my rules.

This continues. There's another ad break, the film returns sans icon, Alan has gone outside for a wee and a bit of a scratch. Now, geez, it will not return will it?

Not the cat, the icon.

Will it return? I will not have to smash the TV through a real wall in an expensive though satisfying pastiche of the crap scene I love in Casino Royale will I? Will the TV smash through the wall, or will it smash against the wall? Will it break? What is it about Daniel Craig's body that enables it to go through walls that my telly couldn't?

Oh, I might have to find out, because there it is again. Sitting there politely is the icon, pointing out its bland information to all those who didn't see it earlier; all those cretins who enjoy joining films half an hour after they've started, and didn't know that FlashForward was on 8.30pm on Monday night. Lot's of those types about you know, normally found sitting on park benches grinning at pigeons, throwing pieces of bread from their snot-crusted wrists.

So I'm a bit annoyed about all this. And it reminded me a bit of the annoyance I felt after reading the crystal ball gazing by Another Advertising W*nker, who postulated on the potential growth of apps on TV. Crap breakfast shows I can cope with. Because I don't watch them.

But films? Jeez, ad breaks are bad enough, so if this is what we can expect I will be getting rid of my TV altogether because the few things I want to watch I will gladly pay for. This is base, stupid, gutless marketing. Repeat ad nauseum. Puke.

So, of course I knew FlashForward was on. And, much like the participants of the Milgram experiment who knew they were administering a fatal electrical shock to someone else, I obeyed authority (the icon) and watched anyway.

But I didn't get beyond the opening ten minutes because I was tired and bored, and I didn't really believe that real people actually speak like that. So I read a good book, had a glass of vino, and picked up Alan from the psychologist.

And you know what else: F*ck FlashForward.

*** Update ***

5 minutes after writing this, FlashForward started following me on Twitter. When is it on again?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

War is good for us

In essence, war is good for our collective mental health.

Why do I think this? Well to explain further, let me start off with the classic analogy-builder of all business strategy: sport.

Whether or not you understand English football (the game where you use your feet to kick the ball), you'll be familiar with a wide variety of business analogies that take their inspiration from this most noble of sports.

On the sports field, you're not interested in some high falutin' CEO who needs to engage a company with 100,000 employees. You're watching a team of 11 men, inspired by one manager, who needs to engage and motivate them to kick a ball for 90 minutes and win every game, again and again and again.

Then you look at stories like this. You see, it's a news item that incorporates business and football and engagement all in one mix, to produce something that could be studied at business schools the world over for many years to come.

Imagine. You live in Herzogenaurach, Germany, and you either work for Puma or Adidas. There's a feud, between the two brothers who own each company. So you work for one, and you've picck your side on the corporate battlefield.

More importantly, there's a football match between teh two companies, and you're forced to side on the football field too. How perfect!

You see, if every organisation had such direct competitiveness, wouldn't it be easier to build that seige mentality, that unity, that sense of purpose and of winning?

Back onto the English football theme, if you play for Manchester United, you know everyone hates you (and for good reason - ahem), so you bond together better as a unit, and you build long-term success.

It's like the statistic (where?) that shows that warring regions, where there is a clearly defined enemy, contain people with far better mental health. Why? Because these people share a common sense of identity and community, agreeing about what is right and wrong. They build links with those around them against a common enemy.

Translate that into work - could you do build such a level of engagement?

Or would it just be easy if all companies were like Adidas or Puma in Herzogenaurach, Germany?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Yay, the market's rebounding (up a rocky 1% gradient).

Hey, I'm no doomsayer. I'll have a go at anything and I'll work bloody hard to achieve results. But everyone today's been talking about the job market bouncing back. And I think we need to get some perspective.

Because guess what? My figures don't show that.

You see, we measure the volume and value of recruitment ads our clients are running in Australia. We do this on a weekly basis, and guess what else? Our weekly figures show a decline of somewhere in the region of 35% for last week compared with the previous.

(*Ok, a caveat here, we always get weekly blips. My point is, don't uncork the champers just yet, because we're in for a rocky road ahead.)

All of this is on the back of a feeling within the agency (and the industry as a whole) that we've hit the bottom. Yes, strategic projects are ticking along nicely, positive conversations are on-going, and the smart employers are think about how to better engage their people (and recruit more best-fit ones) in time for the upturn.
Hell, some clients already have plans for optimising growth and taking on their competitors (those are the clients I love best).

But note: this doesn't mean we immediately start hoying up the fireworks and having a drunken recruitment industry knees-up on Bondi Beach . A huge vertical Apollo launch of a rebound this is not. More like a strong slog up a 1% gradient, with a reduced-size peleton.

In the US, The Department of Labor released a report on Friday showing job cuts in August were lower than they've been in recent months. But - so says the Associated Press - a deeper look at the data shows it will take millions of new jobs to get America back in the black.

Australia isn't in as much strife as the US. Over here, we have a robust financial system that's allowed us something of a soft landing. And, with the demographic shifts (that won't change overnight), I predict a return to a very tight labour market.
But this is going to be long uphill struggle, and I don't reckon we'll get back to our starting buoyancy until late 2010 at the earliest.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Employers over-reliance on job boards

Just got out of a really interesting analysis of the future of Australian job boards with the Sales Director of MyCareer, Matt Newcomb.

What really caught my attention was Matt's point that the main reason employers rely on job boards is because they haven't invested in their own careers sites. In short, if every Australian employer built a decent careers site, the internet tools already exist to attract and bring in the individuals the employers want.

Fits in with a lot of other research I've read, including an expert in this particular area, Michael Specht who has in the past analysed how lacking many Australian careers sites are in functionality, content, navigation, url, and so on.

But Matt's point was put into stark terms by the growth of vertical aggregators who can bring together all the information an individual might want to receive. Tradittionally, job sites (and, indeed, employers) have a view that they simply stick something online, shout about it, and expect candidates to find it.

That stands in stark contrast to the trends in the way the Australian population actually uses online media - which is all about receiving the information you want, in the format you prefer, at a the precise time you want it.

And if we know that approximately 2/3 of the global population use social networks, job sites and employers are addressing engagement of top talent in completely the wrong way.

In Australia, the demographics that caused a candidate-short market less than a year ago still persist. In the months to come, we'll return to a market where employers need to again be more innovative in attracting and engaging more of the best candidates. Employers can only do this by investing in long term strategies, importantly including the one place you know candidates will go to to apply - your corporate careers site.

