However, agencies are not entirely blameless for the shadow that lurks above the industry’s reputation. Agencies started to scale quickly and as a result lost sight of the value of recruiting consultants who understand the market, the client’s requirements and have the experience to properly benchmark candidates. They scaled-up by taking on board inexperienced cheap labour who were essentially "organisers of interviews" first and foremost but lacked the knowledge to challenge a client and their expectations, provide market-insight and utilise personal networks to source talent outside of the regular advertising responses. Then, to exacerbate the situation, the senior directors built a culture that placed a higher importance upon the number of interviews organised than the conversion rates of interview to placement. Recruitment it seemed had become a numbers game and the importance of their client’s time had been forgotten. As a Sales Director I lost a lot of time to this approach.
However, the marketplace has shifted over the past three or so years. The better agencies out in the marketplace have adapted. Advertising on job boards or in magazines and expecting to find the latest talent for your clients is simply unrealistic. Over 80% of the placements that we make are either via referral or as a direct result of our consultants proactively approaching individuals who are not actively looking - their personal networks and reputations have become critical. In essence, we have become head-hunters, but without any traditional retainer.
So, who chooses who? Clients will say that they choose the agencies to brief. We make it clear to our clients that we choose them just as much as they choose us. How so? The risk lies with us. We spend the money and we invest the resource without any guarantee of a result. We work on a commission-only basis and more clients are beginning to understand that in order to get the most out of the better agencies in the marketplace, they have to work in partnership with them. In my last Sales Director position, I learned just such a lesson. I realised that the more frequently my manager’s spoke to an agency and the more thorough and prompt the feedback they provided on candidates, the more successful our relationship was with them. The agency worked harder for us. The agency prioritised us and not just because we promised them a fee but because we respected them. In the end it is all about trust. It is at the core of any relationship.
And with a lack of talent in the marketplace, growing revenues across the media sector and increasingly time-poor clients, choosing the right recruitment agencies to work with and persuading them to prioritise your vacancies is becoming critical in securing the best talent. The risk and expenditure lies with the agencies and the right agencies can deliver significant value back to their clients for what is, in real terms, a small financial investment. In short, the media landscape is starting to realise that the underlying principles and value of employing a trusted recruitment partner remain as much today as they did sixteen years ago.
I guess the two underlying points I am trying to make are that on the one hand the recruitment industry needs to keep focused on quality over quantity of interview and put the "consultancy" back into the process, but on the other hand agencies need to remind every client and every client contact of the true value of our place in their success story. They need to puff their proverbial media chests out and ensure that their clients understand that we are all equals. In short, the industry needs to get its swagger back.
Gavin Parr is the founder of Media IQ - a highly respected recruitment agency specialising in advertising & sponsorship sales, marketing, technology and ad operations vacancies.