RecruitingDaily Podcast In Writing: James Whitelock

On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to James Whitelock from ThinkinCircles about recruitment marketing leadership and why it’s time for recruitment marketers to have a seat at the table.

The Episode Transcript:

Music:   This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live Podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup

William Tincup:   Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have James on from ThinkinCircles. When we talk about recruitment marketing leadership, why it’s time for recruitment marketers to have a seat at the table. We’ve been talking about this with HR, for I believe like 300 years. And because of COVID ironically, they were thrust into not just having a seat at the table, but standing on the table and building the table and all kinds of stuff on the table. So it’s a great metaphor and a wonderful one for James and I to explore with recruitment marketers. James, hello. Would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and ThinkinCircles?

James Whitelock:   Well, firstly, thank you for having me on. It’s an absolute pleasure.

William Tincup:   Sure.

James Whitelock:   Long-time listener, first time kind of guest. So yeah, my name is James Whitelock and I’m the managing director of ThinkinCircles. And we are a recruitment marketing agency based out of the UK, but we have kind of a global reach. This is a kind of a subject that’s close to my heart because it’s something we deal with with our kind of clients on a daily basis. We only work with recruitment agencies and businesses that are kind of circling the recruitment and HR space. And traditionally these businesses don’t have a marketing function. So that’s kind of where we come in, and it also gives us kind of, really kind of good access to understanding the businesses’ and agency’s philosophy around marketing and how they think about it, what they think its usage is, and all the kind of preconceptions that’s kind of come with this. And as you said, the last couple of years have been really interesting from a recruitment marketing perspective.

William Tincup:   So we’ll start with some basic kind terms for the audience so that they kind of can understand maybe where these concentric circles kind of overlap. Obviously we’ve been taught employer brand and the importance of employer brand over the last couple years from a technology perspective, we’ve been taught also about CRM candidate relationship management software and recruitment marketing. Now that we have some basic terms, you knew I had a bunch more, but where do we start when we try to explain this to our leadership, the structure of how things should work? How should it work? If you had a magic wand, how would you have it work at firms?

James Whitelock:   Well, this whole thing about having marketing have a seat at the table, that’s exactly what marketing needs to be. When you look outside of recruitment and HR, most businesses kind of take marketing quite seriously. And it’s one of the kind of considerations they have right at the conception or when they get to a stage where they’re big enough and they need to then to start to grow their brand. And when I say a seat at the table, it means someone at director level, really someone who’s around the board table, you can drive this type of strategy from the top down. In traditionally within recruitment, it doesn’t happen that way. Recruitment is so kind of sales focused, the actual marketing that kind of gets sidelined basically.

So really what we’re talking about is someone who can interact with every level of the business, at different parts of the business and understand them, but from a marketing perspective, right? And by that, I mean, how are you going to talk to your different audiences? What’s the message that’s going to be in front of those people? How are you going to kind of convert them? What’s the journey these people take? What is it you think they need? Where do you add value beyond that kind of transactional affair that we usually have within recruitment, which is, “Well, we’re going to charge you to find this candidate to place into this role.” There’s more to it now, right? There’s much more to how recruitment works. Everyone listening I’m sure would know this, but to do that, marketeers need to be much further near the top and kind of get beyond this stage of the coloring in the department, which is the kind usual kind of joke that’s thrown in the marketeer’s way, beyond building PowerPoint presentations and making things look pretty, much more kind of strategic-

William Tincup:   It’s, “Oh, you’re playing with art. That’s cute. Do you need some glue? Do you need some scissors? That’s awfully awesome.” And what’s the irony of that is, is corporate marketers have struggled with that for years, until they became a bit more scientific. Once they crossed over and really kind of started doing things with really learning math and Excel and all of these things to where they can start building business cases and using RO at that time, a return on advertising and things like that. It’s like, they had to actually show up at the table with math, for finance and accounting and sales to respect them. And the irony here in America, at least the irony of that 20 years on is, it’s hard to find a corporate marketer that’s actually an artist.

James Whitelock:   Well, it’s an interesting point you make, right? Because I think we almost need to move a little bit away from that. Okay?

William Tincup:   Right.