If employers actively invest in their own careers websites (and think long-term about engagement, rather than bums-on-seats), they will be able steal a competitive advantage in the future.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Niche targeting so difficult

Where I work, we're an advertising agency - and we often do our best to target niche groups with relevant and attractive messages for our clients. It's advertising - we're not talking about long-term engagement here - so we need to be targeted, punchy and we need candidates to quickly comprehend the deal.

One of the campaigns I'm working on at the moment requires people who could *quite literally* come from any career background. It's really not about what they've done; it's more about the type of person they are and the attributes they possess.

What we've discovered, is there are certain talent pools that these people appear in, and - without giving the game away - there might be some in Law, some in Advertising, and some in - say - Warehousing.

Anyway, my point is that once we've nailed down these groups, we need to uncover the media these people hang-out in (note: not looking for jobseeking media, we go for the passive market first). So once we've found an array of websites or communities for individuals working in Law, Advertising and Warehousing, we end up with maybe 20 different sites, all of which have marginally different specs for their banner advertising.

Back to the point in hand. Right now, my team is creating 22 different banners in order for us to - well - do our job properly. Isn't this unfair on the client who has to pay for all this development, not to mention the time it takes to coordinate and despatch all this stuff?

I'm calling for universal banner sizes - you can't build a site that advertisers will use without sticking to them. What say you?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sorry, print still delivers

Thomas Shaw, over at the Recruitment Directory blog, recently shared his views on how much online is dominating press in terms of the volume of job ads placed online, and the volume of candidates who prefer to look online for jobs.

It's an interesting read. And it shows the dominance of online. But it's worth bearing in mind that this is volume-based analysis. It's good at demonstrating volume.

It isn't so good at demonstrating - well - quality.

To put this in context: Say you're looking for a really hard-to-recruit role, say, a Head of Banana Peeling. Now, put it on Seek and you might generate 300 applications. I'll bet 150 can peel potatoes, but not bananas. And 149 can peel bananas, but they have no experience in leading other Banana Peelers. If you're lucky, you might get just one applicant who can do the job and doesn't turn out to have an allergy to bananas.

In the meantime you've had to sort-through and assess all those people who ultimately didn't have the skills.

If you'd used a message that resonated with Senior Banana Peelers, along with a variety of job-seeking and non-jobseeking media platforms you know these people see, you would have generated a small pipeline of highly-qualified individuals. And - guess what - this pipeline would contain loads of those talented Senior Banana Peelers who are well-rewarded and happy in their job and hence not trailing through the job boards looking for you. The employer gets to pick the best.

Of course, it takes a bit of research and investment to do properly, but the results always win-through - it saves time at the back-end, reduces the need for re-advertising, generates higher levels of engagement, builds a pipeline - and shows the market you know what you're doing.

Thomas research is very valid for showing where the trends are, the most obvious of which are:

  • Online will attract most employers/recruiters because most feel they have to advertise in the quickest and cheapest place.
  • Online will attract most applicants because they know this about employers/recruiters, and it's free and easy for them.

I know for a fact, that we first look for value over volume when we do our media planning. And this works best with our most front-foot-thinking clients - the ones who take the time to analyse where their final hires actually first heard about the job.

For most campaigns, I can guarantee that online will generate the highest volume of response. I can also guarantee that far less volume will come from major metro press. However, when we do the ROI analysis from final hires (which, one day, I might share with you), the difference is negligible.

Yes, print always comes in more expensive. But when it generates a higher quality of applicant (and online demands extra screening/sorting time), then I think you'll find that right now print has a place in any self-respecting employer's recruitment toolkit.

Maybe not forever, though.

Because the growth of bolt-on products from the likes of CareerOne/Monster will look to increase effectiveness by generating a more targeted response from a more targeted audience base. Plus, I am still hopeful for the growth of niche sites over the behemoths we have dominating the Australian jobseeking landscape.

As always, bring it on.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Recruitment Advertising Agencies promoting creativity

It's great to see a recruitment advertising agency bite the bullet and take a chance on a cheeky campaign. I've worked at many, and god knows how many good marketing ideas I've seen shot down due to senior management conservative rationales.

But TMP Sydney clearly have decided to take a chance. They are running a tongue-in-cheek campaign to give away one of their industry awards on eBay to make room in their cabinet for this year's expected haul. There's also a campaign site that allows individuals to create their own FEMA.

It's a shade arrogant and will no doubt get a few competitors up in arms, but it's clearly tongue-in-cheek and I assume there will be plenty of egg-in-your-face jokes if the rewards don't roll in September's Fairfax Employment Marketing Awards (FEMAs).

Now, admittedly I work for TMP - so not only is my money on the awards rolling in, I'm also not wholly impartial. Wholly? Who am I kidding. I'm really proud to see us having a bit of a laugh at the culmination of what has been a very tough nine months. Plus I think the idea's a cracker.

But what do you think? Have TMP gone too far?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Knees up

I've been off having my knee operated on.

So, in the spirit of the drugs I've been taking, here's me with a huge Arnott's parrot.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Behold the Seek behemouth

After my last blog, bemoaning the state of the Australian media landscape when a few big fat media zeppelins dominate the market, thought I'd share a thought on how this looks in reality.

(I've put this stat at the end of this post, so if you're here for the numbers, scroll to the bottom.)

I met with Seek today, who were promoting a new agency product that allows advertisers to benchmark their jobs against the market. That is, if you're a big name in engineering, are your jobs performing above or below the market average when it comes to 'summary' views, job views and applications.

Agencies like mine work closely with Seek, so you'll excuse me while I take my tongue firmly out of my cheek and talk about this seriously for a while.

This is a great opportunity for innovative advertising agencies like ours to talk to our clients. Not necessarily about getting our clients to use Seek more strategically or buy more Seek products. It's all about showing them how they can be more effective as advertisers - here's some ideas for job posters, ranging from the minute to the magnificent.

If your jobs perform below average:
  • Have you got the classification right?
  • Have you filled out all datafields?
  • Have you posted your salary? (big effect, this one.)
  • Have you made your offer clear from the word go, so people read the ad?
  • Does your copy make the application process and the employment 'deal' clear?
  • Is your copy written well? (and by that I mean by a trained professional who understands your audience, not just your organisation.)
  • Does your ad look visually appealing or, at the least, professional?
  • Does your ad match the way you want your employer brand to be percieved in the marketplace? (or does grammar not matter any more online?)
  • Is your employer brand incorrectly* percieved in the marketplace, putting off the right candidates?

