How COVID-19 has transformed attraction and marketing
By Richard Badley
Coronavirus has transformed our industry, but what might it mean in the longer term, particularly for attraction and marketing?
Just as COVID-19 has impacted every country in the world, so has it impacted every aspect of our industry. Many student employers have had to learn to attract, recruit, onboard and develop their intakes wholly online.
In the early stages of the crisis, most employers were focused on managing their interns and recruiting if they still had vacancies to fill. Some employers could still onboard their placement students and slot them seamlessly into their teams. Others shortened summer internships incorporating online projects and learning sessions. Video interviews were common practice pre-Covid, but many employers have added Zoom-powered assessment centres to progress candidates to the offer stage.
With autumn only three months away, minds are focused on the next recruitment season. Employers won’t be criss-crossing the country with stands in tow. Virtual careers fairs, in-curriculum online projects and skills sessions as webinars, are all likely to feature strongly well into 2021.
But amongst the opportunities to innovate, many are concerned that groups of students could miss out. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds may not have as much access to technology, broadband and private space as their better off peers. The aftermath of the financial crash showed that many students suffered long-term damage to their earnings and career trajectories.
The financial crash also permanently changed our industry, particularly the size and make up of employers’ marketing budgets. What will COVID-19’s lasting impact be? A virtual recruiting season will teach employers and careers teams’ lessons about what works well online and crucially, where they need to get back out and meet students in person. Cost savings, efficiency gains and the pressures of a recession will drive many decisions. But so will the need to attract the best talent.
We asked Richard Badley, Head of Innovation at SMRS about how he thought COVID-19 had transformed attraction and marketing.
“COVID-19’s impact (on student attraction and marketing) was felt immediately. Not necessarily in the cancellation or pausing of in-market activity, more so because the homebound economy forced a major redesign of candidate experience and engagement strategies – across all aspects of attraction and marketing (and through into engagement and assessment).
“The most impactful change was the necessary and immediate cancellation of any physical engagements. On-campus activities, events and assessment centres all abruptly stopped. This meant an immediate and intense focus on digitising the processes, end to end. Some organisations were already set up to do this or were quick to adapt, for others it caused major challenges.
“Needless to say, the virus is having a profound adverse economic impact. And as time moves on, organisations have a clearer understanding of the direct implications on their early careers strategies and hiring demands. We are starting to identify what the future of student attraction and marketing might look like, and how it might change:
It will be more important for recruiters to capture a candidate’s attention
ISE reported a 23% contraction in student recruitment this year. Logic suggests this could lead to a reduction in attraction and marketing activity in the long-term. However, with the surge in digital consumption, competition for attention and less routes to reach candidates we actually have a more competitive marketplace. Recruiters will need to work harder to stand out and cut through to students.
What is the solution? Be creative. Be brave. Be relevant. We have to fight the fatigue of zoom calls, job ads and standard display messages with ‘click to apply’ calls to action. The wonderfully creative attraction we are already seeing will raise the bar in the long term.
Relevance and targeting will become critical
Volume has never been the problem in early careers engagement. As a consequence of COVID-19 we are seeing an increased focus on strategic planning, data analysis and micro targeting strategies. The ability to understand, identify, and engage with exactly who we need in our organisations will become more important than ever before. Financial pressures will focus our budgets to be as effective as possible. The Black Lives Matter movement is leading to a long overdue realignment of campaign composition and D&I strategies. Deeper analysis of recruiter’s data, market data and efficiency gains will shift people analytics to the next level.
Candidate experience will matter more than ever
Whether through choice or necessity, COVID-19 has forced recruiters to fully digitalise their marketing and attraction activity. We have had to reimagine many touch points in a candidate’s journey and now have the opportunity to completely re-evaluate, rethink and redesign the full candidate experience. Digitalisation allows for more scalable, accessible (great for social mobility) and measurable engagements. We can reduce costs, ensure we are ‘always on’ and operate in a more agile manner. If we embrace the opportunity, we can transform the candidate experience.
But we need to remind ourselves that this is a pandemic, not a campaign brief. Candidates need reassurance, access to our organisations and a personal relationship. Digitalisation makes candidates feel organisations are innovative but can also lead to a feeling of detachment. Whatever we do, we need to ensure we continue to appeal, attract and engage with our audiences. Now more than ever.
This blog was originally published on Insights.