Technology in Recruiting: How Programmatic Advertising Is Like Billboards (Only Much Better)

Roadside billboards. Most of us pass by them every day, perhaps seeing dozens. You might even be in a market where you see the electronic boards that rotate (usually right before you’ve captured the key message you were intended to receive). While historically recruitment ads have rarely been displayed in this format, given the tight labor market, it’s starting to happen. I can think of three job ads on billboards I’ve noticed from the car in the past few weeks.

While there is certainly a place for mass marketing, and billboards are effective way to accomplish this, it may be a very expensive cost per reach if you even do reach your desired talent pool. I also happened to notice with two of the billboards I saw, the location of the job was some 20 miles away from the ad and these were jobs that advertised pay of $15 per hour. That’s a long and difficult commute for that pay rate.

What If?

What if billboards could be done differently? What if there was a way for them to sense when a qualified candidate was in view and could change the ad accordingly and present a relevant message that the individual may have strong interest in? What it could be done in a geographical range that made sense for the level of job? A “smart” billboard, so to speak.

All the above is exactly what programmatic advertising is now doing for employers. Using hundreds if not thousands of points of data — the websites we visit, the keywords we search, the products we buy, forms we’ve filled out, newsletters we receive, etc. — ad servers using programmatic software can figure out if you or I are a qualified target when we load a web page, and deliver (or not deliver) targeted ads accordingly.

For example, let’s say a mechanical engineer who is located within 15 miles of zip code 55101 visits espn.com (the person could be at work, home, or on a mobile device at a coffee shop). With a programmatic advertising campaign, animated digital ads with a recruitment/branding message could be displayed to that engineer much like the digital roadside billboard scenario described above. With a compelling message, you can attract this engineer, this “passive” candidate to your website, social sites (if applicable), and into your candidate pipeline.

Does Programmatic Work?

Targeted digital ads can be very effective at getting your brand known among the right audience and in driving traffic to your website and candidates into your applicant pool. While click rates for digital display ads industry wide are very low — .01-.02 percent — the response rates we have seen for recruitment ads are anywhere from 4-10x higher. And, when we measure “view throughs” — these are confirmed visits to the employer’s website by a candidate who was served the ad, but did not click on it (i.e. the person went to a search engine and landed on the company website through that source), those can be as high, or higher than the direct clicks. These aren’t “lower your mortgage rate” ads; these are ads offering talent a potentially better career and better life.

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Programmatic for Recruiting

  • Find a good partner/vendor. Find out what they provide as far as analytics, optimization, and reporting, and creative services (and if they charge for this). Ask for case studies.
  • Define the audience as best you can, but realize there are limits. If you are seeking a civil engineer, it might not be possible to get that specific and, to the extent you can, the audience may be too small. However, you may easily be able to target engineers with a four-year degree and with an interest in construction or transportation and with a household income of $100,000 plus. Your vendor should be able to provide “counts” for you to see what find of web ad inventory is available for your target audience.
  • Get creative. Good creative is key to getting interest, driving action, and getting ROI. What are one or two of the top things that attract candidates to your organization? Is it your culture? Your size or company structure? Your pay/benefits? Flexibility? Whatever they are, use those messages to attract more.
  • A/B test. Run more than one creative in your campaigns, two minimum. Feature different messaging and different aspects of your employee value proposition in each. This will allow you to review the performance/action rates of each and determine if one part of your EVP is resonating more and driving more response. You can then adjust you current, or future, programmatic campaigns to focus on the messaging that performs best (i.e. optimization).
  • Reporting and analytics. Use reporting and analytics to evaluate performance and adjust accordingly. For example, you might find that certain days of the week bring a strong or weak response. We had one case where the click rate fell off dramatically on Friday thru Sunday. We then adjusted future campaigns for this employer to run only Monday-Thursday.
  • Talk with your marketing folks. They will likely have experience, maybe a lot of experience, with programmatic advertising. The more they are willing to assist you, the better.

Programmatic advertising has grown into a major marketing technique over the past few years to the point where now some two thirds of all ads delivered on the web are using the technology, according to eMarketer. The world of HR/recruiting has a lot of catching up to do. And, with the unemployment rate as it is, making the need to have a passive candidate recruiting strategy imperative, there’s no better time than now to jump in.