(*I use the word 'incorrectly' on purpose. After all, some perceptions could be negative, such as the idea that your people work really long hours. This isn't necessarily a bad thing if the idea matches the reality - after all, you will then attract people who get the deal beforehand and will therefore be more likely to stay.)

Most of this stuff above is really simple, tactical stuff - the icing on the cake of employer branding, if you will. I'd much rather be having conversations about how organisations can be more proactive in their attraction and retention of the right people, long-term.

But equally, the reality is many of our clients aren't proactive or strategic, and they self-post on Seek, with the standard necessarily variable. So it's worth thinking about the basics every once in a while.

Now coming back to the whole point of this post, Seek gave us some figures from June '09 that demonstrate their market dominance. If you bear in mind their two biggest competitors (CareerOne and MyCareer) are probably choices two and three in Australia, you'll see why the Australian landscape really lacks choice for the discerning employment marketer.
  • In June '09 Seek had 2.5m UBs
  • 2.9x more than CareerOne (0.8m)
  • 5.1x more than MyCareer (0.5m).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Online recruitment down - it's the media's fault

A recent report by the IAB, compiled by PWC and published on mUmBRELLA, saw recruitment making up just 1.4% of total online ad spend in the last quarter. This time three years ago, it was 5%.

So in a period when online advertising has still continued to grow (by 9%), online recruitment advertising has contracted.

And I'm blaming the media.

After all, this decline isn't really a surprise to me: I work at a recruitment advertising agency.

We've seen a dramatic fall in campaigns, and many clients I've spoken to have real internal issues to deal with. I'll bet my last Rolo that many of them were under the cosh to prove their worth to the business.

But this decline in online recruitment advertising isn't the fault of our clients.

Really, the blame lies squarely with our bloated friends sitting on their inflatable zeppelins, dictating to us minions what we can and can't have on their sites.

Because, here in Oz (unlike, say, the UK), the media landscape is dominated by a few monopolies. In online, the job boards are dominated by a goliath called Seek. The two other players (MyCareer and CareerOne) still haven't managed to get close.

In addition, here in Oz it's all about horizontal job boards - there's very little choice in terms of niche, industry or specialist sites. You've got the major metros, the main job boards, a few other sites (if you know your media) and... well... that's about it.

The outcome is a laziness in coming up with new technology and ideas. Why bother developing a range of different options if you know they're pretty much certain to post a job with you?

Well, if you're only offering short-fix options for employers who are currently recruiting - you're kinda stuffed when the recruitment stops. And that's exactly wha... Ok. Point made.

Job sites need to offer organisations options that force them to think about how they position themselves as a place to work. They need to get organisations thinking about how they shape up against their competitors - are they doing more impressive work, is their content more engaging, have they positioned themselves as the employer of choice?

After all, there are heaps of candidates out there, but it's still competitive for the best candidates. And if you want your business to succeed, you need them.

So I foresee an opportunity for niche sites to grow. And I also foresee an opportunity for the smaller job boards to steal a march on the current leader. Monster recently entered the market, joining forces with CareerOne, and I've witnessed their ambitious plans, as well as the great tactical initiatives they're offering now - and in the future.

While the industry isn't roaring ahead like we were this time last year, we've got some interesting trends to watch out for.

Bring it on, I say.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I'm somebody

One of my team appeared today in the latest edition of B&T (7Aug), in the Where the Bloody Hell Were You? section.

Reminded me of the scene in The Jerk where Steve Martin sees him name in the phone book "Things are going to start happening to me now."

The thing is, now she's someone, how do I manage the ego?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The customer is your wife, idiot

My ol' mucker Nathan over at the 'another advertising *bleep*' blog had a great post up today that I really enjoyed reading.

In it, he montiored the effect of social media 'disasters' on a organisation's market value.

He reckons, correctly, that we shouldn't overblow the short-term effects of negative press - generally the market shows tremendous apathy toward 'shocking', yet ultimately facile, stories. After all, news breaks today at such a high turnover that it's no time before another embarassment dominates the news agenda. Nathan covers:

  • Dominos (who could forget the pizza maker who farted on a pizza and stuck cheese up his nose?);
  • United Airlines (who broke the guitar of a man, who - quite honestly - should have taken his guitar as hand luggage IMO); and
  • Vile and Tacky O (who I had never, ever heard broadcast and now believe should be sent back to the adolescent borstal they we're dragged up in)

But think back to the UK jeweller Gerald Ratner who claimed he sold 'crap' and how that ultimately led to the freefall of their share price - and the downfall of the UK's largest high street jeweller.

And then there was the chief executive of Barclaycard who admitted he steers well clear on his own product because it was, well, too expensive. His customers were the type who didn't wear suits to work, he claimed in his down-to-earth way.

But the examples Nathan mentions haven't really had much of an effect at all. In fact, Dominos shares have grown in value as the recession increases demand for takeaway pizzas.

So ultimately what differs Nathan's three examples from the Ratners or the Barclaycard cases?

I think it's this: none of these controversies involve the figurehead of an organisation making a mockery of his/her customers.

Dominos responded on Youtube within a few days of the crisis, and - while it wasn't sophisticated - it did come across as genuinely concerned about putting things right. United Airlines won't suffer because one individual wrote a song; the intrinsic value of the UA brand is still strong, and the experience most people have is still positive.

Vile and Tacky O, I think, will likely suffer. One has crossed his arms over his portly frame and refused to apologise. The other has gone off to repeatedly put on and take off her blonde hair extensions in her country retreat (or at least that's what I imagine). They've failed to recognise and respond to what customers want - that they apologise and explain themselves.

In all of these tales, there's no player who's bigger than the team.

No player, except the customer.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Social media disaster

You know those times when you think back over the course of a foggy, grog-fuelled evening, and you remember something really embarrassing you said?

One second you're sitting there merrily chomping on your cornflakes, the next a sticky hot wave courses up your spine until it reaches your ears, causing your neck muscles to weaken lowering your forehead into your sweaty palms. Your shoulders hunch, your dog leaves your side and the walls surrounding you solemnly shake their heads at you - you stupid, stupid stupid idiot.

Well that's what I felt like when I saw this attempt at Social Media Marketing by Pepsi Max, seemingly in cohorts with Microsoft/MSN.

It's as if the entire strategy was dreamed up on one of those embarrassing drunken nights - but no one thought to put up their hand and say that it should have stayed there.

