UK: Does The Recruitment Industry Need An Industry-Wide Marketing Or PR Push

Last Updated: 13 November 2001

The REC splits with its PR company and - quite unconnected - the Resource Forum tackles the perceived need to address the inaccurate and poorly informed public image of recruitment professionals. Recruitment magazines carry opinion pieces, letters and rebuttals about the state of professionalism within the rec-to-rec sector and critics have a field day about ministers of state rearranging appointments with the REC. Large agencies talk about leaving the REC, have already left or have not been involved for years. Small agencies publicly question the merits of REC membership. And in the midst of all this, we Celebrate National Temporary Worker's Week!

Where on earth does one start in analysing the communications needs of such a complex industry, that along with all the internal issues mentioned above, has the external pressures of onerous legislation, economic challenges and massive skills shortages to manage as well? Whose problem is it anyway, and is the Resource Forum simply duplicating what the REC is doing (or should be doing if it's not)?

I said at the top that the REC's and its PR company's decision to split appear to be unconnected with the Resource Forum's initiative. But although the actual events are unconnected, they share a common theme: the recruitment industry is simply not getting its message across.

I come from the school where the IEC (as was) looked after the educational and professional needs of the recruitment individual, and FRES (as was) took care of the companies' needs. In merging, the REC was never going to get it right in its first few years. But I will nail my colours to the mast early on and say that I believe that a strong and effective REC is the best option for a strong and effective recruitment industry. But - and it is a big but - my initial reservations about a merged organisation being able to be all things to all people have not been borne out by what has actually happened, but by how its efforts have been communicated.

Moreover I am convinced that initiatives such as the Resource Forum are to be applauded, encouraged and supported. But somehow I can't help wonder how all this fits in to the overall needs of the industry. I interviewed Gary Clark for a previous `View from the top' and I asked him if LSM's sponsorship of the Resource Forum was simply duplicating the REC's role. He was very open about the fact that he had no problems with the REC taking over Resource if it wished, saying that his organisation was doing it because there was a need that wasn't currently being met.

OK. Clearly there is a PR advantage to LSM's activities, but one only has to speak to Gary Clark to see that his motivation is genuine and positive input to the industry. No sitting on the sidelines sniping for him. But let's look more closely at the proposals for an industry-wide marketing board.

Resource says that its last meeting considered `the need to educate the general public about agencies' contribution to the UK employment scene and their socio-economic value'. Absolutely right. But that should be a core function of the REC. In fact it probably is. So why do we need to consider this outside of the remit of the REC? Simple - because we are not well enough aware of what the REC is doing in this area. And that's why the events surrounding the REC's new PR impetus and the Resource Forum are connected. The need to communicate clearly has been identified.

Thank God for the recruitment press. Not many industries can boast a small but highly valuable news stand as we have at our disposal. Professional Recruiter carries some of the best features on the issues surrounding recruitment as can be found anywhere, Interviewer is distinguished by Martin O'Rourke's leader columns that would be worthy of a place on the pages of any broadsheet, Recruitment International is one of the best showcases for what is happening in the industry and is open to all commentators. And of course, Online Recruitment deals with all the stuff that not everyone who should understand understands, and will wish they had found out more about when recruitment over the web becomes the norm in many areas. This magazine, RecruitMagazine both on and now offline spans the recruitment agency and in-house HR sectors, a valuable communications gap being bridged. But this is not enough.

When it comes to the national papers and the trade magazines in our vertical markets, the individual organisations with a proactive approach to marketing and PR are clearly able to make a mark where the industry is not. And that's where the Resource, Eden Brown's attitudes survey, Alec Reed's activities, Recruitment 2001, the Awards for Excellence and many other non-company specific initiatives are bringing recruitment as an industry to the fore. If it was not for such initiatives and organisations one wonders if the media would simply continue to rely on the established CIPD, Industrial Society, IPPR or other sources of comment for recruitment and staffing matters.

There are distinct and separate needs and audiences defined by the REC's role as both an educational and vocational organisation and as a trade association. First, the companies need to get together - despite the diverse markets - and look at what they share, not what divides them. Successive governments have agreed that the flexible labour market in the UK has either helped or led directly to our ability to withstand or recover from recession. Unions still have a role to play, and despite scare stories to the contrary, social legislation protecting workers has encouraged more people to consider this way of life and will in turn lead to benefits for the industry.

People who work in the industry have different needs. A dual role REC has in part removed some of the status and benefits of individual membership of an institute. Let's be honest: many people came to recruitment without the benefit of a formal higher education. The Institute status was a reasonable alternative for many people. In fairness, some institutes were notoriously easy to get membership of, but I gained membership of the then IEC in the late seventies by examination, and I have seen the standards of education and training from both the IEC and now the REC continue to improve in leaps and bounds over the years to become a real asset the industry can be proud of. But just at the point when we really get standards up, and highly credible training and exams, we are seen to lose status.

I do feel strongly that there is a need for an industry-wide marketing and communications programme for recruitment. And I am sure that the REC's new PRs will bring a fresh and exciting impetus to the job in hand. In the meantime, I have my own ten-point plan to how best achieve this:

1. Let's understand exactly what the REC's role is in promoting the industry externally

2. Let's understand exactly what the REC's role is in promoting recruitment as a career

3. Let's encourage and develop initiatives such as Resource and have a cohesive plan that involves the REC, willing sponsors and anyone with expertise to offer

4. Let's promote strong messages about the recruitment industry (RECRUITMENT: it's what makes UK plc work!)

5. Let's promote recruitment as a career (RECRUITMENT: it's more than just the job!)

6. Let's encourage every recruitment company and supplier that has a PR or marketing programme to include promotional activity about the industry and the careers it offers

7. Let's get a big and scary member-get-member campaign to make the REC stronger and fully inclusive

8. Rebrand individual membership of the REC as `membership of the Institute of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (MiREC and FiREC)'.

9. Let's set up an honours scheme for people who work selflessly to promote the industry to the outside world

10. And let's have an award for people, who by what they do and how they do it, deserve to be honoured for their mentoring achievements with new recruits and the development of better and more professional recruiters.

I hope that the Resource initiative can be used as a catalyst to forming an industry-wide marketing board, but one that works within or alongside the REC and any other interested body. Above all, I re-iterate it must be a cohesive effort. I believe that all who are behind and committed to such initiatives should be applauded and should be encouraged to work towards a year of activity in 2002. I for one will throw my hat in the ring to help.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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