How do you go about launching a new professional staffing brand? And is it important to set brand guidelines and maintain consistency when building your reputation? What works on social and digital in the staffing world?
I spoke to Ian Grundy who is Head of Marketing and Communications, APAC at The Adecco Group and he talked us through the steps they took when launching the Spring Professional brand and the lessons learnt along the way.
Have a listen to the episode below, keep reading for a transcript of our conversation and make sure you subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.
Tell us about Adecco Group in Asia, and also your role there.
So Adecco, we are the world’s largest HR and staffing services organisation. We’ve been in the Asia Pacific market now for over 30 years. It’s a big region, geographically. Starts off in the north in China and goes right down as far as New Zealand. We’re very well established as an organisation, at a number one and number two position in most markets.
I oversee marketing and communications for the Adecco Group throughout the region. We split our regional offices between Tokyo and Singapore, I’m based in Singapore and fundamentally manage a regional team, which is based out of Singapore. Then also the country marketing and communications teams, so they’re in the 11 countries throughout the region.
How did the brand Spring Professional come about?
Adecco as a brand is very well established in the Asia Pacific region, but primarily established as a general staffing brand. Within the group, one of our strategic areas of focus is now professional staffing. The situation where you have experts talking to experts and working in specific niche areas.
So back at the end of 2012, we decided we wanted to launch a brand in the Asia Pacific region for professional staffing, and we selected Spring Professional. Spring [Personnel/Technology] was a brand that already existed in the UK, and we had a very small office here in Singapore.
We slightly reworked the brand. We took it as a master brand, which is Spring Professional, and then under we launched Spring IT, and we launched Spring Engineering. For two reasons, really. One is that, as we know these are huge opportunities in the recruitment area, the IT and engineering sector. Secondly, they’re also areas that we knew very well within the Adecco Group. We’ve got a lot of expertise in IT and engineering, so it was a logical place for us to begin our journey in professional staffing. It’s primarily on permanent roles, and it’s a mid-to-senior level.
And we decided to launch the Spring Professional brand across the Asia Pacific region, starting in Bangkok and then very strategically rolling out across the region over the next 18 to 24 months.
What was important when launching the new brand?
I think really important for us was consistency. How we approach setting up a new brand, and it’s probably not too dissimilar from any large organisation that’s looking at setting up a brand. You want to ensure that you have your brand guidelines, your brand consistency, and your governance in place right from the beginning. I think you get a lot of momentum from having that in place.
You know, brand guidelines are really there not to always control what happens to a brand, but to show what’s possible. I think our approach at Spring has always been that we wanted to have fun with the brand. We wanted it to be interesting to clients, and interesting to candidates, as well as credible to both of those audiences as well. So I think overall it was ensuring that consistency from day one.
Was there a reason for launching in Bangkok?
Thailand is a very established business for the Adecco Group, we’ve had good operations there for many years, so that was one of the reasons. It’s also a market with huge opportunity. There’s many, many organisations in the market. We have a small market share, but a growing market.
Very, very low unemployment in Thailand, and that continues today as well. So it’s a market that we felt was a good place to start. It was geographically near where we were placed in Singapore. Sometimes geography matters as well when you’re traveling a lot in the start up situation.
Then Singapore and after that we followed into Taiwan, into Malaysia, into Korea, and Hong Kong, and then ultimately into Japan, into Tokyo. What’s interesting then is that as much as this was a brand that we were developing across the Asian region, then some of our larger operations in Europe, namely in France and Spain, have also opened professional staffing businesses now using the Spring Professional brand. So it started to really gain some momentum globally within the Adecco Group.
Tell us about the type of people that you wanted to recruit for this new brand?
I mentioned earlier experts talking to experts, where we’ve got specialty businesses, we’re always looking at recruiting specialists in those areas that can talk to both candidates and clients in those areas. What’s also important to us as well within the Adecco Group, like any organisation, we want to develop, grow, and retain our best people.
So I think one of the great opportunities within the Adecco Group, where we’ve got multiple brands, and so if I look in the Asian Pacific region where we’ve got Adecco, we’ve got Spring, we’ve got Judd Farris, we’ve got Pontoon, we’ve got Lee Hecht Harrison, they’re all part of the group. There’s a wonderful opportunity to people to develop their careers, to grow in their careers, to move between different brands as well. So Spring Professional just added to that opportunity to give a new challenge to individuals that wanted to stay within the group and to further their careers.
Have you found that people from other organisations are coming to Spring Professional?
We have. It doesn’t happen straight away. I mean, you know you’re building a brand, and you’re developing a brand, and you’re trying to create the awareness and the attraction. You kind of open your doors and hope that clients and candidates will come with the hard work that you’ve done and the professionalism, and with Spring that happened after a short period of time. We obviously had a couple of organisations that we admired, that we wanted to compete against, and that we wanted to be recognised for our professional staffing brand alongside.
I think that we’ve achieved that now, and we’re starting to see a lot of people that want to join Spring. Along the way, we’ve picked up some awards. You don’t get out of bed and wake up each morning to win awards, but when they happen it’s something that we’re very happy about and very pleased about. Winning some awards, starting to grow the business, get more of an international presence with the Spring brand has certainly meant that we’re starting to attract some of the best in the industry to join us.
What are some of the tough lessons you’ve learned along the journey?