Ok, maybe that's taking it too far - but, look, if you're going to take Holly Valance and allow free reign on the comments section, some hormonal teens are going to say whatever first springs to mind about a woman who seemingly appeared naked in her first music video. Isn't it inevitable that someone's going to spring up and start talking about 'huge ball syndrome'. Look at the images below to see what I mean.

(And I mean, a website that offers you tips on how to take a sickie or surf the net all day at work is really asking for a kicking. As one user so aptly put it, 'I would urge all Pepsi Max and MSN employees to use these tips... you will be getting fired.' A website for pricks.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Inspirational people

If you think really, really hard (so hard it hurts) - who is the person you most admire and look up to?

Richard Branson?
Barack Obama?
Mother Theresa?

Because the thing is, my heros are all people who go to extremes, who look beyond the everyday and achieve extraordinary (and often stupid) things for no other reason than, well, they can.

Take the example of Martin Strel, an endurance swimmer I recently saw (in person) after the showing of Big River Man at the Sydney Film Festival. Here's this great, hulking 50-odd year-old who:
  • downs two bottles of wine a night,
  • drink-drives while learning English and 'power-breathing',
  • is the sole possessor of a key to a cave he likes to spend time in,
  • swims for 5 hours a day, and
  • pretty much has freedom to whatever he likes in the Slovenian city of Ljubijana.
Oh, and Martin has swam the entire length of the Yangtzee, Danube, Mississippi and Amazon rivers. He also holds the record for the longest uninterrupted swim, going for 162.5km in 55 hours 11 minutes without sleep.

It would be an understatement to say Martin has been tickled with the Bonkers Stick. Here's a video featuring him:

"That's all very well," you might say, "But what the hell has this got to do with employer branding or recruitment advertising?". Well, this example is all pretty relevant to what inspires us in our work and leads to employment-related decisions.

Where I work, we do a lot of research and analysis in working out the ideas and influences that motivate people to adopt certain behaviours, and using that information to influence them in more positive and/or productive ways.

What is often hard to get across, is that the strongest behavioural drivers in choosing employment are often unconscious, emotion-based and, as such, difficult for individuals to articulate. Just because someone states that they work somewhere 'for the money' or because 'it's close to home' this is only an outer layer of the decision-making process. Our research and analysis peals away those layers to understand the inights that an individual may not even be aware of. These are the kinds of things you won't discover in a staff survey.

Once we've uncovered these insights, we use them to develop communications strategies that will promote the behaviours we want, and dissuade unwanted behaviours. For the employers we work for, this boils down to something simple as attracting more of the right people who join for the right reasons, and therefore stay - and engaging key performers so they are highly motivated and productive (and they, too, stay).

So, someone like Martin Strel probably can't articulate precisely why he takes on challenges like this. Yes, there is a bit of a waffle about environmental issues (and the film touches on him being abused as a child), but ulimately nobody chooses to go to such extremes without having a real passion to do it first. It's easy to see that Martin's behaviour is compelled by unconscious drivers that go above and beyond the environmental issues.

And it's exactly this principle that influences any of our decisions - even when we're looking to stay at a currently job (and work hard) or leave and work elsewhere.

P.S. Check out this new website around the Employer Branding space, should be good to see this develop:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A greasy pole of a weekend

Saturday I was hungover. Sunday I ran 32K. Guess which day I preferred.

Ok, rhetorical question (you could tell that by the full-stop). If you know me, you'll know what I love doing. And while I may have the odd lapse into personal stuff in this blog - it aint my primary aim in this blog to wax lyrical about what I do outside work (cue collective reader relief).

I actually make this point to illustrate a issue relevant to work.

And that is this: workers in the western world spends much of our time interacting with our colleagues. This can be done inside and outside the 9-5 of working hours, but we generally need to do this (to greater or lesser degrees) to do successfully do our jobs. A research scientist has to ask someone to pass the test tube, but someone in PR really needs to socialise, interact and influence.

Anyway, I have the opinion (shared by many of my peers) that the one sole factor that differentiates a truly successful employee from a moderately successful one is the ability to do this 'interaction' stuff well. After all, technical skills mean you're the best at the job, but who's going to be selected for the management position - the person who's best technically, or the person who's relates well to people to get things done? Of course, there is such a thing as 'leading by example' but the structure of organisations is such that the further up you move, the less you need your technical skills and the more you need other, less tangible (though more valuable) abilities.

Invariably, it's this 'hidden' skill set that sees people go the furthest in their career.

And, with the hindsight that comes from looking at an empty blog screen and working out what to write, I realised that it's these skills I was using at the weekend. Because, on Friday I was drinking with work colleagues. And on Sunday, I was running with work colleagues. Interacting. Socialising. Climbing. The. Greasy. Pole.

When you write a blog, sometimes you start writing and you're not entirely sure what you're point was. Now it's starting to look like my point in all this is that I'm the Slick Rick the slimy charmer. But I guess the point is that I am genuniely pleased to hang around with colleagues both inside and outside work because they are in various ways interesting, entertaining, friendly and generous people.

So maybe I was using these skills: but I didn't mean it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Google - HR prediction algorithm

After losing some top execs to competitors like Twitter and Facebook, Google has reportedly developed an algorithm that helps them predicts which employees are likely to leave, and when.

In times of economic turmoil, everyone thinks business goals are all about 'trimming the fat' and cutting costs. And that's partly true - as a first step, any business worth their salt needs to be remain profitable and able to compete. Clearly, that means getting rid of any factor that is costing more than it reaps. So tough decisions get made, these impact on individuals, and can - in turn - affect morale and productivity.

After a frenetic period where we've seen many previously untouchable organisations go bust and others bailed-out, there's a more proactive approach emerging - and this is taking the form of workforce planning.

If you're unfamiliar with this term, workforce planning in its simplest form is a matter of anticipating the how many people and what skills are needed in what areas of an organisation - and setting out a plan to meet needs. It's the opposite of the reactive HR approach that puts an ad in the paper when an employee leaves.

So right now, many businesses are not recruiting. So why is workforce planning relevant?

The answer is that workforce planning also happens within an organisation. Employers look at where they need people, and where they don't need people. They look at what skills they have, and what skills they need. They look at unprofitable areas of the business, and work out strategies to minimise pain for affected employees.

And this explains part of Google's move. Google will not want to lose key talent. High performers are an intangible business benefit that will be lost from them, with their competitors only standing to gain. So it makes sense to work out who at Google might leave, and when. But how do you work out strategies to keep them?