James Whitelock:   I think we’ve got very obsessed with… Return on investment is the thing that always gets thrown at marketeers. And once you start becoming an accountant instead of a marketeer, then I feel something has probably gone wrong. Something’s gone awry. And not saying that all marketeers need to be kind of creatives in no way, but I think they need to be strategists and they need to be given the kind of breadth to kind of build out these plans and build out these strategies. And like other functions within many businesses, this takes time. And so I think that whole kind of accountancy kind of piece, the whole thing around Excel spreadsheets and going into the fine detail of where every single penny has been kind of converted from, sometimes doesn’t do us any good. Right?

William Tincup:   Oh, oftentimes.

James Whitelock:   Yeah. I think it’d be really detrimental to what marketeers can really add to a business.

William Tincup:   It’s funny when I owned an agency, when people would ask me about that, I’m like, “Listen, there’s some things that’s really easy to do the calculus on.” Okay? So we would do an email campaign. Let’s do something simple. Put in $10,000. I can kind of figure out and really kind of draw down on exactly what that gets you coming back. You want to redesign your logo or your message? It’s going to be harder for me to do the math because what drives that is when sales people have given up on your message. That’s what’s happened. If they’ve given up on your message, then you need to invest in it regardless of the outcome, because you need your sales team to believe in the message. But it’s hard for me to do the calculus. So I’d always bifurcate and say, “Hey, there’s certain things I can do math around and certain things I just can’t. You’re just going to have to trust the fact that you need to do this. And there’s other compelling reasons for that.”

James Whitelock:   Yeah. You’re completely right. But this comes back to the fact that sometimes even marketeers aren’t the best communicators. And it’s our job to make sure that the sales teams know exactly what we’re doing and what we are expected of them and put it into forms and terms and something that’s digestible that they can use. Right? And it’s about understanding the sales teams as well. So many times you walk into some kind of businesses, and this is businesses we work with, you’ve got the sales team on one side of the office and you’ve got a marketeers maybe on another. And it’s like, “Well, that’s not going to work. Right?”

William Tincup:   Nope, nope.

James Whitelock:   That’s just not. I mean, you need these teams kind of embedded together. There’s no way that the guys can kind of respect each other. Again, this is where this whole, the coloring in department and the guys are just shouting down phones basically, that’s-

William Tincup:   Oh, and I’ve seen it worse, James. This is years ago, I had a chief revenue officer, at that time they called them VP of sales. And he goes, “Here’s the deal about marketing, they send me spreadsheets, I delete them.” And I’m like… I mean, I was caught off guard, and I’m like, “Well, okay. That is what it is. Why?” He goes, “Because they think that what they’re doing is fruitful, and they send stuff to me because they’ve been to an event and they’ve captured some data. And they send it to me and they think that they’re doing the right thing. So problem is, is all that’s fodder. It’s not helpful for my BDRs. It’s not helpful for my team.” And so I mean, you’re absolutely right. It’s like on some level you’ve got to actually get together and go, “Okay, what’s a combined plan?” Like, “Okay, you’ve got to forecast, a revenue goal that you’ve got to to hit. Fantastic. How do we play a part in that?”

James Whitelock:   Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and that only can be a good thing. And that then lets marketing one, prove they’re worth. One, then embed themselves within the business, but also lends them… You can start thinking about things like account-based marketing when you go down those. There’s methodologies that will be alien to some recruiters and the way that they can work together with marketing. I go on about ABM all the time and I know we’re not here to necessarily talk about that.

William Tincup:   Right.

James Whitelock:   But then it’s when there’s other methodologies, right? There’s other things beyond building a PowerPoint presentation or a deck for these guys, right? There’s things where you can all work really well together with a goal and a single outcome, like kind of account-based marketing or something similar. Right? Other things that we kind of do that only once we kind of embedded with the sales teams, and we’ve got kind of authority from the top down where we can put these kind of things in place.

So this is where this whole kind of seat at the table kind of scenario really kind of plays its piece because if we can kind of build this strategy up, we can say, “Right, this is how we’re going to work. We’re going to do this, this, this, this, and this with these guys over here. We’re going to work with the internal recruiters around EVP and employer branding over here.” And then it all kind of starts to add value. And that’s where you start to move away a little bit from the kind of number crunches, and you start moving kind of this blended approach from, “All right. We can prove growth. We can prove return. We can also be creative. We can be strategic.” And that’s where, I think, marketing is at its best.

