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So Long

(April 1, 2004) - It's getting clearer that the long predicted consolidation of our industry will happen this year. The first casualty: WhoToChoose, the Job Advertising Distribution company. In an email to customers and vendors, President Ken Isaacson said:

It is with great sadness that I must notify you that WhoToChoose.com will be ceasing all operations including our Web site, our Job Posting Engine and Evaluation Station, effective at 5pm ET February 13, 2004. Further use of these services as covered in our services Agreement will terminate immediately. On behalf of Tyler Toby and the rest of the team at WhoToChoose.com, thank you for being part of our attempt to bring to the marketplace, our vision of automated job posting and greater user understanding of the job boards. I regret any inconvenience our cessation may cause you.

Through a series of interesting morphs, WhoToChoose had been one of the dot com era's survivors. The firm, sort of a 21st century advertising agency, made its money by translating individual job postings into the unique specs of a whole host of posting sites. The business, automated cross-posting of job ads, held incredible promise at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, our industry is extremely cyclical and businesses with advertising as the core revenue have been hurting for years. Without a counterbalancing revenue stream, all of the job ad distribution companies are vulnerable to sustained down cycles.

WhoToChoose is just the first. The Job Ad Distribution (JAD) category is littered with small operations trying to survive in a market that doesn't need their services. It's simply a question of time before their doors close and customers are left holding the bag.

HodesIQ is the single bright spot in the field. Buttressed by the financial and intellectual resources of a larger operation, HodesIQ has expanded its offerings to include a viable Applicant Tracking and Processing toolset. With rock solid vendor and customer relationships (HodesIQ is usually not the only service from Hodes that a customer uses), both sides know that their money is safe.

That's just not true for the smaller, shakier JADs.

The other clear winner/survivor in the space is Net-Temps. Not really a JAD, Net-Temps builds its own traffic to its own job board while distributing jobs to a well oiled network of sites. With the most effective traffic acquisition specialists in the industry, Net-Temps has stayed far ahead of the wolves who are going to close the doors of the other operations. The Net-Temps focus on staffing industry customers and their unique set of job hunters is an enduring strength.

There is a clear inefficiency in our industry. In order to develop distinct value propositions for their core customers, Job Boards all have unique requirements at the time a job is posted. These distinct elements are the gateways to the real value provided by the board. At the same time, companies with job posting requirements face a bewildering array of complexity as they try to publicize their opening through a variety of channels.

That is the core of the service delivered by the JADs. By offering what is essentially a translation table (post using a single form and have it distributed to multiple destinations), JADs reduce workload and increase productivity in customer operations. Unfortunately, the core service can be provided through other means. You can easily imagine one of the non-profit operations that are currently springing up offering a well maintained XML version of the table as an industry service. Certainly, any number of fledgling job board networks would consider the prospect.

Although the labor market is heating up in Europe (the British unemployment rate is now under 5%), our recovery is slower and more tentative. Without a dramatic change in circumstance, the independent JADs are all doomed in the short term. If you are a customer of any service other than Net-Temps or HodesIQ, be sure to organize your account to pay after service delivery if you are going to remain a customer. Otherwise, your cash is at risk.

With the ground cleared, there will be another opportunity to remake the heart of the industry. Timing, inexperience and the dot com haze contributed to a run up that led to a cliff. Services like the ones offered by the JADs are an integral part of an up cycle. Without counterbalancing revenue streams, however, their prospects are quite limited.

John Sumser

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