There's plenty of evidence to suggest that businesses that manage, engage and inspire their top talent, are much more likely to engage them in tough times, retain them once the upturn comes. There's a huge competitive advantage to be claimed via this method, but this algorithm is a bit like knowing your mum's birthday date, but not neglecting to ask what she'd like as a gift.

If I was looking at this sort of problem for Google, I would ensure extensive qualitative research (workshops, interviews, and the like) was conducted. That way, you can get beneath the skin of a problem and assess they 'why' as well as the 'who' and 'when'.

Statistics and data will only ever give you a wide but shallow pool of information. It's only through using a talented interviewer who can cut through the surface to uncover unconscious beliefs, drivers and ideas of individual employees that you can formulate strategies to affect real engagement. An algorithm, no matter how advanced, could never do this.

As a sidenote, this Google announcement reminds me a little of a PR exercise perfected by Ryanair (low cost airline). They released a story in February this year announcing considerations of a one pound charge for customers to use the toilet.

Customer outtake: Ryanair are obsessed with keeping costs low.

Customer outtake here: Google is obsessed with the perfect predictive search tool.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cola - busted myths re-busted

You don't have to follow the world of advertising closely to be aware of the recent furore created by a Coca Cola advertising campaign.

The campaign featured a famous Australian character actor, Kerry Armstrong, under a "Motherhood and Myth-busting" headline. In the ad, Coke attempted to bust some of the urban legends about Coca Cola, including the fact that it rots teeth, makes you fat and contains large amounts of caffeine.

No need to go back over the wrongs around this campaign (I mean, when did the Coca Cola brand start being about a soft drink?), but a recent news story on the BBC charted some of the realities associated with excessive consumption of cola.

And it really serves to highlight the problem of the 'myth-busting' ad.

That's because, while drinking Coke in moderation (and in conjunction with a balanced diet and good oral hygiene), is unlikely to lead to major problems, this ad is akin to positioning cars as irrelevant to global warming ("Go ahead. Use your Hummer. It's those big factories that are the main problem.").

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) agreed, with ACCC Chairperson, Graeme Samuel stating:

"Coke's messages were totally unacceptable, creating an impression which is likely to mislead that Coca-Cola cannot contribute to weight gain, obesity and tooth decay."
When you have "tens of millions of people in industrialised countries drink[ing] at least 2-3 l of cola per day" then you've got a problem. Coca Cola want people to consume, but the reality is they need to know that Coke does not provide the nutrition of a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts - and is something to be consumed rarely, not commonly.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The funny side to racism

Let me say categorically: There is no funny side to racism.

However, this video (posted recently by the brilliant mUmBRELLA) is awesome:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The banned ad on Gruen Transfer

There's not much negative you could really say about The Gruen Transfer.

As a Pom I have a natural affinity with the ABC - the only channel in Australia to have thoughtful, intelligent programmes without shouty commercials every nanosecond (an ad break just before the final credits of The Simpsons - come on!).

Particularly of note is Todd Samson, a man whose points hit the mark so often I've been known to hit the mute button and nod serenely along with the rest of the viewing audience. Oh, what an advertising brain exists therein!

Anyway, every week The Gruen Transfer asks two creative agencies to 'sell the unsellable'. This week's challenge was to end 'shape discrimination' - i.e. to put an end to negative attitudes toward fat people. Todd once again hit the money with his assessment of The Foundry's entry - one that was deemed unsuitable for broadcast by the ABC.

Unless you're the type that would vote for Bush and thinks fossils were put in the ground to test us, I'd advise you have a look and tell me what you think.

Yes, it's a hard-hitting ad. Yes it has a certain impact. Yes, it will cut through the shouty man ads and the singing and dancing sales people on the shop floor. But is it clever, is it insightful - and, most importantly, will it create a shift in attitudes to fat people? The answer is no.

Many agencies take a lighthearted attitude to The Gruen Transfer's pitch challenge - instead of focusing on a solution, they create a funny and creative advertisement that is designed to entertain rather than work. But The Foundry took the challenge seriously and fell short. Their idea was to bring 'fatism' on a level with 'facism' - bringing it up to a level that tried to make it as unpalatable as racisim and homophobia.
The thing is, if you try to do this, when the overwhelming zeitgeist is: "it's ok to laugh at fat people", then all you are doing is raising a debate - not setting new terms for the debate.

Imagine if you did the exact same ad in the 1950s. The same concept - except the end result was to bring about an end to racism. In this scenario, all the ad would do is reinforce the attitudes of the bigots - there's no discernable reason for a bigot to decide that his/her view on racism is categorically wrong. The bigot would look at society, media and 'the things people say' to judge that yes, in the 1950s, racism is socially acceptable.

In 50 years' time, we may look back at our attitudes to shape, and see how horrid and nasty and ignorant we were - but you can't change an attitude just by pointing it out. And this is where the ad fails.
(By the way, if you want to know my favourite 'fat joke', it's this:)
An advertising agency boss (AAB) is in a pub. When a fat woman walks in, the AAB starts to laugh.
"You shouldn't laugh at me," says the fat woman. "You're fatist".
"Oh no," cries AAB. "I think you'll find you're fattest."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy birthday dad!

This post is only relevant to one person: The very special person who is my father.

Go dad!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Awesome Nike Video

You may know I'm an avid athlete (with more than my fair share of injuries). I absolutely love this stuff by Nike:

However, in terms of messaging, I'm definitely Pearl Azumi's demographic.

A sorry social saga

Why hello dear reader.

It's been a while since I treated you to another one of my sturdy yet fascinating lectures, but I have been busy turning 30. The whole act took merely a day, but I needed a few weeks for the recovery and necessary botox appointments. I took a trip out to North Avoca with about 15 pals and had a great time. Facebook, god-luv-em, is there to prove what a great time I had.

In the meantime, a lot has happened in the news that I've wanted to blog about. Domino-gate was one such thing (I can't post a direct link to the YouTube video because they are being deleted just as fast as they are being posted).

If you haven't seen the video, you're not missing much - just a couple of disengaged employees doing disgusting things with pizza ingredients.

It's another interesting case study on the power of social networking. The rate of downloads that this awful video got is the kind of coverage a corporate response could only dream of.

You can't fool everyone though - the general consensus among the online community is that this is a couple of idiots that could work anywhere. I'd be surprised if this significantly affects Dominos' bottom-line - personally I don't they deserve it. And, as Dominos are mainly franchises, spare a thought for the poor blighter who actually owns the store in question.

