Nothing says recruitment quite like Purple Squirrel. So, it only made sense to call our new series where we interview successful marketers in recruitment… wait for it… Purple Squirrel Chats (clever, huh?). We’ll be interviewing top marketers in the space to hear their stories, learn their tactics and understand how they measure success. Oh, and if you’d like to stay in the loop, you can subscribe to email updates here

Today we have Will Sawney, Digital Brand Manager at Pentasia. Will is a figure-it-out-and-do-it type of marketer and talented home chef who got his start as the marketing manager of a theatre before landing in the recruitment industry. At Pentasia he takes a methodical approach to the candidate experience and has created really solid system for contacting the right people at the right time.

As an extra, extra special treat you can listen to this interview below. If, however, you don’t like the sound of my nasally voice, just keep scrolling to read the interview transcript.

Interview transcript:

Will Sawney: Yeah. So I guess back to your question, SEO, not so much… kind of… I’ve always worked in relatively small companies I suppose, and so I guess I have a very ‘do it yourself’ attitude, so yes I do SEO, but I do anything that I can grasp myself, you know?

Travis Arnold: Yeah, no question. It looks like you have the sheet up too, but we can run through these, but if the conversation goes off track, I love that. I mean obviously I’ve seen some of the process mapping stuff you guys have done and it’s like next level stuff, so I love that. So yeah, tell me a bit about yourself – the question that everybody loves, ‘tell me a little bit about yourself…’ But just like, how long you’ve been in your current role, how did you get into marketing in the first place – I think that’s always interesting for me to know – and we can just kind of take it from there…

WS: Yeah! So current role – three years or so. Yeah, I think three years. And was completely new to recruitment before that. My previous two roles were I was with an agency for a short while, but I didn’t really get on well with the jumping from project to project kind of mentality there. It can be good, but my experience wasn’t so great. And then before that I was actually the marketing manager at a theater for about 4-5 years, which was really good fun – huge amounts of activity and constantly different things to promote, so yeah, got a lot of exposure to the do-it-yourself mentality there. Built the venue’s website myself, did all the campaigns pretty much single-handedly with one assistant, so I suppose I’ve brought that mentality through with me into recruitment. Recruitment was never really an industry I’d thought about myself being in, and it did take a while to come around to the idea. Particularly the idea that unlike in most things, where you’re marketing, you’re looking to get to quite a wide market of people, and you want your message to reach the largest pool of people possible really in some ways, so eventually you’ll get enough people to make it through the sales cycle. Whereas in recruitment it’s pretty much one person you’re looking for, albeit on a regular basis, and a lot of the people you’ll be reaching aren’t necessarily the right people. So I think certainly the time I’ve spent here with Pentasia, it’s really interesting how you have to work differently to solve that problem, to be more effective with your targeting, to make better use of the people that you have got, and to think about it in kind of the year’s worth of job cycles that people go through. Rather than the short term ‘I want to buy something now’ or ‘I want to book something that’s going to be in the next few weeks or months.’

TA: Awesome. So I kind of want to go back to the… it sort of sounds more persona based – you have personas that you craft content for and campaigns for. Is that accurate?

WS: Yeah, I suppose so. Yeah, that was definitely one of the first exercises I did when I joined Pentasia – to understand on a broad level who were the types of people that we were looking to reach. There was a lot of ‘recruiters are great at putting out the exact skills that are required’, but I didn’t really want to find out about that. I wanted to find out about the types of personalities that we want to be reaching. We want to be recruiting for our types of jobs. And maybe what are the types of emotions that we can pull on? Or the ambitions that we can tap into? So yeah, there was definitely a kind of profiling exercise that I did around that. Maybe not specifically building campaigns for each one of those things, because it’s always quite hard to be that kind of accurate in what you’re targeting, but at least to keep that in mind. So we’re thinking about if we’re doing a social advertising campaign, this is for the types of people that are at a junior level who want to break through to the mid-level. Or if we’re doing a feature for the press or something, we know that that’s targeting a very small set of executives who want to become owners, or really hit the big time. So that I think is a really important first step in trying to understand your audience – to categorize them.

TA: Okay, no, that’s a good ending point, and I think you nailed it on the head – just having that… solid people that you’re working for, or working towards, and doing – not necessarily, like you said, specific campaign technology can marginally handle the heavy lifting on that front, but at least know who and why – who you’re going after and why you’re going after them. So you also mentioned the recruiting cycle. How do you guys do that at Pentasia? Does it start with ‘I’m currently in the job’ and end with ‘find me a new job’? What are the different stops on that train, so to speak?