It’s a good question. I don’t know about tough lessons…but things that we reminded ourselves about all the time were ensuring that you really never let your guard down. If you look at some of the great brands of the world today, they’re brands that are incredibly consistent. They’re brands that really move together as a team, and every day you feel as though you’re encountering that brand for the first time. I think we all engage with brands at one time or another that feel a little bit tired or a little bit dated.
So I think one of the things that’s been one of the real ongoing lessons or education for us has been to make sure that every time somebody comes into contact with the brand, whether that’s in a face-to-face meeting with a recruiter, or whether that’s in an online encounter as a candidate registering, that the experience is great and that it feels very fresh and very new. And obviously ensuring that happens every second, every minute, every day, is something that you have to pay particular attention to.
What social and digital channels work best for Spring Professional?
We are very targeted in how we approach audiences. I’m a believer that in having millions of followers or contacts or connections is fruitless if it’s just numbers. So we spend a lot of time and investment in making sure that when we are identifying audiences, say for the IT or the engineering businesses, that we’re talking to the right people. Those that are either involved in a role at that time, or are interested in the future in looking at some. I think first of all it’s very targeted.
I think secondly, we do look closely in each country that we operate in, which are social and digital platforms that are gaining the most traction. We know that markets like China and Japan can be very different to the rest of the world. Obviously China’s got many restrictions in place with some of the larger, more well known international platforms. We also know in China just by the pure size and scope of the country there are a lot of homegrown platforms. So we have to be part of those platforms as well, and adapt where necessary. As you would expect, platforms such as LinkedIn, such as Facebook, such as Twitter, have their different opportunities for us, but that we approach them very specifically with our recruiters by learning and development and education about how best to leverage these platforms and what the opportunities are.
And it’s always changing. You know, the digital journey for me is just when you think you’ve got an area mastered or you think that you know what’s working best, something changes. And it keeps moving all the time, so it’s ever evolving and ever changing.
How do you encourage employees to be social?
I think the first thing is that in a recruitment company often clients and candidates are regarded as the two primary audiences, whereas there are two other extremely important audiences. In a publicly listed company like the Adecco Group, there are shareholders and investors which are incredibly important, and then also colleagues or our employees and I think we use social media not just to talk to our valued clients and also our candidates, but those other audiences as well.
So we do use social media as a way of creating healthy competitiveness and rivalry throughout the region. So the Spring office in Tokyo can see what a Spring office in Singapore is doing. And that’s really important, that all of those audiences are reflected. I think also we want to have some fun. We want to show those experiences that teams are having throughout the region. We want to show those online. We want to have a little bit of fun and to celebrate our successes before we move on to the next day.
What are the next milestones for Spring Professional?
Well the good news, as I mentioned, is it’s certainly developing internationally. A brand that was really growing in the Asian region is now going truly international, so that’s very satisfying for the group and also for us in the Asia region. I think the next milestones are to continue growing geographically, and then also by specialty businesses. There’s obviously huge opportunities in some niche areas, and we’ll continue to see the Spring brand growing both in specialty areas and also in different countries as well. That’s really our plan over the next few years.
What digital brands inspire you?
That’s a good question. I think I’d have to answer it’s those digital brands or platforms that kind of make my life easier. And I’m someone that’s traveling a huge amount. I’m traveling 50 to 70% of my time every month, so I’m looking to make life in those travel plans as easy as possible. So I’d probably have to pick on two at the moment. One is, there’s no secrets, that would be Uber. I’m looking at the efficiency of it. I’m looking at the ease of it. I used it just four days ago in Shanghai, so I think Uber as well is disrupting and challenging one of the oldest industries in the world, the taxi industry.
I think the second platform is a platform that l like both for its ease of use and also again, how it is disrupting a little bit, and that would be Airbnb. I’ve made I think three bookings on Airbnb over the last couple of months. It’s given me a different way of viewing how to stay in a country. It’s incredibly cost-effective. I like the way it’s starting to gain traction and interest, so the number of people commenting and using it is growing all the time, which makes it far more representative. So I think those two platforms at the moment would be sort of quite high on my list that I like and admire.
Do you think there is a threat to the recruitment industry from tools like these?
I think every few years, something happens. I can remember back…it was probably in the late 1990s when job boards first emerged and obviously several years later we saw the real growth of social and digital media. I think when things change like this, it’s like any form of competitor awareness. You have to be very aware of it. You have to watch it. You have to understand how you compete in a challenging environment.
I’m sure that if I look at Airbnb, some of the traditional hotel booking websites are looking closely. Will it supersede them? Probably not. Does it keep competition lively, and does it keep organizations on their toes? Yes it does, and I think every single organisation or industry today knows that there is going to be disruption at some point to their sector. I think it keeps a lot of us…on our toes, yeah, is the best way to say it. Keeps us aware of what’s happening and what’s happening next.
What is the next big thing for the recruitment industry?
I don’t know if there is one next big thing. I think the advent of digital has really made the job search process for candidates very unique. You know, I think if we go back 20 years, when you think of the traditional way that a job seeker would apply for a job, they would use the Yellow Pages, they would use word of mouth, listing, etc.
That’s completely changed now. I think the opportunity for candidates to engage with an organisation like Spring is very different and very efficient in that job search process. So I think the next big thing, it will probably likely be something digital. I think we’ll continue to see huge growth in that area. The digital landscape is very different now to what it was five years ago, and I’m sure looking forward five years it’s going to be very different again. So I think it’s that digital space that’s going to really bring value to a lot of our clients and our candidates.