Here in Australia, this global YouTube saga comes on the back of a PR blitz by Dominos offering hope for workers in a downturn. Amazing, when you think that the videos they post on their website are, in my opinion, a more accurate portrayal of the employment experience, spoken by engaged employees - not by ones who clearly don't give a toss.

It just goes to show that really poor, base, childish content is able to spread like wildfire. It's an untamed and uncensored world out there. Ultimately, however, people will make their own minds up - and in the time there will be more perspective: it's just a couple of idiots.

The whole sorry story, does, however gets worse.

The latest twist is the allegation by some users on YouTube that Kristy Hammonds, the lady who features in the video, is a sex offender. Bizarre twist - and I'm not going to add weight to this argument - it's puerile and irrelevant to just about anything I'm interested in commenting on.

It just goes to show the dangers and dark depths these kind of incidents can lead to. Be careful what you do out there readers.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hiring intentions dip - but stablise?

Hudson released their recent 'Employment Expectations' report, which showed employer confidence has hit a record low - but there are some signs of stabilisation of the industry.

Its survey found that 18.6% of employers planned to increase their permanent headcount during the June quarter. This means nearly 1/5 of organisations are planing to grow.

On the flipside, 63.6% of employers plan to maintain existing staffing levels, and the number expecting headcount to fall has jumped three-fold to 17.8%. So nearly 1/5 of organisations are planning to shrink.

This isn't nearly as gloomy as it sounds.

On last night's Q&A, Tanya Plibersek, Minister for Housing and Status of Women spoke of the halt in decline of retail jobs. And Hudson Australia and New Zealand CEO Mark Steyn also feels the rate of deterioration in hiring intentions was slowing. He told Shortlist:

The drop-off in the rate of decline is a good thing, and we've also seen the stock market go up over the last month too. The real question is whether this is a pause in the fall, and I think it is.
Finally, if anyone has some sparkling new business ideas, where better to turn than the grand maharajah of entrepreneurship, Ricky Branson. Pitch your ideas, he says on his blog, and he'll promote them on Virgin Atlantic screens, and you might just get the investment you need.

I think I just might...

Friday, March 27, 2009

What defines a person?

I've often pondered this.

Now, while I studied philosophy, I'm no Plato ("NOOO! Really?").
And, besides, this blog really isn't for forum for delving into discussions about the soul and the brain, or the date at which a bunch of cells becomes human.
Yeah, I'm going to relate this to employment again.
You see, in my last job, I reckon I was perceived as somewhat of an introvert. I think it was possibly a perception picked up by the role I had (I work with a lot of stats, I was considered an 'expert' in an area, there were lots of big personalities all around).
In my current job, there's no way anyone sane could even consider it - such a loud, brash, opinionated show-off I am. Ok, maybe not that bad, but I definitely walk around the place, look for a bit of banter, and let people know I'm there - I draw the line at kissing babies.
So what's brought about this change in perception? I'm still that same. Aren't I?
Maybe I'm not.
Maybe this fantastic country that has given me such a wonderful lifestyle has shaped my personality. Perhaps the practical optimism inherent in the people here brings different parts of my psyche to the forefront. Perhaps a landscape and a people have shaped the way I behave and the way people perceive me.
Or maybe it's the culcha of stra'ya that just means I fit in a bit better.
Best stay put then.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Personality quiz

As the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) serves to tear strips off our industry, the services we're offering at my advertising agency are changing.

One area is Career Transition Management. This is a support service that employers pay us for - it gives their retrenched employees on-going coaching and support through the next steps of getting back to work.

The benefit to employees is obvious; the benefit to employers is that it helps retain their employer brand. Nothing hits a brand worse than being seen as a heartless, faceless, uber-corporation. People who leave can still talk positively about the organisation.

Another area is in deployment - this means finding people within a business with transferable skills, and helping transfer them to areas where their skills may be better utilised. This results in a more productive business, and reduces the need for reducing overall headcount.

But how do you measure the types of personality that may transfer from, say, marketing to sales? One really cool tool is here - try it out and see what sort of person you are.

(BTW, I am a Field Marshal, quite unsurprising).

All jobs are boring

While having a delightful dinner and drinks with a couple of clients last night, I shuddered to hear one of our party, an HR professional no less, say:
Well, all jobs are by their nature boring. Humans just aren't made to do the same thing day-in, day-out. Nobody is really satisfied by their job.
Which got me thinking; is this really the case? Can it really be true that no job can ever be truly fulfilling, no matter what it is? Does everyone, a child carer, a surgeon, an astronaut, eventually get bored of the view out of his or her window?

I notice that over the nine or so years I've been in the workforce, I generally haven't worked anywhere longer than about 2.5 years. This hasn't been a conscious decision, but I've noticed that there is a commonality in theme - I do seem to reach a point at any organisation where I become bored by routine, so off I pop to try something a bit different.

And I think that it's this routine and repetition that is the largest contributing factor to workplace boredom. If I took the same route into work every day, did the same tasks, and had the same lunchtime ritual, my creativity would seep away and my development would stagnate.

I saw the owner of a cafe sitting glumly at one of his tables this lunchtime. I thought there must have been a time when he dreamt of opening a cafe, serving beautiful food to pleasant customers. Perhaps he's been worn down by the inevitable grind of small tasks, as well as the challenge that goes with keeping a city cafe profitable.

But rather than continue down this melancholy fairy tale (I've made up everything in the story above), the point I'm coming to is that situations such as these can be avoided by good planning and a positive mindset. For example, when looking at tasks, it's much better to always be thinking about new and better ways of doing something - rather than just something you need to get done and out the way.

I'm a great believer in the cognitive model of emotional response (that you can control your thoughts to influence the way you act and feel).

I like increasing profitability, reducing complexity, organising people, creating systems, and selling solutions. Sometimes parts of these things make for a dull day, but it's the mindset you use when you approach them that determines how interesting or rewarding you find them.

So, sure, the work's the same, but if you're always looking to improve, why would you ever get bored?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stanwell Park Ocean Swim

Readers of this blog might be aware I'm a pretty keen ocean swimmer. This weekend, I did one in Stanwell Park, which is near Woolongong.

You can just about make out the first beach on the left, and the destination beach a bit further out. We took this photo after the event, but there are buoys/cans to guide the way, and you have to swim quite far out in order to avoid the rocks.

The currents were against us, but I still came 4th out of over 400 competitors - next time I'll try to make up those critical few seconds for the $300 winner's cheque.

