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It is better
to not be on
the web than
to be on and
not know why

John Sumser

is more
it seems.
John Gall

It's better to
do a few things
really well than
than to do
a lot of things
If you can't
make the necessary
commitments of
time and energy
to your
scale back
your plan.
John Sumser

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In-Depth Database
(February 02, 2001) Sometimes you produce a product and it makes you burst with pride and joy. The 2001 Electronic Recruiting Index is, by leaps and bounds, the best book we've ever produced. The fifth in a series, the 2001 ERI manages to present a coherent, comprehensive view of our exploding industry and its future.

Over the last couple of days, we've been parsing the database that makes up Volume 2. This year, the data is published as a CD with an astonishing series of reports. Designed so that media planners can do their thing, business analysts can analyze and owners/managers can strategize, the database contains over 50 fields of analytical and functional information on the top 225 companies in the industry.

One of the reports really tickles us. Imagine seeing the names of all of the competitors and their "taglines" in a single report. We've organized the deliverable database so that you can compare traffic, pricing, alliance networks, partnerships, investors, functionality, current threats, near term opportunities or inherent weaknesses. We're shipping it as a database because 225 four page reports makes a volume of paper that would tear down our local forest.

The resulting database is something that paper never could be. You can export contact information to your sales team, make an email list, compare competitor strategies, look for patterns in the investment community, find the holes in your partnership strategy.

Here are some of the key pieces of the database for the 225 companies we covered:

  • Full Contact Information
  • Key URLs in the Website
  • Business Model Description
  • Viability Analysis
  • Traffic Ranking
  • Pricing/Rate Card
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Partnerships
  • Alliance Network
  • Website Usability Analysis
  • Sales Approach
  • Web Strategy
  • Forward Business Case
  • Tag line
  • Mission Statement
  • Branding Strategy
  • Positioning
  • Over 30 others
If you haven't downloaded the Executive Summary, do it today. We're certain that the 2001 ERI will be an indispensable asset for anyone who is playing, investing in or watching the game. Recruiting departments are certain to gain a real advantage from the in-house media planning capability represented by the database.

It's a wonderful thing to be so proud of the work.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Executive Summary

(February 01, 2001) Finally! Thousands of research hours. Reviews of hundreds of companies and their business models. An uphill battle with the survey. New concepts and expanded scope. Broad coverage. Two beards and a residual goatee later, we appear to have a live birth.

The core development team still isn't really sure that it's over. We work on the Electronic Recruiting Index year round. The completion of each annual project leaves a crew of shell shocked survivors (and a list of those who didn't). The ambitious project always seems to shed new light on the industry and its direction.

Poetry aside, we're extremely excited about the 2001 Electronic Recruiting Index. We've managed to integrate a comprehensive picture of our industry and its growth with a complex set of analyses of the top 225 companies in the game.

Today, we're releasing the Executive Summary which includes a look at revenue forecasts, top level results from our annual Recruiter's survey and a number of other gems.

Take a look.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.


(January 31, 2001) On average, we see about 30 pieces of email a day from readers who are reacting, in one way or another, to an idea we've floated in an article. A really controversial piece will generate as many as 60. Our email in baskets overflow with the feedback. As a result, we're always way behind in our correspondence. We read every piece of mail. We want to return a thoughtful reply but often fall short of the mark.

Generally, the notes are very well thought out. Our readers are the "thinkers and doers" in the industry. The mail proves that. Our ongoing correspondence, though legendary for its slowness, is full of rich relationships with real leaders who are trying to figure this thing out as it evolves. We try to answer every piece (eventually) and believe that for every note we get, there are 25 that didn't get written.

Sometimes, there are very negative letters. We have strong opinions and express them clearly. We don't like everything we see and believe that some vendors (and their leaders) just "don't get it". Generally, they don't like it when we don't praise them and they use the occasion to let us know how completely stupid and useless we are. Since we seem to forget those facts, the notes are good reminders.

