Marketing seldom gets the attention it deserves in the talent acquisition ecosphere. The landscape, however, has dramatically evolved as marketing strategies increasingly play a part in staffing agencies’ growth.

Marketing professionals in the staffing industry no longer simply generate newsletters, press releases and websites; they have developed into bona fide business partners, invested in the strategies of the companies they serve.

“Years ago, marketing’s role was primarily supporting sales, recruitment and internal employee incentive programs in the industry,” says Ursula Williams, Staffing Industry Analysts senior VP, global strategy and marketing. Williams spent 25 years in the industry. The evolution in technology and the advent of big data has changed everything. It’s about how the customer engages with the brand, its products and services, she adds. The marketing role is much more strategic, transitioning from an executing function to a leadership role in driving company results.

The staffing industry presents a different conversation than a traditional marketing environment does, explains ClearEdge Marketing CEO Leslie Vickrey. Vickrey launched ClearEdge 11 years ago and has led marketing for several large staffing providers. Her team of 40 focuses specifically on the talent management and technology sectors.

“We’re really talking about the strategy of companies and where they’re looking to take their business,” she says. “Then, we come back and say, ‘Here’s what we think you should do for your company.’ It’s a very elevated business conversation.”

Kristin Kelley, chief marketing officer at Randstad North America, agrees that the marketing role is more important to staffing providers now than ever before.

“Marketing has moved up the food chain in terms of a department,” Kelley says. “It’s just not there to make things look pretty or be the last checkpoint to get something out the door.”

As business partners, the ability of a marketing department to measure ROI, or quantify the benefits of a particular program or campaign, is critical.

“I would love to get to a point in time where anyone on my marketing team, and certainly in the industry, looks at ourselves not as marketers anymore but as business partners who have growth drivers attached to them,” Kelley says. “With all the technology out there, and all the legacy systems we have internally, there shouldn’t be a piece today that we can’t track and there shouldn’t be any decision that we make that isn’t based on what that data is telling us.”

So how do these departments contribute to driving growth while promoting their brands in today’s fast-paced era?

Experience, Not Product

For Crissy Russo, VP of marketing at Nelson Family of Companies, the biggest thing is to provide as many touchpoints as possible — especially in-person touchpoints — to put recruiters and sales professionals in the best possible positions.

From a business development standpoint, Nelson hosts events such as its free “NELSONtalks” seminars, held in four different regions of its California market throughout the year. The seminars provide networking opportunities and industry updates specifically targeted to the particular geographic area. Each event draws hundreds of people from all types of companies — emerging growth to Fortune 500 — and the HR professionals attending are the actual decision makers of their companies.

Nelson is turning these events into a webinar series as well. “We’re building that program to broaden our reach a little bit and get more focused on topics that interest our clients and prospects,” Russo says. Nelson also has another program, NELSONnetworks, through which it hosts events such as happy hours to gather members of the HR community together in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise.

The company also uses its annual in-person survey and salary guide marketing campaign to create a resource about staffing and hiring trends. The company speaks directly with as many California HR hiring and decision makers as possible when conducting the research; each year participation grows with 2017 showing a 30% increase in these in-person meetings.

Randstad North America has also started to home in on “end-to-end” type of solutions more than traditional marketing campaigns, according to Kelley, and its marketing team is less focused on the traditional campaigns or point solutions.

“We are spending the majority of our time, our dollars — and certainly our ambition — in creating a brand promise to help people figure out and navigate themselves through this changing world of work,” Kelley says.

“Brands today, certainly staffing brands, are the end result of a collection of every single experience that every single person has with us on a daily basis,” Kelley notes. “So how we capture those experiences and influence them and insert branding into them is where we spend the majority of our time.”

Randstad North America defines the current era as the “post-digital age.” In the digital age, technology was all about the product, the “cool factor” and having the best technology. Now, in the post-digital age, it’s about “everywhere” technology, Kelley says. It’s less now about the product itself and more about what the technology can do to improve our experiences.

