Halfway to 42?

It’s a year of anniversaries. The MJ set the tone in January, with its hugely impressive celebration of 125 years at the heart of local government. Congratulations to everyone who’s steered this Magnificent Journal through the vicissitudes of over a century and quarter, including (of course) you, its wonderful readership. It’s an amazing achievement.

More modestly, this week sees us mark the 21st anniversary of our collective entrance into recruitment marketing, in March 1998. As a recognisable sub-division of the advertising industry, it was then flourishing but largely under the radar. Clustered around an as-yet ungentrified Farringdon and Clerkenwell, it had its own language, traditions and rivalries; entering the agency world (in our case, Bartlett Advertising of blessed memory) was often a slightly unplanned career choice – once memorably described by a colleague as being comparable to the way ‘a drunk man enters a swimming pool’.

So we thought it might be interesting to take some time to mark the coming of age of our careers in this niche specialism. While almost all of the superstructure of the sector has changed, some very important fundamentals remain; and more recent changes in our own business have given us a fuller appreciation of how different disciplines in recruitment (or should that be talent and attraction?) can be integrated to produce a successful whole.

It quickly became clear to us that joining the local government recruitment world in 1998 was a really excellent decision on our part. After 1997’s election, central goverment investment into civic bodies increased substantially, and with it came an urgent need to find sufficient talented, motivated and available professionals to staff the growing or new organisations, and deliver the promises made to communities.

Print marketplaces, with clear identities and loyal audiences, were the dominant platforms of those analogue days (and though my younger colleagues won’t believe it, we only had one internet-connected computer in our office in 1998. New instructions arrived by fax, artwork was sent in hard copy – by couriers – to big buildings where they made the newspapers). We competed to catch the precious and fleeting attention of people who wanted to move jobs; passive jobseekers were a much harder proposition, requiring more long-term and subtle approaches through different channels. They weren’t all carrying a personal digital location device then.

What fascinated us then – and what continues to keep us absorbed every day – was the complex, difficult and rewarding challenge of amplifying an employment message: rapidly understanding an organisation’s proposition (even if on occasion it wasn’t all that clear to the organisation itself); turning it into a compelling, persuasive story that a candidate could imagine inhabiting; and then making sure it appeared in front of that candidate, in a way that caught and held their attention.

Those basic skills remain at the heart of what everyone in this industry does. It’s far more sophisticated than was the case then: the degree to which market research, audience analysis and the introduction of profoundly new dynamics (such as behavioural targeting and 24/7 access to CVs online) have sharpened up the shared skillset shouldn’t be underestimated. Employers know more, and have a far better grasp of how to get the best out of the specialists they commission, than was generally the case in the late 90s. And candidates are more aware of their value, power and leverage, responding actively and often in real time to shape and refine messages as they are broadcast.

So to the present day. After two decades located firmly at the front end of this business, devising attraction campaigns and employer brands for organisations across the gamut of public service, 2018 presented us with an opportunity we couldn’t refuse. In May we joined up with Navigate, a specialist schools leadership recruiter with whom we’d worked for nearly 14 years. Navigate’s founder, Jo Fish, is a name well-known to many readers of The MJ, and we were delighted she approached us to bring our two successful independent companies together.

As we’ve integrated the strands of the legacy businesses, the theory of why it ought to be a good fit has been resoundingly vindicated. We still do everything we’ve always done, but also now additionally support school leadership recruitment from end to end. But one of the most telling aspects for us has been the fact that the whole process – from shaping a message, to delivering it, to engaging with interested potential headteachers or principals, to the final stage of getting a shortlist into a school for the final assessment – is still grounded in that fundamental skill of understanding an organisation’s story, knowing how to tell it well, and to whom.

David Gooda, Raymond Kelly and Dilani De Silva are directors at NavigateNDC

DGRKDDS

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