The most interesting part of negative feedback is that sometimes we are dead wrong on an issue. The archives are full of evidence that we learn from our readers on a routine basis. Sometimes, we just "don't get it" and need an angry note (or a well thought out critique) to move our opinions in a more productive direction.

Learning to read and use the negative feedback is a challenge that has taken years to come to terms with. Electronic communications, email and web page alike, have a surprising potency. Somehow, the words are more powerful on a screen than they are on paper. Critical stuff, delivered electronically, lingers in the heart longer than the same material in regular mail. We believe that it is a part of the job to be sure that we generate adequate volumes of negative feedback. While it's never fun to get it, the material is a powerful indicator of the passions in the industry.

We're certain that the difference between a web endeavor that makes it and one that fails will be rooted in the organization's ability to utilize negative feedback. Chris Locke (and his co-conspirators) have made that case powerfully and succinctly in the Clue Train Manifesto. The web creates an environment in which it is impossible to hide from negative things. Figuring out how to incorporate them into your business is the essence of building an adaptive enterprise. Any recruiter whose company has a stock discussion area or a board on Vault is familiar with the dynamic.

So far, we have received 137 pieces of email concerning this week's articles about Monster's Superbowl ads (they are still coming in). The notes seem to fall into two categories: You really get it and You really don't get it at all. Here's the breakdown:

  • 113: You really get it
    • 53: HR Issues are subtle (same thing happens with gender and race)
    • 24: Personal Or Family Experience With Addictions
    • 36: Unexplained congratulations or "bravos"
  • 024: You really don't get it
    • 15: From Monster/TMP Employees
    • 09: From Others
As much as we'd love to gloat about being right, a half dozen of the "You really Don't Get It" letters were extremely persuasive (the angry stuff from staffers we sort of ignore, noting that their feelings were hurt). In essence, they suggested that the nuances we saw in the ad weren't seen by everyone who viewed it and that we had been overly harsh in our criticism of the Big Green Machine. Almost 10% of the mail (9 of 137) expressed that position.

We think that both perspectives are right.

Advertising, when artfully executed, offends, incites, tickles and pleases. By its very nature, a well done ad delivers different messages to the groups who see it. It's really not very surprising that people see ads differently; they see everything else differently. Layers of meaning are a normal part of advertising.

Although we understand that a range of perspectives are possible, we were very moved by one note whose author said "I was most shocked by the fact that I wasn't shocked when I saw the ad." We were surprised by the extent to which Monster (an advertising company) could not tolerate negative feedback and could not control its response. We also were reminded that a range of perspectives (often directly opposing each other) are possible (and even likely) when the audience is so large.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

Jobhead II

(January 29, 2001) We were sure that we were done with the "Job-head" thing after one article. Monster's "knowing wink" at on-the-job drug usage was a large judgment error for a new little company. Snorting a job, an act of addictive compulsion, was simply too far over the edge. One note pointing it out should have been enough.

But, we've gotten a number of notes from several of the company's Executive Vice Presidents:

Please, your reaction is a bit much. The ad
was a humorous take that people
DO get a great high when they finally land
their dream job. You missed the
point. Remember the card said software
engineer not mail room clerk.

I know you love to take shots at the big dog
but an ad is an ad. They
aren't meant to change the social fabric.
They just get your attention for
a couple seconds and if you are lucky someone
vaguely remembers your brand
when the time is right.

And, from another VP:

Your comments concern me and have prompted me to
immediately stop receiving your daily comments via the
ERN. I simply no longer see the value in your daily column.

We are trying to have fun in an extremely competitive
business. Monster.com continues to be the the
market leader and destination of choice for job seekers.
Apparently our clients and 12 million members have the
ability to appreciate comedy, you do not.

The humor in Monster's superbowl ad was only apparent to people who are in on the joke (and share a certain perspective). Sleight of hand delivery of an illicit substance to a worker on the job, while funny to a range of people, we're sure, is at the heart of the most difficult managerial problem of our times. Drug and alcohol consumption on the job (not in moderation but compulsively, as the ad portrayed) is the source of a huge volume of lost productivity and potential.