William Tincup:   And one more question before we get to some success stories, because I think that’ll help people and it’s based in the recruitment marketers, we kind of talk to each other, oftentimes there’s awards for people that do great and things like that. But outside of that, I’m not sure the rest of the executive team understands what great recruitment marketing looks like and feels like, and what impact it has on employer brand, what impact it has on candidate flow and all these other things that it has impact on. And I remember a campaign Ikea did, I think it’s in Australia a hundred years ago. And it was, they put job adverts inside the boxes, which it was inside the boxes, but they were created like instructions, so it went like a typical Ikea box you’d buy, whatever, a bookshelf or whatever it was.

And you’d have it, but this was a job ad. And they’d have the instructions too, but those were separate. And so you’d look at it and it had all the different things that you had to… All the pieces and all the things that it literally looked and felt, same paper, same thing. It just felt like… And it was just like, “Oh, that’s bright. Like that’s actually really, really, really bright.” And I’m sure it was effective because people that shopped at Ikea, probably there was an affinity already and I’m sure it worked, but it was just a bright campaign.

James Whitelock:   I mean, you had probably a couple of different outcomes. Right? One, it was just a good branding exercise. Right?

William Tincup:   Right. Right. Good point.

James Whitelock:   I mean, they probably knew that they weren’t going to get a huge amount of kind of applications. But it proves to the people that they are hiring, they’re growing. The people who are kind of buying Ikea means they know that this is a kind of a growing business, that they’re after this kind of thing. So, I think that’s actually that more of a kind of a branding exercise. And it obviously was effective because you are telling that story now.

William Tincup:   That’s right. Yeah.

James Whitelock:   You remember it.

William Tincup:   Yeah. And again, candidate flow. Did they do the return on investment? Did they sit around with Excel? Eh, probably not.

James Whitelock:   Yeah, exactly.

William Tincup:   Probably not. I mean, you can name names and all that stuff. In fact, if you can, that’s great. It’s just give us some examples, take us into the world where you’ve seen recruitment marketing work so that the audience can start to put their hands and heads around, “Okay. What does it look like when it works?” And obviously, we can deal with some of the opposite when it doesn’t work, but let’s just see if there’s some positive stories first.

James Whitelock:   So I’ll give you some of the things that kind of we’ve been working with some of our clients. Obviously, our clientele are all recruitment agencies. So the recruitment agencies, they sit in the middle of this process and they’re either loved or loathed. So sometimes we’ve got a battle against that in the first place. But for instance, in the UK in a minute, there is this real shortage and this, I don’t like the term, war for talent, but there is a need for really good recruitment consultants, right? Every business that we’re working for in a minute is screaming out for recruitments because the market has gone crazy, so they’re trying to grow. So that is a lot of work that we are doing in a minute. And so we’ve got a couple of businesses that we worked on, one specific and they work in inclusivity.

So they have an inclusive kind of recruitment process and they work with businesses who want to be more inclusive, and that’s their whole kind of USP and they’re trying to grow at the minute. So we’ve been working with them to kind of grow their team. And we’ve basically picked up on this kind of inclusivity kind of theme and running through any of the kind of marketing material that we’re picking up there. So this is a good example. If you can latch onto a theme that is going to kind of do really well, those are the kind of things that I think are going to turn on. Obviously, you’ve got to know your audience pretty well, so you’ve done all the research around this. You know these kind of people and you’re trying to kind of came from, and some of that now is you can obviously do a lot of that through technology.

There’s all kinds of tech out there that you can kind of get your message in front of people. But again, that specific message and this inclusive message seemed to be really switching on for this inclusivity. Now everything else they’ve done and all their kind of positioning, all their messaging was around inclusivity, but where we kind of drilled that down into the people who also want to work for them, that really switched on. That really kind of had a turn on. And for that business, that means it really generally is in the DNA of them. And we were to kind of latch onto that. So that’s kind of one example.

So inclusivity is one of these things that really switch on. And when we talk about inclusivity, we’re obviously not talking around just having a photo of someone who is disabled, someone who is older, someone who is kind of from a minority background. We’re talking about much more, that the process is very open, that at no point along that process, are you kind of canceling people out.

So again, we have to try and put those things into our marketing as well, which isn’t necessarily easy. And even from our point of view, we’re still learning, but that is a good example of where things are kind of working at the moment when it comes to kind of trying to recruit consultants.

William Tincup:   Yeah, you’re building themes that people can, in this case, a really, really, really good theme that you believe in. It’s obviously something that the firm values. And so it proliferates everything that they do. And it also is something that people care about.

James Whitelock:   Yeah. I mean, exactly. Yeah. Exactly. Yeah.

William Tincup:   So, all right. Go on. I know you had like jillions of these, so we’ll go on to the next one.

