Corporations such as Royal Dutch Shell, Microsoft and Siemens are now among a handful of companies using slick e-mail publications to convey information about themselves and their industries, employees and job openings in an effort to begin a dialogue with potential candidates.
With labor markets getting tighter, they’re building their talent pools so that candidates will be waiting in the wings when it’s time to hire.
"We’ve been counseling corporations for years to use their CRM technology to create relationships with candidates, not to source anew every time there is a hiring need," says Alice Snell, vice president at iLogos Research in San Francisco, a division of talent management firm Taleo.
In July, Shell launched the Shell Careers Newsletter to communicate the company’s overall values and mission to those who might be interested in working there. Mei-Ching Koon, Shells global channel manager, attraction & recruitment, says that the company wanted to "start building emotional connections and loyalty in order to interest people in a career with (Shell)."
Shell’s newsletter allows subscribers to customize the content they receive according to their career needs. The subscriber, for example, indicates whether he’s interested in marketing or whether he’s interested in engineering, and will receive content based on that interest.
In addition to Shell-related content, the newsletter also covers global job market trends and current career and workplace issues. "Even if they aren’t ready to apply to Shell or aren’t considering a career move yet, this creates a long-term relationship with potential candidates," Koon says.
No snap decisions
Employers are increasingly aware that career decisions involve the time-consuming process of gathering and analyzing information. "It’s very similar to the behavior of someone buying a car," says Ben Klau, a senior partner at JWT Employment Communications’ San Francisco office. "When you are looking for a car you want to get as much information as possible about it, you want to know the specs, how it performs, what it’s rated. You don’t make a snap decision. It’s the same with career decisions. You sign up for the newsletter to find out more about the company and you keep learning more until you make a decision," he says.
But the information offered must be useful. "A newsletter that contains tips for negotiating a better salary or information about the engineering industry--for that you might give up your e-mail address," Klau says.
Shell also uses the newsletter to better understand its target employment market. The company tracks what subscribers read and looks at their feedback. A section called "Inside View," for example, profiles two Shell employees and enables subscribers to send them questions on career-related matters. The next issue contains selected responses to those questions. This two-way communication, Koon says, enables Shell to take readers’ concerns into account when creating content not just for the newsletter, but also for the Shell Web site.
It costs Shell about $12,000 a year to put out the newsletter. The company tracks each issue’s performance reports, including how many were delivered, how many were opened and how many people clicked through on an item in the e-mail. Koon says 60 percent to 70 percent of e-mails delivered are opened. Because of the variety of recruitment methods it uses, Shell can’t attribute any particular number of hires directly to its newsletter.
A realistic preview
Microsoft began its own Careers Newsletter in April 2003. The monthly online publication offers information about job openings, employees, upcoming events and Microsoft-related news, everything from new technology advances to earnings reports. The February issue included a story on TechNet Radio, Microsoft’s plans for growth in Redmond, Washington, and a story about community blogs at the company.
John Boudreau, a management professor and research director of the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business, says that, especially for large companies with prominent public profiles, e-mail newsletters are a way to organize information, both positive and negative.
Shell, for example, has faced many ups and downs in recent years, from ongoing criticism of its polluting ways in Nigeria to the admission in 2004 that it overstated the amount of its oil reserves. The Careers Newsletter provides a forum for communicating a more holistic view of the company. "A newsletter can help clarify the kind of work done and give a realistic preview of work life," Boudreau says.
Despite the positives, these sorts of career e-mail newsletters--published by a company about its own jobs, rather than by a third-party such as Monster about various jobs--are rare. Ben Klau at JWT says one reason for that is the lack of immediate ROI, partly because the newsletters go out to both passive and active candidates, whereas a newspaper or job board is seen by active job seekers. It may take months to convert a passive job seeker into an active one.
Another reason is that most companies, given the chance to speak to a wide audience, don’t know what to say. "If left up to HR alone, the amount of content needed to fill a newsletter would be too narrowly focused and limited," Klau says. "There needs to be better cooperation between HR, PR and corporate marketing to get a broad range of stories."
Garrett Sheridan, vice president and North American practice leader at Hudson Human Capital Solutions in Chicago, believes one reason it hasn’t caught on is that it’s more one-directional than interactive. "It’s a push strategy, and although it helps with branding, the information goes one way; you’re spoon-feeding information to an audience," he says. "Sure, you can track the number of people that open the e-mail, but you can’t really tell what impression it’s making."
An "information quilt"
Sometimes, however, even that one-way push is enough to keep candidates engaged. When the New York Police Department was looking for a way reduce the enormous dropout rate among applicants for the police exam, it began e-mail communications that together work much like a newsletter.
Two years ago, recruitment advertising firm Bernard Hodes Group created an e-mail campaign to hold the interest of applicants from the time they signed up for the exam until the time they sat for it. Nick Burkett, Bernard Hodes’ creative director in New York, calls it an "information quilt." Communication starts with a teaser e-mail containing the front end of an article about careers with the NYPD. Applicants can click through to read the entire story on the NYPD Web site.
The NYPD sends candidates stories based upon Bernard Hodes’ research. When it found that applicants were spending a lot of time in the salary and benefits section of the NYPD site, the department started e-mailing them stories about how much they can earn over the course of a police department career.
Bernard Hodes account manager George Cassella says e-mail communications are extremely cost-efficient. Direct mail, he says, can run about $10,000 for 30,000 people, between printing and mailing. Design can also run into the thousands of dollars. On the other hand, he says, "sending an e-mail costs about 7 cents."
Cassella says that an electronic message might cost $1,500 to $3,000 in design costs, "but then you can send it out to a million people for pennies a message." Since the e-mail campaign began, the dropout rate for the police exam, while still problematic, has been "significantly reduced," Cassella says, and visits to the NYPD Web site are up 74 percent.
JWT’s Ben Klau believes e-newsletters will catch on once companies learn to link their existing CRM technology to their résumé databases. "Once they make that connection, this will really take off," he says. "I think you’re going to see e-mail newsletters that are super personalized, that have your name, jobs in specific areas, very relevant industry and company information. That’s how it goes from newsletter to personal communication. And that’s where companies want to be headed."