June 24, 2020 Robert Woodford

The marketers that said recruitment businesses should increase their spend on marketing are talking rubbish and are out of touch.

OK, so this title was a bit clickbaity, but I do think that to simply decree “in a crisis you should spend more on marketing” is naïve and poor advice.  Unless of course you had zero marketing budget to begin with!

 

You won’t find anyone as passionate about marketing as me.  Within recruitment I am the biggest advocate of marketing within the sector; after all I’ve built a business on it.  But let’s be realistic.  To tell a CEO, MD or owner to invest more in marketing shows the very worst of what marketers stand for and more importantly lives up to the stereotype that we are out of touch.

 

In any downturn, recruitment revenues are hit first and often hard.  Cashflow becomes harder to manage and most recruitment businesses do not have significant funds to weather the storm unabraded.

 

So for a marketing function or anyone external to espouse that they should be increasing their marketing spend, by citing examples where companies have done this and been successful, is not only insensitive to the realities that sit in recruitment, but is fundamentally bad business advice.  Of course marketing budgets should not be increased; that would be madness.

 

Not only that, but the optics of having to make decent people redundant whilst implementing a major investment into marketing also is not great either.  Both internally and externally.

 

Many CEOs, MDs and founders have never done marketing before.  They are looking for advice, support and consultancy.  But with advice such as “we need to spend more”, marketers do themselves a disservice and disembowel any level of credibility.  They forget that even keeping the marketing budget at the same level is an increase in real terms.

 

But here’s the thing: decreasing marketing spend does not have to mean decreasing marketing activity.  You see the first thing any marketer should do in a downturn is say “what can we cut, what can we do differently and what can we do for free.”  Most importantly “what can we do to support the business now on reduced budget”.  It’s not about ideology or theory, it is about rolling up your sleeves and going to war for your business.

 

The next thing that should have been done is that the marketing plan and strategy is revisited – and urgently.  Think of it in military terms – we are being attacked now; what can we do to stem the tide rather than what is our long term strategic aim the other side of the war.  And this is where marketing functions earn their money.  Because the reality is that there is a lot you can do without having to spend more money. Or where you can shift budget so that yes, you do invest in new things, but overall the cost remains the same or less.  In fact, a great marketing function will be able to do more with the same or less money during tough times.

 

The challenge many marketers are facing is that they have never experienced a downturn.  Many in the industry were not around in 2008 and if they were the vast majority were in junior roles.  So to be a true business partner is challenging.  But what is clear is that you need to pivot fast.  You need to not just engage the senior leadership team, but also the recruiters; the foot soldiers who are going to help you trade out of this mess.  Now’s not the time to be evangelical.  Marketing is there to support sales, not the sales team there to support a marketing function.  If that’s not understood then there is a problem.

 

The output, and maybe even the skills makeup, of the marketing function WILL have to look very differently to how it did in February of this year.  It doesn’t mean things can’t return to normal in time, but it does mean that in the short term the marketing function has to look differently.   Activity has to be different.  Yes; we still need an eye on the future, but the immediacy of business development is important.  So marketing needs to be transactional, it needs to be there to support immediate business development.

 

You can and should be doing more.  And yes you do need to be investing more – but more time, more resource (in terms of how consultants interact with marketing etc, and training opportunities) and more focus.  But more money – no.  There is no reason why your recruitment marketing function cannot be doing more for less overall cost.

 

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