Employer Branding Recruitment Marketing

2021 Outlook of Recruitment Marketing Agencies

2021 Outlook of Recruitment Marketing Agencies
Profile photo of Lori Sylvia
Written by Lori Sylvia

We reached out to nine top Recruitment Marketing agencies to get their outlook for the year ahead to help you navigate the changing employer branding and Recruitment Marketing landscape.

2021 Outlook of Recruitment Marketing Agencies
4.5 (89.33%) 15 votes

The past year has changed a lot of industries and disciplines, and Recruitment Marketing is no exception. While some employers were forced to slow down their recruiting efforts, others saw a surge in hiring and required new marketing strategies to attract talent.

During 2020, recruiting strategies went digital, the candidate experience went virtual and employer brand storytelling went remote. Amidst all these changes, Recruitment Marketing agencies were working each day to help their clients pivot and adapt.

That’s why we reached out to some of the top Recruitment Marketing agencies to hear what they learned from 2020 and to get their unique outlook on Recruitment Marketing in 2021. In this blog post, we share their top insights to help you navigate the new world of employer branding and Recruitment Marketing in the year ahead. Let’s jump in!

Recruitment Marketing Agency Outlook for 2021

Susan LaMotte, Founder & CEO, Exaqueo

Susan LaMotte, Founder & CEO, Exaqueo

Susan LaMotte, Founder & CEO, Exaqueo

Rally: Tell us about the most impactful strategy that you saw an employer implement during the challenges of 2020.

Susan: We believe that employer brand work is transformational. For one client, they had always made the assumption that hourly workers valued specific elements of the employment experience. Through our work we uncovered that what mattered most to a large population of their hourly workers was focusing on the future — stability that goes well beyond the job. After years of watching plants vanish and manufacturing shrink in the United States, this shouldn’t be a surprise. But connecting it to job interest and retention was. Through our work together, this client is now offering their retirement savings programs to all hourly workers — thousands across the country who have never had this opportunity. That kind of impact is why we do what we do.

Rally: As we all look ahead to 2021, how do you see Recruitment Marketing and employer branding strategy evolving for your clients?

Susan: Employment is a relationship, and that has never been more important than now. Smart organizations are evolving their strategy beyond just ‘how do we attract talent,’ to how can we make an emotional connection and commitment, and build a strong relationship. Successful employer brand leaders will be able to guide their organizations to understand the importance of this relationship well beyond digital transformation to put the employee at the center instead of simply focusing on automation and process. Getting a job shouldn’t be a transaction like buying groceries online. The job is what actually puts that food on the table and requires a journey befitting of that.

Ashley Perez, Co-founder and Principal Employer Branding & Recruitment Marketing Consultant, Harlow Creative

Ashley Perez, Co-founder, Harlow Creative

Ashley Perez, Co-founder, Harlow Creative

Rally: Across all the employers you worked with in 2020, how did their approach to Recruitment Marketing change?

Ashley: For some employers, it was about learning how to uncover really important stories that better highlight their company culture. Due to the pandemic, these organizations no longer had the office culture and office perks to lean on when promoting their employer brand. Without those options available, we instead worked on finding the important stories that go much deeper than what was on the surface.

Then, it was about finding the best ways to promote these employee stories. Before the pandemic, employers could leverage events to showcase their brand or create high-quality content by hiring photographers and videographers. Again, because this option wasn’t available safely anymore, companies had to rely on their employees to create user-generated content. Therefore, we needed to increase internal communications and help train employees (and in some cases, send the employees tools like a tripod or microphone) to help us create the content.

Rally: As we all look ahead to 2021, how do you see Recruitment Marketing and employer branding strategy evolving for your clients?

Ashley: A lot of us realized how important both the candidate and employee journey is when we don’t have the luxury of working together in person. As many of us continue to work remotely and as more companies are becoming remote-first or remote-friendly, the digital user experience is a big area of focus. An interesting move is to adopt consumer-based UX practices and apply them to the candidate experience. Here’s what I think may happen:

1. Organizations will work to create a better digital and virtual experience for candidates. This can include reworking career sites and job descriptions to help candidates uncover information more quickly or answering questions they may have. A good example of this is what Postmates did with their careers site. Their approach shows that the candidate experience is more closely related to the buyer experience and demonstrates what companies can do to create a seamless experience.

