Category: Companies

Recruitment in Australia: Will History Repeat Itself?

The recent acquisition of Peoplebank by Recruit Holdings brought a few memories from the days I joined the recruitment industry in 1999.

You see, around that time, Andrew Banks – being the consummate recruiter he still is – disarrayed me from my cushy job at IBM and fuelled my interest and – dare I say foresight – about the impact of the internet on the staffing and talent management verticals.

It was kinda my doing too. I remember reading in the Fin Review circa 1998 about how this company called TMP Worldwide, from which I had never heard of before, was romancing Morgan & Banks. After reading that article, I found myself writing to Andrew and Geoff sketching a business strategy plan, which in hindsight was effectively my job application for what would be my first gig at M&B.

In ’99 as part of a whole stream of acquisitions around the world, M&B joined the TMPW family of which Monster.com was the crown jewel. Even though the TMPW agencies never stopped from offering recruitment services, the implicit strategy was to ‘feed the monster’ and ensure that it became the largest provider of online recruitment products (resume search, ATS).

If memory serves me right, Monster launched in Australia in late ’99, supported by a large CV bounty exacted from the acquired agencies. All the TMPW businesses in Sydney went to live happily together at Angel Place around that time.

The conviviality did not last for long. If you are too young to know or too old to care to remember, Monster closed shop in Australia after a fairly aggressive and long marketing campaign. A few reporting periods later, the recruitment agencies were spun out of TMP eventually creating the Hudson Federation.

Don’t get me wrong: Monster’s platform was pretty good at the time. But the market killed its potential via three different ways:

– Seek was already strong and very much on the up and up
– The internal TMPW offering conflicts (e.g. tell me again why do I want to liaise with an agency if Monster has all the candidates I need?),
– The fact that no agency wanted to buy Monster because of its close relationship with M&B and the other acquired agencies

I think the last reason above was the critical factor to bring about Monster’s demise the first time around. As you know, Monster co-owns CareerOne, which is already a longer-lasting, better-traction exercise in Oz compared to the first attempt.

Bring the clock forward to 2015. Recruit Holdings, owner of Indeed has Peoplebank on the portfolio and on the way to acquiring Chandler Mcleod. The press release expectedly guarantees independence and autonomy for the group’s companies moving forward, etc.

There seems to be little downside for Recruit Holdings at first sight. Peoplebank and CMG are two professionally run businesses, with significant market and brand share, poised to capitalise on a market upturn.

However I see a few risks, especially for Indeed, based on what I saw happening with Monster. True, the market has changed, matured even. Nevertheless, let me outline how I think things can get difficult:

So far, I am only hearing good vibes from Indeed; Their intent to dominate the market is palpable; from the marketing, through to their hiring, to the ever-improving search engine and dedication to SEO.
The risk for them is that now that Peoplebank and CMG are part of the Recruit stable, it will become harder for them to acquire/keep customers like Hays, Page, Hudson or Talent International. At least for now, agencies are the customers that matter.

In all likelihood, agencies will look for direct replacement products (e.g. other search engines like Adzuna) or other sourcing tools like LinkedIn, CareerOne or Seek. For the latter, this would continue to solidify their market leadership position.
If history repeats itself, Peoplebank and CMG may also come across hurdles:

– Indeed clouding their own value proposition to customers
– PB and CMG being “cordially invited” to use Indeed as their preferred source of candidates.
– Technology being deployed “on” them in order to generate ‘synergies’ with Indeed and across the group
– Seek, LinkedIn or other important sources of candidates changing their “commercial attitude” given these companies’ connection with Indeed.

Again, I agree the market has changed. Recruit might be culturally and strategically a totally different organisation compared to TMPW in the noughties and it may run a very different ship. Similarly, Peoplebank and CMD have the potential to be serious innovators in terms of redefining talent services with a strong services, supply-chain philosophy IF they are left to do their thing.

Last Friday’s announcement made this year so much more interesting for the recruitment industry. Can’t wait to seeing things unfold.