Ocean swims are absolutely awesome events - and, with the spate of recent dorsally-based news events, its profile has grown immensely. However, compared to other sports, it's statistically safe and it has a rather unique character. It's a community-based initiative, with colourful participants of all ages, an enjoyable atmosphere, and you get to swim in and enjoy some of Australia's most beautiful coasts. Surf Life Saving provides water safety and swimmers are well aware that they enter the water at their own risk.

It raises money for the surf club that hosts it, and most swims are relatively inexpensive (note, the huge Cole Classic is a behemouth of an event, it's the City2Surf of ocean swimming - and therefore one of the pricier and busier swims. There are loads of other options that they don't put on their website but you can find at

Just like seeing a good band in a small venue, I advise anyone to do some pool training and then one of the small, scenic ones - you won't regret it. Plus, you get to wear really small swimmers and hang out with other like-minded people... If that doesn't entice you, nothing will.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Internal comms in a downturn - the right way

After speaking to a mate of mine that works at a bit ol' multinational employing thousands of people, my heart was brightened to learn that some employers (well, his at least) are getting it right. (Click here to hear my previous vent on this topic.)

Are they listening to their people? Tick.
Are they acting on feedback? Tick.
Are they communicating in a way that's attractive to the employee? Tick.
Are they putting visibile action plans in place? Tick.
Are changes executed by people who can make them? Tick, tick, tick.

All the initiatives my mate mentioned will no doubt help him build a more satisfied and engaged workforce. Not every irk will be actioned, but at least it's been vented. And there's no underestimating the knock-on effect of John returning from lunch and telling his mates, "Those guys really listened, and they took it all on-board."

But what's really key to good communication is that employers see the world through their employees' eyes, and every communication adopts the principle of addressing some employee need, before looking at another objective. It doesn't mean every piece of communication has to be exactly what the employee wants, or that you're not allowed to communicate bad news. But it does have to address the knock-on effects of that piece of news and address the anticipated results.

The worst mistake an employer can make is by thinking that it's all about communicating, from the top to the bottom, what the board wants everyone in the canteen to hear.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Giving great advice

I reckon I'm really really good at giving advice.

If something isn't going very well for someone, I really think I know what will turn their negative into a positive, that will move them forward constructively - that will make them see the light at the end of an challenging, yet ultimately personality-building tunnel.

I just feel I'm the kind of person who does this really well.

But I've noticed that, more and more, I'm really not that good at talking myself into following advice I would give myself if I was, well, someone for whom things were not going well.

If you're not following me (and who could blame you), let me give you an example: Say you found out you had some illness. You were a bit down about it, so I'd probably say lots of positive things about the high likelihood of a fantastic return to normality and what a person you would grow into. But what I'm now saying is, I realise that the only reason I can say this, is because I'm not you, and you're not me.

On a personal level, I recently found out I had something wrong with me. There is a small chance it could kill me, but I caught it, am treating it, and it isn't likely to now. I would have said to anyone in my position: "Don't read horror stories on the internet. Most of it is disinformation, from worst-case-scenarios, unscientific, or simply really unlucky people using the internet cathartically. It's there to scaremonger."

But, of course, I did check the internet. And I didn't listen to me, when I tried to have a stern conversation with myself to tell me what I was doing was wrong.

So, on an individual level, emotions can take over. But what about in business? Ever noticed how often we refer to the I'm not you, and you're not me principle?

I wonder how many readers who work in PR, advertising or marketing, when they go to work, advise their clients on something that's not going well. I bet you, like me, promote some kind of best practice initiative, explain why it will benefit said client, and why the investment is oh-so-very important. But, critically, when we give this advice, it's with the facial-capillary-widening knowledge that the business we work for, doesn't do the precise thing we advise for our client. I know I'm as guilty as anyone.

It's the same as the guys that sell books or services on how to make a killing in the stock market. Since I assume they listen to their own advice, they must all be ravenously rich, I must thank them, really, for sparing some time to so magnanimously share their secrets.

I bet they never let emotions get in the way of good judgement. I bet they always listened to their own advice. I bet they wouldn't get caught jumping on the internet to check out some scare stories.

Or really, are emotions more at play here than anywhere else?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


While we're on the topic of working for the security services, how about this for a bizarre case of alleged discrimination?

The chap in the picture is suing Mi5 in the UK for not giving him a job, on the basis that he is partly paralysed.

Before I get on my high horse, I have a fair amount of sympathy for this guy's plight. He's obviously had a torrid time, and I'm sure if he was in good health, he would have been seriously considered.

But then, he didn't apply for the job when he was in good health.

He's applied for the job now that he can't meet one of the basic requirements.

In fact, his health must be so bad that I assume he cannot perform his former job of a bus driver. But he thinks it reasonable that, now he cannot be relied upon to drive a bus to get people to work on time, he should be entrusted with an integral part of the security of the United Kingdom.

Now, I know a bit about this role. And I know that driving is a really, really key part of it. I'm sure you could take public transport sometimes, but this wouldn't really work if you had to tail someone all day and hang around in various places watching - and this all had to be kept secret.

I've read up on his condition, and it seems that for most people the symptoms are temporary. I sincerely hope the same for Mr. Suleman. I am only disappointed that the publicity he has generated will now rule him out when the job applications open again - because I am certain a man of such passion would clearly have tried again when he was better.

While we wait and see, my next job application: professional footballer. And, by jeesus, if Manchester United discriminate against me for my lack of balls skills, dodgy knee, and disregard for the offside rule, then there'll be hell to pay.

Grad recruitment kicks off

A number of our clients are doing the rounds at the graduate recruitment fairs right now.

I love grads almost as much as I envy them. Imagine, having all that freedom to think, create and... err... drink and party. Now they have to talk to prospective employers to find out what kind of work they could do, what would interest them, what's the most rewarding way to use their skills.... which employers have a beer fridge (tick).

Even in the current climate, it's still competitive. Sure, there are plenty of grads out there, but employers are after ones with specific skills that match the needs of their organisation - and matching values come high up.'

Take a look at this grad recruiter, different from most, and trying to make the point that a job with their organisation isn't exactly what you might think.

What's that ASIO doesn't just recruit spies?

Monday, March 9, 2009

The downturn bites

Over here at recruitment advertising and strategy towers, we feel the downturn as much as anyone. If our clients aren't placing advertisements, we don't get media commission or the production charge, and the transactional side of our business takes a nose dive. Over the past few months, we've all felt it.

So it's no surprise to us that latest news from the ANZ job ad series shows newspaper job ads fell 25.2% last month. In context, this means they're now down 55.4% year-on-year - the steepest fall in print vacancies since the bank began measuring them in the mid-1970s. Online ads fell 9.4% in February, and are down 38.6% year-on-year.

