Executive briefing

Executive briefing


Back in late July, Steve Playford moved from the Telegraph to join the FT as head of recruitment solutions.  But following the retirement of Betty Thayer, his remit quickly broadened to include the additional role of acting MD at recently-acquired job-board exec-appointments.com.  With his feet now firmly under the respective tables, Ri5 caught up with him to find how things were progressing.

"My priorities have changed, of course," he says.  "When I first came in, it was just to concentrate on sales.  Now, as acting MD at Exec-Appointments as well, I have to deal with all sorts of other people reporting in, like Marketing, IT and Finance.  As a result I'm typically spending two days a week in Bath (Exec-Appointments' HQ) and three in London.

"Most of my time since joining four months ago has been taken up with integration," he continues.  "Our objective is to have things fully integrated by the end of the year.  Originally the plan was just to integrate the sales teams, but with Betty leaving we're now getting to grips with all parts of the business.  We're not just looking at the sales teams, but our whole approach.  We're building a team that can sell our five key products - FT print, FT.com, Exec-Appointments, MBA-Direct and Non-Executive Director.  The idea is that our sales people will be able to visit agencies, recruiters and corporates and talk to them about our whole range of products.  It will make our sales teams as efficient as possible and eliminate any unnecessary duplication.

"We've also built a fantastic marketing team, headed up by Catherine Jacklin.  She's from the FT but all of her team are based in Bath, so she splits her week between the two locations.  Combining our marketing functions has been really powerful - it's one of our biggest successes to date.  And we've been bringing all of our external and internal communications together to create even greater consistency.

"One thing that's unique about Exec-Appointments is their amazing level of customer service," he adds.  "In fact, we typically get several unsolicited testimonials every week, evenly split between comments on the high calibre of candidates and on the high quality of the customer experience.  We're aiming to integrate this outstanding customer service ethic right into the heart of the company culture and with every business initiative we launch.

"Everyone's seen that print recruitment advertising has had a challenging time this year," he concedes.  "But it certainly has a future; it just needs to be sold differently.  We're now selling it under the umbrella term of ‘FT print'.  And we're fully committed to producing our special recruitment reports - there will be at least twelve next year focusing on specific industry sectors.  Print is still a really important part of what we do - there's plenty of life left in it yet."

The new strategy involves maintaining separate branding for the FT and Exec-Appointments.  "EA is our online jobsite, but ft.com is extremely effective at reaching passive job-seekers," says Steve.  "We can access a very strong audience of high-ranking C-suite passives - that's where the ft.com address comes in.  exec-appointments.com is great for reaching both active and passive job-seekers - in terms of the recruitment market, it's probably just as powerful as the FT brand."

One of the key drivers of the new strategy is the fact that the combined brands reach executives in all categories, not just finance.  "In the FT on a Thursday, we've replaced our ‘Banking' headers with ‘Business Leaders'," says Steve.  "The ‘Business Leaders' theme runs across the FT's Thursday recruitment, Wednesday run-of-paper, exec-appointments.com and ft.com - it uses all our platforms to reach C-suite executives.  In fact, only 28% of FT readers work in finance - the remainder are senior executives in many other sectors, who read the FT simply because they need to know what's going on.

"So from next year, the FT Appointments section will be renamed as Executive Appointments.  Obviously, people won't stop looking in the FT for finance jobs, but the message is that it's not just about finance.  The other major USP is that it's not just a UK medium, but a global media platform.  Our US circulation is bigger than the UK's, for example.  We truly reach a global audience at senior level."

A new microsite is being prepared that will carry the rates for all the recruitment products as a further way of integrating the offering.  (This will, of course, be accessible via Ri5.)

One characteristic of the senior appointments sector is that it has traditionally been dominated by consultancies, but there are signs that this may be about to change, not least as a result of current economic and budgetary pressures.  "Particularly on exec-appointments.com, we're already seeing more and more corporates using the site to attract people directly," says Steve.  "One well-known financial services company recently signed the site's biggest-ever deal on the basis that they wanted to start recruiting direct.  They've changed their strategy and brought a lot of their recruitment in-house - and this could easily extend to other players in the sector; we'll just have to wait and monitor the market.  That said, consultancies will continue to be an important part of our focus as we both strive to serve the end client.

"That's one area of growth - the other, of course, is international," he continues.  "We opened a sales office in Dubai at the beginning of the year, and we're due to open another in India next January."  (In fact, Steve's original schedule meant that he was due to be in Mumbai on the day of the terror attacks, so he was very happy to be in London talking to Ri5 instead.)  "We're also looking at other locations, and this will be the key to future success.  And the beauty of exec-appointments.com now being part of the FT is that we can use the resources of the many FT offices throughout the world."

Looking at the wider market, Steve's attitude remains one of "cautious optimism."  "Particularly online, people will start looking for quality," he says.  "The downturn is seeing a shift from a candidates' market to an employers' market.  Any website can bring in loads of candidates, but we've prided ourselves on quality of candidate, backed by excellent customer service.  We've also introduced a filtering process online to ensure that only the best candidates are available, to save recruiters' time.  There's no question that the number of candidates will increase over the next couple of years, and that clients will get more choosy.  And there's no question that we can meet this need."

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

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