James Whitelock:   So a lot of our clients are also in the tech sectors, right? So we’ve got a lot of IT and tech recruiters, and that is notoriously kind of difficult to kind of recruit in because it’s just such a highly, highly, competitive industry in a minute. Something like 50% of all UK recruiters are in IT. Right?

William Tincup:   Mm-hmm (affirmative).

James Whitelock:   So it’s a big pool, but with a lot of fish in it, basically all trying to get the same kind of candidates. So how do you try and stand out from the other businesses? Well, so one project we’re kind of going through at the minute is really to kind of make sure that they look significantly different to everyone else out there. The problem with recruitment is, especially, let’s say the process of recruitment online, very similar, right?

It’s become an expectation that you are going to work. You are going to use the website to apply for a job this way. This is how it works, right? Now, that’s just kind of standard UX, but how you kind of position yourself is the thing that’s going to kind of catch on. And even simple things as your branding and the kind of branding and the imagery that you use to get across. So really simple kind of branding and marketing tools, and everyone or most of the people you talk to are going to say, “Well, we don’t want to have any stock photos of people sitting around a desk.”

William Tincup:   The diversity hands. Yep. Yep. Got it.

James Whitelock:   Yeah. But everybody has still has them. It’s kind of like, “Well, if you don’t want them, why are you… You’ve been using these across all of your brands for the last 10 years, and only now you’ve decided.” So the things like really kind of going outside and thinking completely differently and thinking about what actually your audiences want from you and what turns them on and what is the things that’s going to kind of attract them.

William Tincup:   Right.

James Whitelock:   And usually that isn’t necessarily stuff around recruitment or them kind of even doing their job, but it’s much more kind of it’s pushing about. So the stuff we’re doing with this business is there’s some bright kind of colored, just crazy abstract imagery that we’re working with them. It’s got almost zero to do with the kind of areas that they’re recruiting in. Okay? But it’s had a great response so far, you know?

William Tincup:   Yeah.

James Whitelock:   And again, this is one of those things where looking outside of recruitment can also help. Right? If we were kind of working in other areas, you’d be fine with kind of looking at this kind of different imagery. And it’s really simple stuff. Right? But so sometimes, again, they’re so wary of taking these chances. And again, this is the role that marketing can play just to try and nudge people along to push these kind of boundaries.

William Tincup:   I think people are wary though, James. Sorry to interrupt. I think people are wary because A, you’ve got tradition, maybe some things that the history, tradition, et cetera, but some of it is ego in this sense of you’re pushing and talking about audience first. Okay, what is your audience care about? Okay, then let’s go build a layer around what they care about, so we can engage with them kind of on their terms, not necessarily on our terms. And there’s a whole lot of executives that just will see that and go. “Yeah. But I really like the color blue.” “Okay. That’s fantastic. Your audience, mostly female, hate the color blue.” I mean, that’s poor example, but the idea is like if you serve an audience, if it’s in recruitment marketing, you serve an audience, then bring in candidate flow, et cetera. In corporate marketing, you serve the customers. Okay? So you serve an audience and at one point you have to make the decision, are we going to be audience-driven or customer-driven, candidate-driven, or not?

James Whitelock:   And interesting enough, recruitment is quite unique in the fact that we are B2B and B2C, right?

William Tincup:   Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep.

James Whitelock:   Because we have a candidate audience who are kind of B2C, and then we have the B2B, which is the clients we’re serving. So as marketeers, it’s actually quite a tricky job to try and do all of this at the same time.

William Tincup:   That’s right.

James Whitelock:   So trying to kind of one size fits all, sometimes doesn’t work but sometimes does, right?

William Tincup:   Right.

James Whitelock:   Many a time do we talk with our recruitment agency partners and their candidates become their clients, all this kind of stuff happens, especially again in IT, when you’re at senior IT level, definitely that kind of happens. So having some marketing leadership to understand that in the first place, okay? And how you then go on and you take people on that journey where we know we’re going to get very senior IT people we’re replacing. We know at some point they’re probably going to then become our clients. So from a marketing perspective, what does that journey look like? How do we continually kind of make sure that we have touch points with them. It’s the right kind of touch points at the right time, that what we’re delivering them is reflective of their journey within that business. And when they’re ready to then hire, and then it’s a different message that we send to them.