We're in recruitment freefall.

But it wasn't always like this. Employers have experienced a very tight market for the past few years, which has forced them to be more competitive in attracting the best talent. They've needed to think more creatively, realising that a standard ad in the recruitment pages will no longer reap the results it once did. A recruiter could no longer afford to disregard failed applicants because in doing so they would be getting rid of valuable talent that could fill a different, but nonetheless critical, role.

In doing so, employers have stumbled upon the idea that - like it or not - they have an employer brand. And they have the power to do something about it.

Their employer brand isn't contained in their logo, design guidelines or the values statement posted on their website. But it is there, an intagible concept, containing the myriad of ideas that employees and candidates have about the organisation. Employers can influence these ideas - if they don't others will do it for them.

Some of our clients realise the importance of this work. And they're working with us to achieve great results of increased engagement, alignment, and productivity. We're helping to shape beliefs - it's important work, and will ultimately reap the rewards.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Where have all the thinkers gone?

You know, being a settled Pom over here in this fantastic country, some things really make me seethe.

I can put up with the laid-back attitude. I'm at home with blue skies. I can just about cope with the endlessly enticing beaches. But I simply can't fathom the way this downturn is being managed by employers.

The way I see it, a downturn like this is part of healthy economic cycle. Businesses should look to come out the other end (note to employers: There will be an end to the downturn.) leaner, meaner and more innovative. Markets have shifted, so they need to adapt, take stock and come up with new ideas. So where are these ideas coming from? Their employees?

Working for an advertising agency, we trade in the business of ideas. But are employers listening to us, mulling it over, and thinking of ways to make it work? No. They're restructuring and cutting costs. I repeat: Restructure. Cut costs. Duh. Duh. Same. Same. Who told them that this was the only way to justify HR's existence in a downturn?

In the olden days of advertising, an advert served as a rather pleasant notice: This is my product. It's rather nice. I think you should buy it.

As competition increased, new ways were developed to increase sales: This is my product. It's rather nice. It's has certain features that are better than other brands. You should stick to buying my product.

Times marched onwards, and advertising starting selling ideas: Buy my product and become the person you want to be.

In Australia, many employers are still placing recruitment advertisements like rather pleasant notices. They pay lip service to terms like 'employer branding', but don't invest in the areas that they will, eventually, need to. Let me make it clear: People will still want to work for a certain organisation because of their beliefs about them - and how closely this matches their desires of who they want to be. And employers still need to work hard at reinforcing the messages that accurately reflect them. Want to be seen as innovative, forward-thinking, young, vibrant, quirky? Go work for Virgin.

I'm not saying to employers: "Hey! You! Keep advertising or the future targets won't know why they'd want to work for you!" (although this may be the case).

What I am saying is that the businesses that come out of this downturn in the best shape, will be those that continue to attract more of the right people for the right reasons. The reputation employers have built will continue to decline the less their message is repeated and the less control they have over the ideas and beliefs people have about them.

So here's my rallying cry to employers: First, look to the people at your organisation. The people who have chosen to work for you. The people who believe that your organisation says something about who they are. These people are your spokespeople, your advocates, your evangelists.

Engage them, inspire them, encourage new ideas. Get them to talk to others, and share their experiences about why they work for you. In times of downturn, look to ways to build a fortress from within.

And talk to recruitment strategy experts to help you do it. Don't just react to every cost-cutting measure.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Internal communication

It seems that in these financially tumultuous times, employers are increasingly looking within in order to cut costs, streamline, and maximise revenue. Many have put in place recruitment freezes, cut non-essential hires, or cut down employee working hours.

Much talk is on managing existing talent to achieve maximum productivity.

But the feedback that I get is that these changes are not being communicated effectively. Nor are the feedback loops in place in order to ensure communication is two-way, and employees have a forum where they're comfortable to ask questions.

Any measures that are put in place are doomed to fail if they are not communicated effectively. Employees won't be engaged by structural changes unless they feel they are being told the full story. Unless they feel that changes benefit them individually and collectively - not the needs of some high-falutin', stoney-faced Board of Directors.

Every successful business needs to ensure employees feel valued; that - when times are tough - they are doing everything in their power to reduce operating costs with the least effect possible on staff numbers or morale. There needs to be postivity running like an iron rod through every necessary piece of bad news.

And when this news is communicated, it needs to be tied to the core beliefs and perceptions that caused employees to join the organisation to start with. It needs to explain why the employer brand of the organisation is still strong and visible, and that the reasons to stay engaged, motivated and productive are the same as they ever were.

An analogy: When Gerald Ratner spoke negatively about his business, it's value depreciated by 500million sterling. Lose the engagement and loyalty of your people, and the loss will be felt years after economic recovery.

Employers: Make your decisions visible and don't be afraid to use external agencies to communicate them well.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Healthy living and the economy

Inspired by a recent visit to the fantastically written, yet hardline Three Piece Suite blog, I started to think a little more deeply about the impact of obesity on the economy, and where the boundaries of government responsibility lay.

If obesity is genuinely a drain on the economy, governments need to make it less financially viable to be fat. More to the point, they also need to introduce measures that make healthy food and exercise profitable to the producer, and cost-effective and enjoyable for the consumer.

(For a more detailed and high-end argument along these lines, albeit using free markets to address the grander vision of our impact on the environment, check out the Ethical Man blog.)

Right now, cigarettes are highly taxed, and alcohol looks to be following suit. So perhaps it is only a matter of time before unhealthy eating is in line with other vices. This is actually good news for those with a healthy appetite - we can incentivise healthy food and gyms in a way we can't do with cigarettes or drink.

I make an assumption in all this that we are now beyond the tipping point, where the cost to the economy of our consumption is greater than the revenue it generates (perhaps an economist could help solve this puzzle). But in any case, the hit, if any, must be driven by legislation, and taken on by industry. Consumers can't be expected to make the right choices if there's an easier and cheaper alternative. I don't particularly want a car, but until bicycles, buses, trains, electric cars, or hover boards become a sensible option, I'll keep driving. Plus, everyone else will still have their cars, so what difference does it make if I ditch the Daihatsu Charade? I lose, but no one gains.

There are plenty of people who don't need market forces to lead a healthy life, myself included. And there are plenty of people who make the right environmental choices, for the greater good. So perhaps the answer is in education first, incentives second.

You can see the original article here.