Say the word “recruitment” and most newspaper executives groan. Over the last seven or eight years, it has shrunk to just a fraction of its former size, and it’s still slipping.

At Morris Publishing Group, we’ve been looking hard at this vertical for several months. We’ve been trying to figure out two things:

  1. How can we do better at what’s left of our existing business.

  2. How can we create new wins in this space?

We’re beginning to see the path ahead, so it’s a good time to share some of what we’ve learned.

What’s happened to recruitment is a classic case of disruptive innovation. We ruled the space in the pre-digital era. Then new digital technologies enabled a new set of players to come in underneath our expensive print solutions. They attracted big audiences and took away huge amounts of our business.

Our industry went to digital, too, but we slowed only the revenue declines. And, of course, we had a whopping recession to accelerate the trends.

In the last several months, our team at Morris has talked with numerous vendors and interviewed several experts in the business, trying to form a strategic view of what’s happening and what to do about it. And just recently I attended a recruitment-industry conference to see what recruiters are doing today and where they are struggling.

Part of the picture has become very clear: The recruiting business has moved well beyond the solutions most newspaper companies offer. Our solutions — mainly print job ads and job-board postings — are now just a small corner of the media part of recruiting. And the total media share is now only about 5% of recruitment spending.

To produce better results, our industry will have to start meeting additional needs for job seekers, recruiters, and agencies. If we don’t, we’ll just keep riding the old business down.

Here’s how I’m seeing the evolution of recruiting:

  • Generation 1: Job seekers flock to printed listings, because that’s all there is. (20th century).

  • Generation 2: Job seekers look for jobs on giant job Web sites (c. 1998 to present).

  • Generation 3: Job seekers look for jobs via Google, which leads them to many niche sites, specialty sites, and aggregation sites. (c. 2006 to present).

  • Generation 4: Job seekers use mobile phones to search and apply (c. 2010 to present).

  • Generation 5: Employers want easier solutions, fewer but better, pre-qualified prospects, better ways to reach passive candidates. (Now and, really, always).

Newspaper companies are still providing Gen 1. Many of us also provide Gen 2, through partnerships with big job boards. Most of us haven’t graduated to Gens 3, 4 and 5, where most recruiters are now trying to find effective solutions.

The experts gave us some important input.

From Peter Weddle, a recruitment industry veteran who works mainly with job boards:

  • Recruitment is rebounding. “Hiring wars” might be coming soon for many types of positions.

  • Employers want a menu of products so they can tailor multi-faceted searches to specific jobs. They’ll pay good money to get what they need.

  • Recruitment advertising is barely US$5 billion a year; staffing expenditures are US$100 billion.

  • Job boards are undergoing a huge mindshift, recognising they must graduate from Gen 2-only to Gen 2-5.

  • Lines are blurring. Job boards are trying to offer services that resemble traditional staffing companies, such as e-executive search, candidate pre-screening, and algorithmic matching.

From Peter Zollman of AIM Group, a set of must-do’s for media in 2014:

  • Provide powerful solutions on mobile; 72% of job seekers search for jobs on mobile and 32% have applied for a job on mobile.

  • Provide wide and targeted distribution of job postings; niche boards are big, and big job boards no longer own the space.

  • Provide solutions to target passive candidates.

  • Provide social media management for clients.

  • Provide video offerings for clients.

  • Provide branding solutions presenting companies as desirable employers (reach both active and passive candidates).

  • Strengthen sales pressure; offer better packages to deliver better results, with next-generation tiers of solutions.

Based on our research — and admittedly, we’re hardly experts — here’s how today’s recruitment services market looks to me:

And here’s where most newspaper companies seem to be today, although certainly some are more advanced than others:

Attending the Recruiting Trends conference in Alexandria, Virginia, last week confirmed what we’d learned before and added some further observations:

  • Recruiting is a business unto itself. It’s as different from the local media business as an insurance agency or a health clinic.

  • Recruiters still use media to find candidates, but they use a much wider range of channels than we offer.

  • To enter this business, we need to hire recruiting expertise and shape our offerings to fit the spaces where recruiters and agencies want help.

  • We don’t want to go into competition with the many recruitment agencies already helping employers. (At least one-third of the 300 conference participants were from agencies.)

  • Most recruiters seemed relatively primitive in their use of social media, aside from using LinkedIn to post and recruit.

From all of this, my view is there’s definitely room for newspaper companies to pivot into providing new services to help recruiters. And, if we shape our offerings right, it can be lucrative.

  • We need to make sure our basic offerings keep meeting the bottom-end recruiting needs — print listings and postings.

  • We need to navigate upstream, acquiring the ability to provide customised distribution of postings into the boards best suited for them.

  • We need to build a new segment of our business around two key strategies:
    1. Help employers and agencies reach more passive candidates — in other words, expand our audience-creation skills intelligently into the recruitment market.

    2. Help employers brand themselves in the market as great places to work, using solutions ranging from print display advertising to on-location video to social media activity. And that should include Facebook, which few use effectively.

Recruiters need help in a number of ways. Like most of us, they are constantly trying to achieve better results at lower costs. Our explorations suggest that if we’re willing to take the right steps to go beyond our legacy products and skill sets, we can regain our relevance to the employers in our markets.

As we go forward, I’ll share more information about what we’re doing. Meanwhile, I welcome you to share what you’re doing in the comments section below.