In Part One of this article series, we reviewed the landscape of the recent and pending acquisitions of HotJobs, FlipDog and Headhunter.net by the industry giants by TMP and Tribune Companies. Part Two shifts the focus over to the niche boards and their potential for the future, including what they can do to drive success. I am a firm believer in the “concept” of niche job boards and am highly supportive of their viability in the long run. “Niche” is actually a broad concept, covering a huge range of websites, including industry and discipline specific, local and regional boards, diversity sites, etc. As in any industry, there are winners and losers; not every site can be successful. The market opportunity for niche job boards to gain traction is now. Although the economy is teetering on recession and layoffs are abundant, there is an opportunity to capture a share of the 2002 recruitment advertising budgets. Companies and recruiting firms are beginning to look at new alternatives. In the past few years, a significant portion of the monies spent on the Internet went to the industry giants. The results have been a mixed bag of success and frustration. Monster has literally created a monster (Monster is not alone; the other large job boards have done the same). Large, impressive advertising campaigns have resulted in huge brand recognition and site traffic. Sounds great, right? Wrong! These sites have generated so much traffic that companies are inundated with responses, most of which are from candidates who are not qualified for the positions. This has created a huge bottleneck for recruiters, who are doing their best to efficiently manage their processes. Now that layoffs have increased, particularly across the tech industry, this albatross has grown even larger, leaving many recruiters frustrated and overwhelmed. With 2001 contracts ending and no resolution to this problem in sight, many companies are ready to try new things. Niche sites should capitalize on this fast ? before Monster and its other large companions come out with more innovative technology to directly address these problems. How can a niche site take advantage of this window of opportunity? How can they become successful in this competitive marketplace? What can we do to support the niche sites besides purchasing their services? What Niche Sites Can Do for Themselves First and foremost, leadership needs to be visionary, innovative, flexible and astute. It takes much more than a great concept to be successful. A niche site’s value proposition must be greater than what can be achieved on one of the “industry giants” if recruiters are going to shift their precious advertising dollars away from a known entity. The technology, customer service, ease of use, and pricing all need to equal or exceed other alternatives. While the market might be right to secure trials on niche sites, the first experience has to be great in order to earn repeat business. One bad experience on a niche site will lose a customer forever. An industry giant can retain clients much longer. Recruiters seem to be more tolerant of unpleasant experiences with these entities. It is sad, but true. Second, even if a niche site exceeds every value proposition purported by the giants, true success is measured on results: results for the employer and the candidate. Employers want to know that the quality of the candidate traffic is high. Candidates want to see an impressive list of employers posting jobs to the site. To be successful, a job board must simultaneously attract a targeted set of employers and a large pool of qualified candidates. Herein lies the greatest challenge. Accomplishing this dual marketing effort requires significant sales and marketing presence, most of which is not in the budget of the niche job board. Fortunately, organizations like Gerry Crispin and Mark Mehler’s CareerXRoads, Peter Weddles’s Weddles’ Guides, and AIRS, with its abundant resource directory, have generated significant awareness and free marketing for the niche players. But this is not enough! The niche boards need a more proactive marketing effort. They cannot buy Superbowl ads or blimps to fly over sporting events. Most do not even have any outside funding. Typically, they are leanly staffed (probably working out of their homes), with small sales forces and few marketing dollars. But they must get their message across to the companies AND the job seekers. Site executives need to be exceedingly creative. It is challenging, but it can be done. Here are a few ideas on how the niche job boards can market themselves better on a tight budget.
- Build relationships with complementary organizations. Niche boards are targeting companies and individuals with specific affinities. Individuals in these groups typically frequent sites that cater to their interests (portals, associations, user groups). A niche board should invest time (and some money) into building relationships with these complementary organizations, because they have direct access to the candidate and corporate population the site is trying to reach. Provide incentives for joint promotional efforts. Barter with free postings, subject matter content, free banners, even a cut of the posting fees. One innovative site hosts the career section of several industry-related organizations by providing a direct link from the organization’s site to the niche career site. The technology is configured such that if a company posts a job through the organization link, the organization receives a percentage of the posting fee. Additionally, if a candidate registers with the career site through the organization link, the organization also receives another small fee. This is a great way to reach a targeted audience. The marketing costs (commissions to the organization) are based almost completely on results and are focused on both sides of the equation, reaching the company and the candidate.