This is the only thing that can only really be done from quite a senior level. Right? This is not a graphic designer’s job or a social media manager’s job. This is why I talk about this kind of marketing leadership and importance of it, because there are these things that are really quite, quite complex relationships that kind of need to be understood, researched, and then delivered.

William Tincup:   That’s right.

James Whitelock:   That other businesses and other kind of corporates just don’t kind of get involved in that kind of journey.

William Tincup:   No. Two quick questions, because we’re running out of time, but both of them I really want to get your take on. One is how should recruitment marketers be judged? And I avoided the analytics and metrics and typical stuff because I just wanted to kind of take on, at the end of the day, we do have a seat at table. That’s fantastic. Sales, got it. I understand how they’re judged. How should recruitment marketing leaders, how should they be judged?

James Whitelock:   So I was try and steer clear of the kind of vanity metrics, right?

William Tincup:   Right.

James Whitelock:   The amount of followers we have… Social media didn’t really do marketing as much help when it come up with followers because everybody just got obsessed with having as many followers.

William Tincup:   That’s right.

James Whitelock:   Within recruitment, I’m a big fan of potential value in the database. Okay? So that is how I like to kind of talk about this. So we drive candidates to wherever we want to drive candidates to. If they end up in the database, there’s a potential value of that person. We know how much it will be to… If we place that person, how much an average kind of fee that would bring in, okay? With a client, when that client comes into the database, we have an idea of average, how much they’re going to spend over a year. So then at that point, they have a potential value. And I always like to think, “All right, how is the potential value that we have brought into the business?” So it could be hundreds of thousands of pounds potentially per month. Right?

William Tincup:   Right.

James Whitelock:   That’s how I like to see it. And I think that’s almost as-

William Tincup:   That’s healthy.

James Whitelock:   Yeah. It’s as healthy as you want to get. It proves that there’s money sitting in the database ready to be kind of-

William Tincup:   It also forces recruiters to think about the database and instead of casting new and trying to avoid the database, think about the database and say, “Hey, there’s things here that are valuable.” So I like it. I like it on a couple different levels. I like staying away from the vanity stuff, A. Staying away from kind of just ROI-ish related stuff. But I love the idea of,” Hey, listen, there’s value in this database. You choose to use it or leverage it or you don’t.” I love that. Last question. And you’ve dealt with a jillion of these as well, where do great recruitment marketers come from?

James Whitelock:   That’s a really good question. If I knew, I’d go and kind of find them.

William Tincup:   It’s like a Clover, that’s only in one part of Ireland, and you can only get it at one place. I’ve been fascinated with this for years. It’s like, “Do we build them ourself? Do we harvest them?” Or like, is this just an ex recruiter that just really, really likes the creative side and understands recruitment. And then it’s, we take them through the paces and they become recruitment marketers? I don’t know. I honestly don’t have the answer to this question. That’s why I thought maybe you would.

James Whitelock:   It’s all of the above, you know what I mean? So once you’re in though, it’s a bit like the mafia, you know?

William Tincup:   Yeah.

James Whitelock:   Just when you try to get out, it drags you back in.

William Tincup:   Oh, yeah.

James Whitelock:   You don’t seem leave.

William Tincup:   Oh, no.

James Whitelock:   That’s that’s the thing. So from my position, kind of like even a lot of recruiters, I just kind of fell into it. It wasn’t something I kind of planned. I just kind of ended up working for a recruitment agency in the back office and then kind of that’s where my path started. We’ve got people working within my business who are ex recruiters who then kind of had a kind of creative flare and just kind of worked their way up and understood and did whatever kind of courses they needed to do to understand it.

William Tincup:   And you’ve had marketers that come over from corporate or came up through university and come over and they understand kind of consumer marketing, but they don’t understand this. So then they have to kind of unlearn some things.

James Whitelock:   Exactly. And as I said, it’s quite unique in the way that recruitment marketing works. So, yeah, some are ex recruiters, some are people who just kind of fall into it. Generally, it’s the marketeers within recruitments start quite kind of junior level and then over time, work their way up. And then there’s that pool there. Rarely does a senior marketeer ever decided, “I’m going to go work for a recruitment agency.”

William Tincup:   Right?

James Whitelock:   That doesn’t happen.

William Tincup:   No, no. They’ve already got the scars at that point to prove that they know certain things. James, this was wonderful. And we’ll need more time next time to explore stuff. So thank you so much for carving out time for us and the RecruitingDaily Podcast.

James Whitelock:   Well, thank you for having me.

William Tincup:   Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.

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