It’s really tricky, because literally every individual candidate is entirely different, and is on an entirely different trajectory.

WS: It’s really tricky, because literally every individual candidate is entirely different, and is on an entirely different trajectory. There’s no hard and fast rule. What I think we’re getting better and better at is being able to listen to what candidates tell us, kind of track that in a way on our database, that we can then use to communicate with them better. I think people get frustrated with recruitment agencies that they speak to once, and it’s not relevant at that time, and then the data gets completely lost. So a big part of it is being able to handle that effectively. I guess in terms of the cycle, I think that we find that people are, to a small degree, engaged with us for quite a long amount of time. We’ll have people coming back just to have a look at our website every few months. That absolutely doesn’t mean that they’ll be picking up the phone and saying ‘I need a job now’ – and in fact the percentage of the people that we’re in touch with that say that to us is tiny in the scale of things. But we have a lot more people who just want to have a feel of what’s going on in the market. Maybe might respond to an email every now and again. This is particularly so because we’re in quite a niche, specialist industry, so people are aware of us, and kind of know that we’re one of – well, we’d say that we’re the leading player – but we’re certainly one of the leading players. So I think from a recruitment marketing point of view, it’s being aware that the message isn’t always ‘do you want a job? Do you want a job right now? Will you leave your current thing to do that job?’ You have to find the things that are going to be of interest to those kinds of people in the meantime.

TA: Gotcha. So it sounds like you’re considering candidate experience every step of the way, rather than the old way of ‘let’s hit you over the face with a job opening – we haven’t talked to you for six months.’ It sounds like you guys are taking a little bit more of a methodical approach.

WS: Yeah. Well in reality what happens – and certainly what happens for me – is that my mind changed, and I started thinking about moving on, and I would call up the agency – or the five agencies – who I thought would be most able to help me. And creating that kind of… the person who’s going to pick up the phone, and the fact that it’s going to be us rather than our competitors, is a really long game. But in reality that is what happens, and that’s where we get our incoming business from mostly, and frustratingly we then get our consultants saying ‘ah, they just picked up their phone out of the blue!’ You go ‘it wasn’t out of the blue – it was out of five years’ worth of hard work and getting in front of them at any possible opportunity!’

TA: Right – so content automation, messaging, all that good stuff.

WS: Yeah!

TA: And this is just from inside baseball, Jason shared your process map. What was the kind of process for putting that together? How did you assess every step? I’d just like to learn a little more about how you approached that.

WS: Yeah. So I suppose to an extent we started doing what Herefish does, in a manual process. We started doing this monthly process where we went ‘we’ve got almost 100,000 people on our database – the vast majority of them we spoke to quite a long time ago now. They may be of interest but we don’t have much on them, and it’s certainly not recent enough to be hugely relevant.’ So we thought that if we could pick out those people based on how long ago they last spoke to us, and based on other information, then we can maybe email them with a really simple ‘do you want to be engaged with us or not?’ kind of thing. And that would help us update our database and use it more. So we started doing that manually, and in fact kind of did that for about a year – downloading all the data, processing it, putting it into a new email system, sending it off and then tracking the clicks and bringing those back through again. So we never really felt that it was massively long term. But it proved that there was a use to doing that, because we managed to get through people, the best of whom were placed. We got a lot of people who went through to interview because they’d got an email from us that brought them back into the fold I guess. So that was the main thing we wanted to do. But also there’s clearly a lot of activity that candidates are up to that our database doesn’t really show to our consultants. So we want to use as much of the good work that the marketing team’s doing, to give more information and improve the information that consultants have to access. I think that all of those things just made it a total win. We did look at quite a few other systems, and we were even kind of talking to a web development agency about whether they might be able to help us build something custom. But Herefish was an obvious winner as soon as we saw it, really.

TA: Well that’s really good to hear! I think a lot of the time people hear ‘marketing automation’ and they’re immediately like ‘oh, this is going to automate my marketing. I’m going to hit a button and it goes.’ But really the hard work happens on the whiteboard, as I like to say. It happens there first, and it’s really going through your audiences, and the processes, and the things that you want to achieve and the goals, and then you can use a tool like Herefish – or any other marketing automation tool if you’re not in recruitment – you can use those to kind of build your diagram. What you guys diagrammed and what you’re building now is pretty awesome as far as recruitment goes, so hat tip to you guys, no question.

WS: Good stuff. Yeah. Hopefully we’re getting there. I guess the other thing to add is the automation bit – we ask a lot of our consultants really. They have to understand all the skills that are required for a certain job, they have to be able to work in different industries, they have to know the different locations – it’s a lot to be doing. So if we in any way can help to automate part of their process, like updating candidates, who’s been spoken to or hasn’t been spoken to, doing any of that type of manual work, then that’s a huge bonus as well.