- Co-op marketing dollars. Several niche sites representing different disciplines can pool resources to more cost effectively reach target companies. Co-op marketing is very popular in consumer products organizations. Cracker companies co-op with cheese companies for holiday promotions. Tissue manufacturers co-op with cold and flu medication companies. Together they reach a targeted audience at half the cost of a solo advertisement. An accounting site, a logistics site, and a technology site can pool advertising dollars to reach companies that might hire all three skill sets. A diversity site geared towards African Americans can co-op resources with a site geared towards American Indians or Hispanics to promote hiring a diverse population. A site for women in technology can co-op with a site for women in financial careers to promote women in the workplace initiatives. Co-op advertising does not require a merger or even an “official” joint venture; it simply requires creativity, cooperation, and a strong desire to succeed.
- Utilize referral resources. No one wants a site to succeed more than a happy customer. Satisfied clients are always willing to provide recommendations. Publicity is a tremendous traffic builder. Free publicity is even better. Client and candidate referrals are resources that tend to be underutilized. Niche boards should ask some of their best clients and newly placed candidates to contact their industry associates to encourage them to try the site. Recruiters can post recommendations on forums like ERE. Alternatively, candidates can post recommendations on newsgroups and other industry forums. It only takes the simple effort of asking a few happy clients and candidates to help “spread the word.”
- Educate the recruitment ad agencies and pay them commissions. Account executives in recruitment ad agencies are very often responsible for developing their client’s recruitment advertising strategy. The more education they have on the niche sites, the more likely they are to recommend them, especially if a site pays a commission. Ad agencies depend on commissions as a major revenue source. To survive they need to recommend sites that will generate revenue for their firm. Reaching ad agencies represents another great co-op opportunity. Rather than “going it alone,” it might make sense for a group of niche sites to pool resources to provide materials to the agencies. They can save money by sharing in the development, printing and mailing costs of collateral materials. One idea is to create a folder with inserts from several niche sites. The theme could be generically related to “the benefits of niche job boards.” This allows the sites to educate the agencies on why niche boards are the direction of the future while simultaneously marketing the specific niche sites included in the co-op campaign.
Recruiters can also do their own part to foster a diversity of candidate resources by supporting niche sites. Here are a few ideas in that vein:
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- The squeaky wheel drives change. Companies and recruiters can easily support niche sites with their dollars, but that does not help change the thinking of others in the industry. I have spoken with many recruiters who feel that the pricing and practices of the “giants” may not always be in their best interest. If you are one of these recruiters, then you need to share your ideas with your colleagues in the industry. Don’t simply post complaints on forums ? provide solutions. Try niche sites and share your results with others. Spread the word on your favorite niche sites. Instead of verbally attacking the “giants,” you should shout out the merits of your favorite niche sites. Encourage your colleagues to shift their spending and try new things. When the “giants” feel the pinch in the bottom line, they will begin to make significant changes.
- Let the “risk takers” spread the word. Every organization has a few “rebel” recruiters who are always willing to take risks and try new things. Some of their ideas may fail, but those that succeed tend to mold new thinking into their companies. These people are the types that will not only try many different sites, but will also find ways to “maximize benefit” from them. If these cutting-edge types cannot be successful on a site, then it is probably not an appropriate site for their company. These recruiters need to document their metrics and share them with their colleagues and senior managers. Once the word on success gets out, the more conservative thinking recruiters will begin to go niche.
Conclusion The opportunity is right for niche job boards to gain significant success in the near future. To accomplish this they must generate significant traffic from both candidates and companies (buyers and sellers). On their limited budgets this challenge requires innovative thinking, cooperation among industry peers, and viral marketing support by satisfied clients.