Recruitment ads can also sell company

Companies that use their career advertising simply as a vehicle to recruit staff are wasting a valuable opportunity to support their corporate image, say experts at recruitment ad agencies and the clients that use them.Wayne Burns, senior vice-president and creative director...

Companies that use their career advertising simply as a vehicle to recruit staff are wasting a valuable opportunity to support their corporate image, say experts at recruitment ad agencies and the clients that use them.

Wayne Burns, senior vice-president and creative director at Toronto-based Bernard Hodes Advertising, puts it like this: ‘A recruitment ad is designed as much to sell a company as it is a job opportunity.

‘I don’t mean to simplify it, but, in a lot of cases, people don’t value recruitment advertising as anything other than a vehicle for getting the right people,’ Burns says.

A vehicle

‘They don’t see it as a vehicle for marketing or selling a company – and, I think you have to look at it that way,’ he says.

‘When you buy a 4 1/4 by 7-inch box in the career pages, and it costs you $5,000, you should get as much out of it as you can.’

Recruitment ad agencies are specialty advertising agencies that create and place career advertising on behalf of their clients.

They are distinct from executive search firms, such as The Caldwell Partners, Deloitte & Touche Management Consultants, KPMG Management Consulting, Price Waterhouse and a host of other, more specialized ‘headhunters’ that handle an employee search from beginning to end, and present the client with a short list of candidates to be interviewed.


Unlike the fees of recruitment ad agencies, which are calculated as a commission on the media buy, the fees of executive search firms are usually calculated as a percentage of the successful applicant’s salary.

As well, executive search firms do not generally identify their clients in the newspaper, other than with a generic description, which might read, ‘our client, a leader in office products, is expanding, and has openings for the following positions.’

While recruitment advertising agencies will, at the client’s request, keep the identity of the advertiser confidential, usually the client’s name, philosophy and corporate logo are prominently featured.

As such, these types of ads provide marketers an opportunity to do more than just generate resumes from prospective employees.

Lauri Richardson, vice-president of Toronto-based recruitment ad agency Austin Knight Canada, says it has long been her company’s philosophy that recruitment advertising is an image-building vehicle.

‘What you are trying to do, in a recruitment ad, is say to a prospective employee why they would want to work for you,’ Richardson says.

‘But, the reasons a prospective employee might want to work for you are really similar to the reasons a prospective investor might want to buy some stocks, or why a client would want to do business with you,’ she says.

And, it is clear, Richardson says, that it is not just job-seekers who read recruitment ads.

She says industry surveys have shown that 85% of newspaper readers scan the career section – even if they are perfectly content at their current place of employment.

‘Any good business person who wants to keep abreast of what is going on in their industry, or in other industries should look at the career section,’ Richardson says.

‘It has always been a barometer of the economy,’ she says. ‘It is the first to slow down when things get slow, but it is one of the first indications that things are picking up when ads for sales reps start to come through.’

‘If you’ve got a strong call for candidates, it tells your clients you are doing well, it tells your shareholders that they can be positive.’

Andrew Day, president of Toronto-based Day Advertising, agrees just about everyone reads the career ads, and not just when they are looking for a new job.

‘A senior manager will be interested in the companies that are trying to recruit away his subordinates,’ Day says.

‘He will also be interested in where his career might lead him in two or three years’ time, and will start to form opinions about those companies based on the exposures he has had through recruitment advertising,’ he says.

Good opportunity

So, Day says it is a good opportunity to build one’s corporate identity.

‘There are many companies, particularly in the high tech field and certain specialized industries, that do not do a great deal of broad-based product advertising, and, very often, they will be able to convey to their customers, and to their shareholders, a strong corporate identity through their recruitment campaigns,’ he says.

According to Day, Apotex, a 20-year-old, Canadian-owned pharmaceutical firm, is one company that understands the multi-purpose role of an ad in the career pages.

Elie Betito, director of public and government affairs at Apotex, and one of Day’s clients, says the company has used large space career ads in The Toronto Star to hire about 400 employees over the past 2 1/2 years.

While the primary purpose is to attract qualified applicants, Betito says the company also uses the ads as a platform to talk to a wider audience about its expanding role in research and development.

‘Come of age’

‘It’s a way of telling the world that this company has come of age, that we are doing things that most people would have said were impossible just five years ago, especially in light of the fact that we were hiring literally dozens and dozens of people,’ he says.

‘We are addressing all our stakeholder groups – from legislators, to pharmacists, to the general public.’

Al Ward, director of human resources at The Business Depot, a chain of 41 office supply superstores, says he sees career advertising as yet another opportunity to create awareness of his company’s increasing presence in the marketplace.

‘It’s an announcement to the business community and the consuming public that there is a new player in the market,’ says Ward, adding the company is now engaged in an aggressive expansion program to Western Canada, after having established a base in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes.

‘The feedback we get from candidates and the general public is that there is awareness of [the company's expansion program] partly because of the profile we have in the hiring community,’ he says.

Ads for The Business Depot show a hand-drawn cartoon character who appears to be climbing or even pole-vaulting, under the headlines ‘Lead’ and ‘Aspire.’

‘What [the character] is doing is open to interpretation, but, he is on the way up, and certainly seems to be depicting an energetic essence, which really describes our business,’ Ward says.