2. Organizations will become more intentional with content development and storytelling. Since we can’t rely on showcasing the “fun” aspects of work by taking a quick photo or video of people at the office, or because everyone is posting their team Zoom call photos (which has now become a bit repetitive), companies need to stop relying only on the visuals to tell the story and dig deep to talk about important things.

This might mean scaling back on how quickly they’re producing content that’s subpar or superficial, and going deeper on the content they create to be more robust, engaging and impactful. We’re all used to working at an incredibly fast pace, so this slowdown to becoming more intentional will likely be an adjustment, but it’s worth it.

3. Organizations will collaborate with employees for more than spotlight pieces. In partnering with my clients, the trend I’m seeing is that employer branding shouldn’t only focus on the external candidate audience. Instead, employer branders need to work with their HR and internal communications teams to help promote the company culture to the current employees too.

Companies are seeing a knowledge gap in what the EVP and offerings are, which has become even wider now that employees are remote. How many companies have learned that their employees didn’t know about certain benefits, career path options or important internal culture events? So now these companies are rethinking their approach to employer branding to include internal activation in order to increase knowledge sharing and improve employee engagement, retention and advocacy.

Joe Shaker, President, Shaker Recruitment Marketing

Joe Shaker, President, Shaker Recruitment Marketing

Joe Shaker, President, Shaker Recruitment Marketing

Rally: What were the top 3 requested services that clients needed from your agency, and how were these different from previous years?
Joe: I wouldn’t say there were new services requested — but shifting services. We saw more need for internal communications or an urgent microsite to support essential worker hiring surges. We also saw new programmatic approaches to keep recruitment budgets efficient and flexible during such an uncertain time. Diversity-focused consultation is also becoming increasingly more important for every workplace.

Rally: Tell us about the most impactful strategy that you saw an employer implement during the challenges of 2020.

Joe: COVID-19 significantly impacted all of talent acquisition including our clients, just as it has all of us, in really unique ways. I think what was most impactful was seeing the commonalities with our clients whether they were hiring or needing to transition. There was a shared transparency with what was happening, empathy towards all parties and a resolve to do what was right by everyone.

All of our clients wanted to know where they could help another client, which was very unique. We’re a family company, and that ethos is truly at our core. I think our clients know that, as well, so we all tried to see where we could help each other out. Where one was transitioning, another was actively hiring, so we tried to help usher those relationships to support our clients’ employees.

Julie Calli, Chief Strategy Officer, Recruitics

Julie Calli, Chief Strategy Officer, Recruitics

Julie Calli, Chief Strategy Officer, Recruitics

Rally: Across all the employers you worked with in 2020, how did their approach to Recruitment Marketing change?

Julie: The labor market changed dramatically in 2020 across the board with the impact of both losses and gains. While all businesses felt some sort of impact, every industry, vertical and location was impacted differently due to the pandemic. While we saw some employers make hiring freezes and workforce reductions, we saw other employers experience a surge in demand due to significant changes in consumer behavior.

As some businesses emerged from the initial time of uncertainty, they learned how to adapt and become resilient. Many of them have also returned with significant and sudden hiring needs. While it’s normal for TA teams to be asked “to do more with less,” in 2020 that became an unimaginable challenge with obstacles never faced before. What changed in Recruitment Marketing was the accelerated adaptation to technologies that improved efficiency in cost and delivery.

Rally: As we all look ahead to 2021, how do you see Recruitment Marketing and employer branding strategy evolving for your clients?

Julie: Recruitment Marketing and employer brand together will evolve to consider more unique brand messaging for reaching specific talent audiences. Strategies in Recruitment Marketing will continue to evolve as they always have, but what’s shifted is the rate at which they are changing, along with the demand for more automation and tools to deliver efficiently and effectively.

The accelerated rate of evolution will continue in the direction of empowering TA teams to focus on the human side of acquiring talent. This will also demand better recruitment automation tools to help recruiting teams deliver more effectively.