TA: Awesome. So shifting gears just a hair. So obviously you’ve been in recruitment for what – you said three years now?

WS: Yeah, I think so.

TA: So it’s been a while. So what have you kind of seen other recruitment companies doing as far as marketing goes? What do you think they’re doing right? Is there anything that they’re doing wrong? Anything they could do better? I’d love to hear a kind of insider’s perspective on the industry.

WS: So a big issue for me is how information is presented. The infrastructure of advertising jobs I think has still got a long way to go before it’s useful. Things like Google Jobs are improving it a lot, but there’s so much clutter out there – if you’re looking for a job you find the same job listing written differently in five different places, and the information isn’t clear enough. It doesn’t say where the job is. It doesn’t say exactly what the salary is. So for me, anyone who’s on the side of making that clearer, making the candidate experience better on the job searching front, is doing good work. But that is a hard thing to fix. It’s an industry-wide problem. So it’s difficult to kind of do that day-to-day, but in general that’s where I hope to see things going. I guess marketing within recruitment agencies… I think a lot of it is ‘below the surface’ stuff that you don’t necessarily see unless you’re job seeking, so I think how you’re engaging with candidates, how that communication flow works, is some of the best work that’s going on, but is difficult to see. I think that’s a good thing though, because I certainly have heard some consultants who’ve, say, joined our business, saying that the previous place that they worked had a marketing department, but that it was really, really separate from what they were doing, and they just did kind of three campaigns a year about something high profile that wasn’t hugely relevant to what they were working on. So I guess we want to move away from that.

TA: The batch and blast approach.

WS: Yeah, I suppose, yeah. I mean I can see why it happens, because it’s difficult to kind of fit marketing content within the recruitment cycle. Generally it goes: post a job ad, reply directly to the consultants, and work with them. There’s not necessarily a natural place for marketing content to fit, which is why you have to work harder to make better use of what you do have – say doing a welcome email series, or encouraging them to go to your social media channel and then putting something there. Using what you do have.

TA: Yeah, for sure. That’s the sort of trend that we’re seeing too. Candidates were once seen as commodities – get them anywhere, it doesn’t really matter. Now it’s such a candidate-driven market – so competitive – that you really just have to… it’s higher touch, it’s relevant. I mean it really comes down to sending relevant jobs. If you guys are recruiting marketers, which I think you do, you don’t want to send them stuff for oil and gas, right? So sometimes that batch and blast mentality is like ‘well we’ll cover everybody’ – it’s just not effective going into 2019. It’s just not the way things are done. It’s not the expectation on the candidate’s side, I would assume.

WS: I’ll just come back to your question as well about what other agencies are doing. I went today to a marketing conference for recruitment professionals hosted by the REC, which is the Recruitment Employment Confederation in London. It was like a morning session kind of thing, and what was good about that is that I thought it was for marketing people, but it was more actually marketing principles for recruitment staff and recruitment leaders, so I was one of the few marketers actually in the room, and the others were recruitment consultants learning about marketing techniques. So that’s really good to see as well – the fact that marketing principles are being applied wider in the business. And we certainly train our consultants. We do copywriting training for the job adverts, and we do SEO principles for their ads as well. So that’s good to see.

TA: That’s awesome. That’s like, well ahead of the curve I would say. Yeah, very good. So if there was one piece of advice, or learning, or statement you could give to somebody who is sitting in your seat, but just started their first day, what would that be, given your experience over the past few years?

WS: Go and speak to the Herefish guys and get that tool…?

TA: [laughing] No, no, we don’t need the plug…

WS: I would say you need to put in almost as much effort lobbying for the importance of marketing within your organization as you do running campaigns that are targeting candidates and clients. I think having your organization on board and having buy-in from people is pretty fundamental to marketing within recruitment, because you as the marketing person or department are not the only voice of the company, not like you might be in some other organizations. Everyone is public facing in some way, so you’ve got to get them involved with what you’re trying to do, and get buy in.

TA: Gotcha. So closing it out, is there anything we need to know about you aside from work? What do you like to do? Are you a cyclist? A skier/hiker/biker? What gets you going other than marketing?

WS: Well I suppose I’m a chef. I mean not a professional chef, but I never like to cook the same thing twice, it always has to be something different. And I certainly won’t cook something exactly as specified in the recipe. That would be far too dull. And I have a one and a half year old son, so he keeps me busy.

TA: Keeps you on your toes. Awesome. Will, thanks so much for chatting to me today.