Communicating a company’s ‘essence’ through its career advertising is more important today than ever before, says Ward, especially considering the fact that most people change their jobs, and even their careers, more frequently.

‘Employers can no longer say, `Our employees have been with us 20 to 30 years – those days are long gone,’ he says.

‘If you want to continue to attract the talent you need, you are going to have to keep positioning yourself in the marketplace and messaging appropriately.’

While companies such as Apotex and The Business Depot appear to be making the most of their recruitment advertising in daily newspapers, not everyone is an enthusiastic supporter of the career pages.

In a speech last month to a Montreal meeting of the Newspaper Advertising Executives Association, Heather MacPherson and Nicole Morin, president and vice-president, respectively, of Montreal-based Cala Human Resources Communications, said despite the fact that labor market activity is starting to increase, many firms are still shying away from the career pages.

Their reasons, MacPherson says, are myriad.

Can’t handle the volume

Employers say they cannot handle the huge number of responses generated, that the audience reached by the dailies is too broad, and that daily newspapers do not reach the four designated employment equity groups – specifically, women, visible minorities, aboriginal people and the handicapped.

With respect to the overwhelming number of responses, many agencies recommend clients specify in their ad they will respond only to qualified candidates.

Companies can also pre-screen candidates by using a 1-800 response service to ask basic questions about their skills and experience.

There are also tools an employer can use internally, such as human resources software, that allow overburdened staff to scan resumes into a database.

Be specific

But, Day says perhaps the best way of limiting the number of responses is to be specific when outlining the requirements for the position.

‘So often, in the career pages, when you read an ad, it is difficult to tell whether it is a $30,000-a-year job, or a $130,000-year position,’ he says.

‘If it correctly targets the people a company is trying to seek, we believe a good recruitment ad will produce a more limited response.’

Roy Martin, director of employee relations at Xerox Canada, agrees.

‘I think, with the right kind of focus on the skill requirements and previous experience, you can minimize the overkill,’ Martin says.

According to Morin, a lot of companies are relying more on campus recruitment, industry associations and trade publications to more narrowly target employees.

While this is no doubt effective for some employers, Andrew Wallen, manager of advertising and promotion at The Office Equipment Company of Canada, a Toronto-based sales subsidiary of Canon, says career advertising in a daily newspaper can help position a company as a key player in an industry because it is hiring and, just as importantly, seen to be hiring.

‘Being aggressive’

‘oe is making the effort to talk about their organization, to be aggressive about positioning itself at a time when a lot of the competition is not very visible,’ Wallen says.

He says the company’s career ads also serve to motivate employees because models used in the ads are drawn from oe’s salesforce.

‘Our people appreciate the fact that they are being asked to participate in these types of activities,’ Wallen says.

‘Many of them have thanked me for the opportunity to be involved,’ he says.

Day agrees career advertising can have an important morale-boosting role.

‘We have run campaigns that were as much a shot in the arm to the existing salesforce as they were to bring in new recruits,’ he says.

‘The campaign headlines read, `We’re on a roll,’ or `We’re breaking new ground.’ These have a very positive impact on the existing employees.’

As far as the employment equity issue is concerned, Day says employers should not rule out daily newspapers as a good vehicle to reach all required target markets.

‘We have done a fair amount of focus group research in that area to try to determine whether the broad-based daily newspapers are a primary source, or whether [recruitment ads] should be targetted through special minority publications,’ Day says.

‘Almost universally, the minority groups state to us that they don’t want to be singled out, particularly by the media vehicles that carry the message to them, which they find, in some ways, a patronizing approach to employment equity hiring,’ he says.

‘Strong commitment’

‘What they want to see is that companies that are recruiting have a strong commitment to employment equity in their broad-based communications,’ says Day, adding this is something that can be carried through in the visuals, taglines or body copy the company incorporates in its advertising creative.

Companies can also use different sections of the newspaper to attract employment equity candidates, Morin says.

Cala client ScotiaMcLeod, for example, wanted to attract more women as investment executives.

The company placed a teaser ad in the Life section of The Toronto Star, directing the reader to look for its ad in careers.

The ad, an invitation to attend ScotiaMcLeod’s career night, featured the photograph and statement of one of the company’s female employees.

Richardson agrees daily newspapers are an important part of the employment equity mix.

‘A lot of agencies now are suggesting runs in alternate media, like [Chinese daily newspapers] Ming Pao and Sing Tao or Star India, and, certainly, from an image point of view, it’s important to be in those papers, because the readership is not only potential employees, but also potential clients,’ she says.

Strong with equity groups

‘But, we often counsel clients that a strong newspaper, like The Toronto Star or Toronto Sun, or The Vancouver Sun are the papers that the employment equity target groups would refer to if they were seeking a job.

‘If someone comes to this city from another country, they are going to pick up the newspaper that is known for having the jobs, unless they don’t speak English, and, if that is the case, then they are limited to companies that are owned and operated by people who speak their language.’

In the end, Richardson says, it is hard to argue with the reach that a daily newspaper provides.

‘And, if the ad is well-targetted, and it speaks to the right individuals, then the response should be targetted and qualified,’ she says.