Randstad has made a shift in terms of the type of marketing talent it is bringing in. Five years ago, it looked for more generalist marketing skills. But now, it is bringing in specialists heavily weighted to the data side such as data analysts, data scientists, UX experts, email marketing gurus and marketing automation product owners.

Further, Randstad recently launched a new website that uses data science to improve the user experience. Kelley called it “one of the big home runs of the year” and a project that was “so much more of a science versus an art.”

However, Randstad has not abandoned the human-angle programs and is constantly thinking of ways to attract and engage talent. For instance, the company sponsors a Formula 1 race car team and reaches out to potential engineering talent though an affiliated engineering academy and online gaming tests.

What’s in Your Toolbox?

LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, even Snapchat. Marketers are tapping social media tools to promote their brands and attract talent. However, the best and most useful tools to employ depend on your audience and the staffing segment you target, according to Vickrey from ClearEdge.

“You just need to be smart about knowing your audience and finding them where they are,” she says. “Don’t do it just because everyone else is. If you’re going to invest in marketing, you need to be really focused and align it back to business goals.”

Pay particular attention to sites like Glassdoor, where a candidate’s bad experience with one recruiter can have negative repercussions for the entire company brand, Vickrey advises. Educate the company that it’s not just the marketing or HR department’s job to manage Glassdoor — it’s the whole company’s responsibility.

At Nelson, the marketing team is looking to build a few resources on the candidate side to attract talent. These include a mobile app, which could include a résumé builder component app to assist candidates.

“I’ve been following a lot of mobile applications from various staffing companies,” Russo says. “I think it’s definitely something that needs to happen, but I think a lot of the ones that are out there can be done better.”

Nelson is also interested in re-engagement programs that use texting campaigns, to keep current talent on board and remain engaged with in-demand, high-level professionals. Given the war for talent, it’s critical to attract new workers. Re-engagement programs aside, another notable marketing project Nelson undertook last year was a technology component that educates college students on the value of using a staffing firm or recruiter. Nelson partnered with a few universities for the program, called “Recruit Connect,” which features a microsite on schools’ career sites and alumni pages to provide information and drives users to register with Nelson.

“When I started talking to people, and even my own experience, I didn’t know what a staffing firm or a recruiter could do for me [when I was in college],” Russo explains. “You hear all the negativity and the bad connotations, and that’s what you go with before you even think it through.”

Randstad is looking at any technology that improves its candidates’ process as a way to bolster its brand — from video interviewing to reference checking. “From a marketing perspective, we’re working with lot of technology to help us map out the journeys that people go through when they are either looking for a job, trying to hire talent, or their experience when they are on a job,” Kelley explains.

Social media technology — and social media in general — is important, but so is digital technology that allows Randstad to get its brand in front of the right decision makers or sought-after talent at the right time. Also becoming critical for staffing companies are tools that enable the delivery of the right message at the right time rather than “mass appeal” messages, Kelley says. Marketing platforms and marketing automation technology like HubSpot and Marketo are “kind of a marketer’s best friend in this new post-digital world,” she says. “Figuring out which of those solutions fit will be important, but how you automate both to the talent and the customer side will become important down the road, even more so than today.”

‘Constant Change’

Going forward, staffing providers should pay attention to changes within the industry itself, the general workforce, the economy and more. Industry mergers and acquisitions, emerging players like Google and LinkedIn, up-and-coming technology providers and the new Trump administration are just some of the factors that could influence the marketing needs of the industry, according to ClearEdge’s Vickrey.

“If you are not paying attention and are just focused on the day-to-day grind, you are going to miss an opportunity to do something unique and different,” she says. “You have to keep your eyes open, be proactive, and be a part of future opportunities.”

And when Randstad’s Kelley looks to the future, she goes back to the premise that the way people find work is changing rapidly.

“I think we’re just preparing for constant change,” Kelley says. The way people find work is very different than it used to be, and is only going to get more complicated in the next three to five years. Figure out that “journey piece” and get it right. Companies need to focus on creating a positive user experience, which will then affect your brand image and revenue. “Don’t just think about the end product, but think about the process along the way and how we can influence a positive return,” Kelley advises.