An ad is much more than an ad. It is a statement of the company's core values and the face it wants to present to a certain part of its audience. You can probably understand how easy this mistake was to make.

Online job hunting, as you probably know, happens between 11AM on the East coast through about 2PM on the west coast. This is the time when most job hunters hit the web. Traffic is very high during these hours, accounting for over 60% of the traffic to the major sites. In other words, people look for new jobs while they are on the job, using their employer's web connection. This is why features like "panic buttons", that immediately click over to Yahoo or another innocuous site are so popular on the smaller job boards. Looking for work online is often done by a job hunter who is constantly paranoid that the boss will be walking by.

Knowing that this is a part of the audience, we're sure that the ad development groups focused on that part of Job Hunting. The behavior is very similar to other difficult problems as is the target audience.

While we certainly don't believe that anyone at Monster is actively championing "at work drug consumption", we do think they should give themselves some careful scrutiny. The difference between overt sanction - encouragement and a "knowing wink" is not always very large. Unfortunately, there are many issues in HR that can be triggered into play with a "knowing wink". None of them are funny enough to use as the gag line for a branding play in our space.

We doubt that this single episode will be enough to teach Monster the things it needs to do as it matures. A few customers will stop using the service because they don't see the humor. For the most part, it simply underlines the lack of sensitivity the company has for its market.

Leadership, in this case a function of timing and budget, is maintained by having respect, at an observable level, for the important components of your audience. This is a mistake that, once made, places the company under a new kind of scrutiny. It's the second time that will cost them their position.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.


(January 29, 2001) We're old enough to have seen the casualties. The glamorous high turns squarely into unfettered addiction. Families crumble and twist while bright talent spins into an eddy of compulsive, self-destructive behavior. Limos and champagne seem to go well with the start; fat egos need high potency thrills. While we're hardly virulent in our posture on drugs, we have seen the damage and counsel extreme caution. We work to keep it out of our workplace.

Imagine this commercial:

An obviously underemployed young man is handed a "palmed" gift on the job. With obvious enthusiasm, he slides it under something laying loosely on his desk, to hide it. From time to time he eyes it, pulling back the papers to see his gift. When he can not stand to wait any longer, he lifts it to his nose and snorts the entire thing. It's the look in his eyes that tells you how potent his compulsion is and how good this stuff makes him feel. A picture of a green demon appears in the background.

A well wrought anti-drug public affairs spot brought to you by Robert Downey, Jr.?


This is the piece that Monster paid so much money to run on the Superbowl.

To say we have strongly mixed emotions about the commercial would be to soft pedal the reality. Of course, we're not so humorless that we don't understand the underlying message "A New Job Will Make You Feel Better". We've repeatedly congratulated the TMP team for their tireless efforts to broaden the job market. This appears to be yet another well intentioned attempt to reach beyond the traditional active job hunter to ferret out new resumes.

We're betting that the advertising argument was won by the side that claimed "They'll remember this one." Branding, you know, is a game of finding the edge of propriety and gluing to your name so that people will remember it. Taken to extremes, it's a justification for all sorts of bizarre behavior.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, Monster is the leading brand in the industry. When it goes to the extreme of positioning job boards as a way for the down trodden and depressed to get high, it creates a dynamic that rubs off on the rest of us. From where we sit, the last thing we need is for the rest of the world to perceive the industry as a home for compulsive job heads.

At the worst, it accentuates the attrition problem paying customers open themselves to when they advertise their jobs on a service that turns around and uses its executive search arm to recruit existing employees. At best, it paints a picture of an operation that is reaching out to the dregs to maintain growth. In either case, the image is bad for all of us.

Last year's NASDAQ earthquake will probably have a number of follow-on after shocks. We hope, for Monster's sake, that arrogance isn't a structural weakness. If it is, their days are numbered in a way that we didn't imagine till we witnessed this particular abomination.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

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