Julie Randall, Head of Strategy, Ph.Creative

Julie Randall, Head of Strategy, Ph.Creative

Julie Randall, Head of Strategy, Ph.Creative

Rally: What were the top 3 requested services clients needed from your agency, and how were these different from previous years?

Julie: The top 3 most requested services we’ve had from employers recently include the development of virtual onboarding strategies, user-generated content (UGC) and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies.

1. With face-to-face onboarding shelved for the foreseeable future, organizations needed to find innovative ways of engaging and onboarding new talent. This means digitizing the entire onboarding experience so that new hires can access the content that matters, at their own pace and in a way that feels natural and relevant.

Virtual onboarding can be an effective strategy for employers, if it’s done right. To build a sense of belonging and camaraderie, we advised employers on how to bring their employer brand to life through engaging digital content. From culture and values videos, to onboarding games, to company presentations or meet-the-team sessions — each of these events provides a unique opportunity for employers to inspire a real sense of purpose, impact and belonging in the onboarding journey.

2. Second, we’ve seen a tangible shift away from professionally created content to user-generated content. In the past, our in-house creative studio was responsible for filming creative content on-site, usually at an employer’s office. This Recruitment Marketing content would make use of key employees, personas and facilities to capture the essence of that organization’s employer brand.

With the impact of COVID-19, however, we’ve been forced to pivot our strategy away from this towards the adoption of UGC. Partnering with UGC platforms like Altru, we’ve helped employers harness their existing talent to create powerful Recruitment Marketing content that turns regular employees into brand ambassadors. Employees can upload videos and tell honest, open stories about the culture and values of the organization. This also includes practical information about what it’s like to work for the company and what a typical day-in-the-life consists of.

3. Third, the tumultuous social and cultural events of 2020 have paved the way for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to become rightly embedded at the top of the organizational agenda. Many employers have now realized that DEI is non-negotiable, and that this needs to be worked into every aspect of an organization’s culture from the ground up. This means DEI needs to touch everything from recruitment to values to behaviors to employer brand strategy.

We know that candidates are actively seeking out companies that demonstrate a real commitment to DEI, so we anticipate that this will become an even more significant aspect of Recruitment Marketing campaigns in the months and years ahead.

Rally: As we all look ahead to 2021, how do you see Recruitment Marketing and employer branding strategy evolving for your clients?

Julie: At Ph.Creative, we believe 2021 will be the year of the 3 C’s — culture, citizenship and career acceleration.

In culture, we’re expecting to see an acceleration of cultural initiatives to attract and retain talent. Within this, key growth areas will include things like: work flexibility, manager support, DEI, financial security, benefits and data transparency. Each of these issues are driving forces that sit underneath the wider banner of company culture.

In many cases, COVID-19 has accelerated this transformation and placed an even greater emphasis on employee wellbeing and culture. What we’re seeing in the marketplace is a need to tangibly and consciously address what people care about, which means delivering above and beyond the status quo.

This is where citizenship comes into play. Citizenship is the demand that organizations must have a strategic approach when it comes to philanthropy, CSR, environmental impact and DEI initiatives. For a talent audience that is increasingly discerning, being able to meet these new expectations will be key for employers that want to thrive in 2021 and beyond.

This approach is no longer just a “nice to have” — today’s candidates expect organizations to use actions, not words, to show their commitments to causes they care about. For employer brand and Recruitment Marketing purposes, this means clearly showing how an organization is addressing issues such as sustainability, supply chain management and diversity in the workplace. Honesty and accountability are the keys to building a sense of rapport with potential applicants.

Finally, we believe that employers will need to plan for career acceleration. With internal mobility on the rise, organizations will need to empower their existing workforce and democratize access to learning and development. With unease around job security and financial stability on the rise, employers will also need to consider things like compensation and benefits, particularly if they wish to keep top talent in-house and progress them through the ranks.

Kaitlyn Roberts, Founder & Principal Consultant at The Employer Brand Shop

Kaitlyn Roberts, Founder & Principal Consultant at The Employer Brand Shop

Kaitlyn Roberts, Founder, The Employer Brand Shop

Rally: What were the top 3 requested services clients needed from your agency, and how were these different from previous years?