Hope you all had an amazing start of the year.

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Mail is not Aus Post’s competency (anymore)

Australia Post has prompted an imminent increase in the price of mail delivery services, as it looks at mounting losses incurred in this business division. In contrast, the parcel business is booming thanks to e-commerce.

Understanding the mail delivery business as a distribution category is to my view the source of the problem. To amplify the commercial crisis we, as individuals and businesses, are all trying to hand-write less and use less paper. We don’t perceive high enough value (or low enough cost) in the physical delivery of mail.

I think this is because mail is rather an information and communications endeavor. The value of mail does not reside on the physical mail unit delivery but as conduit that triggers subsequent actions (a contract is signed; a bill is paid, etc.).

This is the thinking that would be supporting the launch behind initiatives like Australia Post’s own Digital Mailbox and a private company called Digital Post which closed earlier in the year, given the low levels of clients’ take up. Easier said than done, huh?

The parcel division certainly has the wind on their backs, but I would speculate that Aus Post is making a mozza delivering our shoes, dresses, headsets, etc.; because it has unrivalled distribution / delivery expertise. Whether it is fully unlocked is another issue.

This comparative advantage cannot be used in the mail delivery business; hence the huge gap in performance.

So what is Australia Post to do?

– Divest from businesses on which it does not have a comparative advantage. Mail delivery is one of them (counterintuitive I know but trust me on that one )
– Going even deeper into parcel delivery, investing in logistics tech, exploring crowdsourced delivery, etc.
– Sell mail delivery to a specialist in data, communications and workflow; yep even the physical part. They will be in the best position to migrate mail online faster that Aust Post trying to upskill.

Come to think of it, I reckon Telstra could be in a good spot to transform mail. Dropbox also comes to mind.

Gotta runaustralia post box

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Seek’s price hike – A (contrarian’s?) view

You must have also been following the thread re. Seek raising their prices and how unfair that is in the context of the recruitment industry being in uncertain times, etc.

The main charge: Seek is making a ton of money!

The bastards!

Well, there are a few reasons why Seek’s destiny (read profitability) is not the same as that of the recruitment agencies:

1/. Most, if not all, of Seek advertisers are in the recruitment business. But Seek is not; Seek is in the online advertising vertical. And because of their business model, they’re now driving an NPAT that is 10 times that of the commercially viable agencies (don’t quote me to the cent; I am not running an analyst briefing). There are drastically different economics driving each industry.

2/. Seek’s goods are price-inelastic, which means that changes in price levels will not dramatically change customers’ demand for it. Recruiters as well as hiring companies that need people cannot do anything else other than continue posting jobs. Conversely, companies that are not hiring will not advertise for roles no matter how affordable a job posting is. So why not up the price? If I were a shareholder I would have cheering for a 19% rise, not 9%.

The assumption here is that there is either a belief or hard data that indicates that Seek still gives placeable candidates to its advertisers. Knowing that you’re keen on price-inelastic goods, you better be damn sure that they return to you what is expected of them.

3/. I reckon demonizing Seek is significantly less effective than voting with your feet. Perhaps now (better late than never) is the time to think about what else do you do as an agency or employer to get the talent you need and reduce your dependence on a single source of people.

What if you invest half of you what you spend on Seek on building other sourcing channels? This is what we did when we swapped newspapers for jobs, right?

My clients are all recruitment agencies; none of the guys and gals I have spoken to are overly worried about Seek’s price increase. What they are thinking is: how do continue ensuring my business model works? How do I keep my profitability intact, or how can I better it? Do I need to diversify? Move out of Aus?

Which are the right questions to ask.

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LinkedIn, Facebook and the Chinese Market Fallacy

Over the past few months I have seen Facebook based apps/platforms (BranchOut, Talent.me, Monster’s BeKnown to name the ones I have signed up for and been using/testing) being touted as serious competition to LinkedIn.

