How to battle the new players of the game

Written by the Editorial Team

by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, Editor and Managing Director at Clearly PR & Marketing Communications


The recruitment sector is simply huge. And it’s still growing, irrespective of the recent Autumn Statement.

Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond announced that the Office for Budgetary Responsibility has downplayed its economic forecasts for the year ahead. Quite how much this will impact the recruitment sector is yet unknown.

But given the phenomenal period of growth it has enjoyed over the last three years, it would take something extraordinary before the wheels fall off the recruitment juggernaut.

Indeed, since 2013, the recruitment sector has grown to become bigger than it has ever been, with some 12,000 new agencies registered with Companies House over the last three years. The result: A challenge to the old guard and the rise of the new.

In today’s ultracompetitive recruitment marketplace, with employer hiring intentions at an all-time high and the rise of alternative finance effectively consigning the single biggest barrier to entry to the history books, no recruiter can afford to rest on their laurels.

Yet many continue to do so.

We still come across recruitment business leaders who say:

  1. “Everyone knows us, we’ve been around for years”
  2. “We’re leaders in each sector we operate”
  3. “We’re different”
  4. “We’re innovative”
  5. “We’re experts in our field”

To which we reply with a story – a true story.

We worked with a recruitment agency that had been established for over 20 years. They are not only well known they are also the biggest independent agency in their space – perhaps the very definition of a go-to agency.

However, one of their most senior consultants decided to set up in competition at the same time as several others (part of the 12,000 mentioned above).

The impact on their bottom line took 12 months to be realised and that prompted the agency to bring us on board to help gain greater traction for their brand, better engage with their prospects, and reposition them as an agency-of-choice once more.

The agency was guilty of being complacent – they failed to anticipate the impact these new players would have.

These new agencies are run by former consultants who recognise that some recruiters have taken their foot of the gas. They recognise the opportunity this presents for any forward-thinking and ambitious recruitment entrepreneur eager to make their mark as a new business owner. And they will do all they can to grab their slice of the proverbial pie…even if that means encroaching on your space.

They believe in what the likes of Dan Pink and other notable commentators have said:

“The purpose of a pitch isn’t necessarily to move others immediately to adopt your idea. The purpose is to offer something so compelling that it begins a conversation…”

Knowing they don’t have the kudos of an established brand to open doors for them means that these new players need to fight harder – and offer clients more – to secure their business. They do that by creating and developing a brand that is a reflection of the clients they want to work with.

The five points highlighted above were the five responses we received when we asked our client how they thought they were perceived in the market. But of course, the way they thought they were viewed was not the reality of their position, as their drop in market share testified.

So before we could go about developing a new PR and marketing strategy for them, we needed to dispel some of their mis-perceptions.

You may feel we were abrupt in some of our questioning but to drive forward any business, business leaders need to be fully aware of the realities of their brand; we may be PR people but we’re not in the business of telling clients what they want to hear, we’re in the business of providing real-world practical not ideal-world solutions:

“Everyone knows us, we’ve been around for years”

Does that make you the best or the automatic choice for clients? Thomas Cook is one of the oldest and best-known holiday companies in the world, but do you always go to them when booking your next break? Consumers – clients and candidates – always have a choice, loyalty is a commodity that is traded.

“We’re leaders in each sector we operate”

Are you one of the top 10 agencies in the UK? If not, you’re not a leading player and clients won’t think you are either, so sell yourself on your strengths and what you can do for your clients, not on what you think they want to hear.

“We’re different”

Yes, of course you are. And you’re unique too, right? If you think you’re different because of the ‘service’ you provide or your approach to ‘candidate care’ then you need to check the websites of other recruiters – they all say the same thing (still think you’re different now?).

“We’re innovative”

In what way? Is there really no other recruitment firm in the whole of the UK that does things in the same way as you do? The word ‘innovative’ is overused and as such its value has become negligible. Don’t use it unless you have pioneered some new fangled way of streamlining recruitment processes while making a hefty profit at the same time (and if you have then can we do the PR for that instead because that would be great?!).

“We’re experts in our field

We’re one of less than five PR firms in the UK that specialises in the recruitment industry, yet we still lose out on some pitches to generalist PR agencies. Being a specialist is no guarantee that clients will want to use us and it’s the same with you – if you think otherwise you are in for a rude awakening.

Clients choose their agency of choice not out of some sense of loyalty but because of what is in it for them. This is what business is all about.