Have you heard of the Great Barrier Reef? Of course you have - it's one of the great natural wonders on many people's 'Top 10 places to see before you die' list. The problem facing Tourism Queensland was how to market the Queensland Archipelago's 600 islands in competition with the Reef
Its solution has become a well-known PR case study: the 'Best job in the world' campaign. Tourism Queensland turned its hunt for a marketer into a competition, which became a publicity machine for the islands.
In just six weeks, nearly 35,000 people applied, uploading their one-minute video presentation to the competition's website, islandreefjob.com, which was flooded with 200,000 views in 24 hours. The job eventually went to Ben Southall, a 34-year-old British charity events organiser.
Was this genuinely 'recruitment 2.0', or a one-off stunt? It certainly got those responsible for marketing recruitment thinking. Such is the difficulty of finding fresh marketing talent that several brands are now taking a leaf out of Tourism Queensland's book and pushing the boundaries.
Techniques include speed-dating-style sessions, as embraced by Xerox and Esprit. Then there are the Nestle-pioneered talent 'puddles' or microsites, where people can leave details for jobs that don't yet exist. Other brands return to previously rejected candidates if more places open up, as Euro Disney does for some graduate-level roles.
When it comes to more senior jobs, however, the traditionally favoured techniques remain popular, such as scouring the press for high-level interviewees and approaching them about opportunities. 'People seen to be achieving were the people we were interested in poaching,' according to Clive Lewis, former head of HR at Kingfisher.
Investment in more innovative recruitment techniques is not driven by a shortage of candidates, but the demand to find the best. In London, 30 job-seekers fight for every role, and marketing recruiters say there is a glut of mid-level candidates.
Even so, for Louise Gavin, resourcing effectiveness manager (human resources) at Sodexo, one of the world's biggest food-services providers, the problem lies in making the brand attractive to candidates. 'We are Europe's 21st-largest employer, and the UK's sixth-biggest, but it can be difficult for people to know who we are,' she admits.
Gavin has chosen to use LinkedIn, the business social-media tool many see as a solution to their recruitment needs. Since reaching 1m users in 2007, LinkedIn's user base has grown to 6m, adding 2m in the past 12 months alone. The average age of its users is 43, and the site claims that a quarter of FTSE 100 firms hire through it.
BRANDS HIRING INNOVATIVELY
'We're using LinkedIn to find people under the radar,' says Gavin. 'We're hiring a social-media editor using LinkedIn, and Twitter. We know that to find a marketer, we have to look in these sorts of directions.'
Use of LinkedIn and other social sites has grown rapidly. A Jobvite survey carried out in July found that 64% of companies said they had successfully hired via social media. Already 80.2% of companies are using the channel to recruit; another 8.7% plan to begin doing so this year. Shell, led by recruitment and global comms manager (HR) Navjot Singh, reportedly hires 10% of its marketers by mining social networks.
Key for Sodexo and other brands is retaining control over recruitment, and having flexible hiring strategies. These imperatives explain the rise of brands' own sites as recruitment tools (see tables, right). Sodexo launched Bemorethanaspectator.com predominantly to seek non-marketers, but plans to use the site to advertise all roles that arise. 'We wanted to create a portal that will have a much longer shelf-life, to enable us to recruit beyond this initial campaign,' explains Gavin.
Indeed, Gavin says 90% of Sodexo's recruitment is now done without a middleman - potentially bad news for recruitment agencies. However, Paul Farrer, chairman of media recruiter Aspire Global Network, says that while social-media platforms may appear to simplify recruitment, there is no substitute for genuine understanding of talent management.
'There's a perception (that) recruitment is simple, that you can trawl the web, and suddenly you're a recruiter. But this is not recruitment,' he argues. 'The only innovative thing about LinkedIn and Facebook is being able to know who works for whom.'
For clients such as Jon Harding, head of colleague insight and employee value proposition at Barclays' RBB division, the fragmentation of recruitment to clients leaning on social networks simply reflects changes in the role of marketing itself.
'Traditional career progression is changing,' he says. 'We see different skill sets being needed as we understand new ways and channels to relate to customers. As such, we need a complete change - not just by opening recruitment to new channels like LinkedIn, but by changing how we position talent programmes to new joiners and create future marketing leaders.'
Many recruitment agencies argue that client innovators are the exception, however. Phil Edelstone, managing director of agency Dylan, does not believe there is a genuine appetite for change. 'Marketing directors all talk about it but they're all cutting budgets too,' he says. 'When looking for senior marketers, they'll simply say "find someone from the competition".'
Edelstone adds: 'There's a limit to how much we can challenge this, and as such 95% of candidates still come from normal routes - networks, headhunting, job-boards. Only 5% come from left-field.'
According to Steve Kay, manager of Hays' marketing recruitment division, LinkedIn and Twitter may be outwardly 'new', but they can hide the fact most recruitment is 'un-strategic, knee-jerk, and much of the same'. Then there is the urgency with which all roles need to be filled these days. As Simon White, managing director of agency Momentum London, says: 'There's no time but to defer to the traditional model.'
Mhairi McEwan, co-founder and chief executive of consultancy Brand Learning, says the best marketing recruitment takes place 'against long-term organisational needs. Real innovation is the thinking behind how marketers can find people who will thrive in its culture now and for the future, not anyone that will fit any company.'
To achieve this, asking employees to recommend people they know, who may share the same culture and values, is taking off. It's nothing new, but it is on the rise; at a recent recruitment conference, Nicola Bueters, director of talent acquisition at Philips Benelux, revealed that employee-related referrals now account for 9% of all its hires. Meanwhile, in the US, Accenture has increased its hirings via employee referrals by 34% over the past two years.
When it comes to the psychometric profiling of candidates, there seems to be even less innovation. Yet there is some movement. 'We are pushing for more profiling of all candidates because, in our opinion, it's not used enough for entry or mid-level recruitment,' says Edelstone, who runs the 'Thomas GIA' aptitude test, which measures fluid intelligence and developmental potential for marketers at an earlier age.
Brands that already use the test include business search engine Yell. Its resourcing manager, Sarah Benson, has assessed 250 existing sales and marketing professionals. 'The results show a clear correlation between employee performance and GIA results, with those scoring above 60% being our top performers,' she says.
Yell has integrated GIA into the recruitment process and has set a benchmark at the 50th percentile and above.
Companies that provide business psychologists, such as Mendas, are also moving into this area. Mendas helps clients assess candidate suitability, but also liaises with recruiters on developing evaluation. One of its clients, which include E.ON and Grant Thornton, is trialling the tests to evaluate how its recruiters do in finding candidates who stay with the brand for the long term.
Whether or not these initiatives really do discover untapped talent pools, it seems more adventurous recruitment thinking is here to stay. The battle now is more about who reaches candidates first - marketers and HR professionals operating independently, or specialist recruitment agencies.