The core reasons these and other Facebook-based services are being given a good chance of success against LinkedIn is not their technology prowess or unique business-commercial model; rather they are positively viewed by pundits due to the fact that they are hosted on Facebook, the largest social network at 750 million users (plus).

It is certainly possible that these FB-based systems do have great systems or unique value propositions for its users. These however seem to only come second to the “fishing on the biggest pond” advantage.

There are a number of reasons as to why I am sceptic as to this argument. Mainly, I am reminded of how China was viewed as a market a decade (or perhaps more) ago. I clearly recall many sales, marketing and business development presentations introducing China as a market with 1.3 billion “consumers” (which is as you know their entire population, more or less).

Closer inspection, of course, showed the fallacy of counting every Chinese national as a consumer without recognising their purchasing power, whether they lived in rural areas, etc. The rise of the middle class in China is certainly bridging the gap but it is still necessary to look deeper to understand they real size of the market for specific products or services.

The Chinese Market (size) fallacy reminds me of the volume advantage of the Facebook-based applications better-than-LinkedIn chances of succeeding. Even if these platforms were to grow large, recruiters know well that volume does not automatically imply quality (which drives candidate place-ability).

I am certainly not prepared to write off LinkedIn on the basis on the volumes argument. I’d love for other companies to continue innovating and making it easier for people to find jobs and for recruitment professionals to add more value to their employers/customers. I think this battle will be fought on the basis of benefits and value. I certainly hope so.

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Why Facebook will not destroy LinkedIn

Facebook-LinkedIn
Just read the article ‘Why Facebook will destroy LinkedIn’ on ERE .

This is argued on the basis of four core reasons:

– Larger volumes of people on Facebook
– Similar demographic groups
– Recruitment tools showing up on Facebook already
– Better ‘social marketing’ at Facebook

I think the article should have been better titled ‘Why Facebook can be used as another platform to recruit’. Less attention-grabbing for sure, but perhaps more balanced.

This piece, IMHO, assumes that LinkedIn will sit on its hands and let all the wealth of profiles, companies and relationships information logged over the years go to waste. I don’t see it happening

Along these lines, the ‘Facebook is huge’ argument echoes the pitch of job boards sales reps of yesteryear selling eyeballs and traffic. Organisations never needed Unique Browsers; they always needed placeable candidates that allowed agencies to earn a fee, or corporations fill a role. Bits of functionality like LinkedIn Skills which enables self-skills-coding has the looks of a powerful offering to do things like ‘get me 15 developers with android games experience in Sydney’

Similarly, demographic similarities have to be complemented with intention of presence – I go to LinkedIn to generate leads, connect with professionals, and hopefully grown my personal brand. I go to facebook to chat to my sister in Peru, look at pictures of friends and fam, mostly.

I joined Branchout early in their life and was trying to use BeKnown. Kindly, and – this might go for Australia only – we’re at very very early and immature stages of seeing candidate attraction and retention happening on FB. I am not saying it will never happen; rather I am arguing that the social links – which can nurture professional links (e.g. I want to work at Adidas ‘cause I love the brand, and my cousing tells me training for salespeople is great) – are at this stage a huge haystack to look for needles.

I am looking forward to seeing a network, environment, app, etc. giving LinkedIn a run for its money; this will be very beneficial for the market as it will accelerate the pace of offerings. I just don’t see LinkedIn destroyed anytime soon.

Have a good rest of the week.

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Myspace trimming and sale

myspace_logo

It seemed that the recently reworked Myspace logo was fairly prescient of what was coming for the company in early 2011. The new owners will only have to plug in their own logo in the blank.

If I remember well, News bought it for about 600 milllion 6 years ago, whilst at the same time striking the advertising deal with Google which would effectively fund the acquisition. It would appear that either that has been achieved and then there’s residual value to be ‘bagsed’, or the math is not looking like it will add any time soon.

I am not confident the user base will be patient enough for a Myspace redux, unless it blows their socks off with a new (and I mean a NEW) proposition.

[logo linked from networkeffect]

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