Kaitlyn: Over the past year, 2 out of 3 of our most requested services didn’t actually change that much from previous years. Our most popular services historically have included the development of employee value propositions (EVPs) and careers social media strategies.

That being said, we did approach these services from a slightly different angle given that so many organizations are working remote now and are likely to stay at least partially remote long term. As a result, when we’re defining an organization’s EVP, we’re now more focused on identifying and highlighting specific details about a company’s remote work experience: the culture, tools, approach to getting work done, onboarding experience and whatever else sets them apart from hiring competitors. When it comes to social strategies, our content recommendations now focus more on how teams can develop unique content series that capture the remote employee experience in a captivating way.

In terms of our third most popular service, we definitely noticed a rise in requests for programmatic job advertising help. I think this is because there is more awareness about programmatic job advertising now, compared with previous years. The TA industry has started to mature in the way we’re reaching candidates — the gap is narrowing between Marketing and Recruitment Marketing every year.

Rally: As we all look ahead to 2021, how do you see Recruitment Marketing and employer branding strategy evolving for your clients?

Kaitlyn: In 2021, I think companies will have to work harder to distinguish themselves when it comes to employer branding and Recruitment Marketing. This is because the space is becoming more saturated and competitive.

In past years, in many industries, merely having an employer brand strategy at all was enough to set you apart from other organizations. But now that employer branding and Recruitment Marketing have become more mainstream, companies need to go above and beyond to continue to see the results they’ve grown accustomed to here.

With our clients, we’ll be looking to explore new channels and content strategies to achieve this differentiation. This will involve encouraging more clients to embrace the power of search engine marketing, as well using less saturated channels where candidates are spending time online — places like Reddit, Twitch and TikTok.

In addition, we’ll continue to support our clients with new and creative content strategies that tell their employer brand stories in engaging ways, focusing on the causes that the employer and the employees care about. Since employee-generated content (EGC) will continue to be really important (particularly given how many of us are working remotely), a big focus for our teams will be finding ways to elevate this EGC so that it feels different and fresh from what everyone else is doing. We’ll do this by relying on new and unexpected content types — using audio, podcasts, animations, gifs and more.

Note: Kaitlyn is also a Rally Blog content contributor.

Maren Hogan, CEO, Red Branch Media

Maren Hogan, CEO, Red Branch Media

Maren Hogan, CEO, Red Branch Media

Rally: What were the top 3 requested services that they needed from your agency, and how were these different from previous years?

Maren: Emerging talent was a huge ask during 2020. Folks are really starting to recognize the need for internal mobility and a strong internship program. Because people’s “migration patterns” are changing and education is becoming less a “need” and more a “preferred,”, employers are starting to strengthen their own internal training programs.

We saw a shift in distribution channels as well. Recruitment Marketing strategies using SEO, SEM and digital/social ad spend went through the roof. It makes sense to spend now since you can almost guarantee people are online all the time. It’s been interesting to see mobile traffic not really shift too much at all (from a careers perspective). We all thought that would be the next big thing, but since so many are home, desktop traffic has remained strong.

Podcasting, webinars and virtual events are the final area we got a lot of work in. Humans still want to connect, learn and have the experiences they used to have at conferences, career fairs and in-person networking. Employers and vendors alike have tried to emulate these with varying degrees of success. One client has an event every year and their virtual was the largest attended of all in 2020.

Rally: As we all look ahead to 2021, how do you see Recruitment Marketing and employer branding strategy evolving for your clients?

Maren: In the end, I think most are going to settle on a hybrid work environment. Those who decide to go full remote will have to sacrifice a portion of the workforce who prefer interaction, and that could be significant after such a long period of sustained isolation. Remote work will not be a perk the same way it was, the playing field has essentially been leveled.

Regarding DEI initiatives, literally every company on the planet is hiring a head of Global DEI at the moment, which is a good thing, but these pros will have a tough road ahead of them. I don’t believe candidates are going to let token programs fly much longer. The standards will be high to prove you actually implement true DEI initiatives and principles in your organization at all levels.

