How start-up agencies are disrupting the market

Taken from the November edition of Recruiter imPRint magazine – download for free here.

by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

In 2016, we received a call from the director of one of Europe’s largest and most established executive search firms. They wanted to speak to us about helping them to raise awareness of their brand and positon themselves as front of mind within their target markets.

OK, I said, but as a genuine market leader what on earth can we do to enhance your position in each of the markets you serve, I asked?

The answer surprised me. While the company was indeed a- if not the- leader in their space, the share of the market they commanded was under threat from the raft of newer agencies entering the market.

They knew they could no longer trade on the power of their name. Nor would their longevity and extensive presence in the industry guarantee their continued success. A change of approach was needed in order to stave off the growing number of new players snapping at their heels.

The battle between the David’s and Goliath’s in recruitment is reaching boiling point

The recruitment sector is bigger than at any time, with a staggering 10,000 new agencies expected to set up shop this year compared to the 9,000 that did so in 2017. There is no other sector of the economy reporting such incredible growth rates.

In fact, in 2012 the industry was made up of 12,500 recruitment business – today that number stands at 40,000, according to the latest research published by the Clearly PR team in October 2018.

But while this is great for Britain’s entrepreneurial sector, it poses a major challenge for existing agencies: how do they keep pace with their existing competitors and ensure they retain that all-important advantage over the new kids on the proverbial block?

The most successful business leaders are those who recognise that they alone do not have all the answers.

Just because the marketing and PR approach they have taken to drive their agencies forward over the last few years has been successful, it is no guarantee that it will be the most effective over the long term.

Indeed, businesses need to be agile and responsive to change and so does their overall promotional strategy. This is where established agencies can learn from recruitment start-ups.

Time to get in the mindset of the entrepreneur

Nelson Mandela famously said that “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” This is the mantra that many new agency owners appear to live by. They don’t seem daunted by the knowledge that the recruitment industry is three- times larger today than it was six years ago. Nor are they intimidated by the fact that they are just one small fish swimming in an increasingly sea populated by many sharks.

Rather, they look at the agencies they see themselves competing with and understand how to effectively sell themselves against them.

First, they look at the websites of these more established agencies. How modern and in tune with their market are they, or is the design antiquated? Does the aesthetic seem dis-engaging and making the agency look lazy because they can’t be bothered to maintain their virtual shop window?

Then they look at the use of language on these sites. Do they focus on the ‘we’ and ‘us’ rather than turn the focus onto the clients and candidates they wish to engage by using ‘you’ and ‘your’? Is the message all about how great they are with little effort to actually back up their self-aggrandising claims?

Next comes the content that appears on their compettor sites. Are they focusing on the sale all the time and littering their sites with a plethora of calls to action in a bid to draw a sale? Do they have blogs, white papers or case studies that providing useful insights that are helpful and informative?

New agency owners tend to be more proactive win building their personal brand as well as drive awareness of their agency through PR. For instance, chances are you as a recruiter spend a great deal of your time on LinkedIn and have at least 500+ contacts.

But what are you doing with them – are you just mining them from sales opportunities or do you share information that will add value to them, such as a link to an article or blog that will interest them? This is what recruitment start- ups are very good at.

They’re also adept at getting themselves in the media, whether local, national or trade press. They understand that journalists and editors welcome a broad range of opinions from business owners and contrary to opinion they don’t have their favourites – the more voices they can call upon, the better.

New agency owners have an enthusiasm for their new business and because they know their stuff, they will issue news stories and thought leadership content that relates to topical issues. in doing so, they get their names in the press.

Disruption is here to stay

In an interview with Real Leaders magazine, Ajay Banga, CEO of Mastercard said that in the 1950s, the average time that a company remained listed on the S&P500 – our equivalent of the FTSE500 – was 35 years. By 2027, this will fall to just 12 years and 50% of those companies on it today won’t be there in 10 years.

Disruption is happening across all sectors and recruitment is certainly no exception. Experience and a strong name will only get you so far, but to get ahead and stay there requires constant reassessment of how to make a bigger difference at a faster pace. The rules of the game have changed. It’s down to you to ensure you end up on the winning side.

Taken from the November edition of Recruiter imPRint magazine – download for free here.


Are you looking for support in building your recruitment agency brand (and billings)? Check out our dedicated website, Recruiter imPRint – home to 300+ articles packed with hints and tips to guide you.

Or, contact Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, Managing Director, to see how the Clearly team can potentially help you. Email [email protected] or call 0333 207 9477.