And this might be pie in the sky thinking but I am hoping that employers will focus on making compensation clear, focus employer brand campaigns on safety and vaccination requirements or guidelines and remove dubious degree requirements as the U.S. starts rethinking our secondary educational system.

Mark Beavan, Head of That Little Agency

Mark Beavan, Head of The Little Agency

Mark Beavan, Head of That Little Agency

Rally: Across all the employers you worked with in 2020, how did their approach to Recruitment Marketing change?

Mark: As you can expect for many employers, there was a reduction in recruiting. As a result, some clients furloughed their recruitment teams. This was a knee-jerk reaction by many. And, in fact, the smartest businesses retained their team and refocused. Instead of tactical recruitment, they started focusing on the areas that they typically wouldn’t have time for previously, like reviewing their candidate experience, updating their careers website and optimizing their ATS.

Rally: Tell us about the most impactful strategy that you saw an employer implement during the challenges of 2020.

Mark: Clients who focused on their candidate experience in 2020 will be the ones who will hit the ground running in 2021 and beyond. As the economy begins to recover, companies will need to recruit for either new talent (following inevitable restructuring) or to replace talent (that has either left or was laid off). I have seen businesses do a top-to-tail review of their attraction, engagement and retention strategies. They are now much fitter and ready to recruit. Others who completely shut down will be even further behind the competition.

Matt Adam, Chief Talent Strategist, NAS Recruitment Innovation

Matt Adam, Chief Talent Strategist, NAS Recruitment Innovation

Matt Adam, Chief Talent Strategist, NAS Recruitment Innovation

Rally: As we all look ahead to 2021, how do you see Recruitment Marketing and employer branding strategy evolving for your clients?

Matt: The key to recruitment marketing in 2021 is agility. As 2020 showed us, employers had to be able to adapt quickly to a new reality – work from home, differing employment needs, an ever-evolving situation. This will continue in the year ahead. We’re seeing an understanding that brand messaging may need to change, career sites must be able to accommodate new hiring initiations and strategies should adapt to reach out to candidate pools where there is high competition and not enough candidates. We’re seeing a lot of increase in the use of digital marketing, programmatic advertising and virtual events.

The two trends that we feel are going to be most prominent in the area of employer branding are authenticity and a renewed focus on diversity and inclusion. Companies realize they can no longer put forth an inauthentic message or one that is undifferentiated from their competition. Candidates are seeking an employer that is authentic, stands for something and offers meaningful work. With regard to diversity, the social justice movements of the past year have had far-reaching effects into how candidates think about work, as well. They want to work for companies that are committed to diversity and inclusion – and this needs to be evident in the branding message. We encourage our clients to showcase their employees within the brands and communicate culture and equity commitments on their career sites.

Rally: Tell us about the most impactful strategy that you saw an employer implement during the challenges of 2020.

Matt: The most effective strategies came from employers who understand the true scope of their challenge and commit to an end-to-end approach: creating an authentic employer brand, developing a robust and responsive career site and deploying a variety of marketing strategies depending on the specific audience. Our client Papa John’s for example, working with us to update branding and develop a new career site. We focused strategies on areas of great need during the pandemic: delivery drivers, CDL drivers and warehouse.

Some of the other impactful strategies we saw in 2020 were implemented by clients responding to the environment created by the pandemic. Healthcare clients who needed RNs or were building a COVID vaccination team, for example, were able to leverage landing pages, text outreach, digital and programmatic to accelerate the process and make quick hires in strategic areas.

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We hope these insights from Recruitment Marketing agencies about their outlook for 2021 are helpful and that you’re able to walk away with some new inspiration to bring back to your own organization to elevate your talent attraction and retention strategies.

If you want to read more about how Recruitment Marketing is changing, and where practitioners should focus their efforts, check out our blog The #1 Priority for Recruitment Marketing in 2021.

2021 Outlook of Recruitment Marketing Agencies
4.5 (89.33%) 15 votes

About the Author

Profile photo of Lori Sylvia

Lori Sylvia

Recruitment Marketing evangelist and community builder. Founder of Rally.

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