Recruitment Flex Podcast - Blue Ocean of Opportunities

Recruitment Flex Podcast - Blue Ocean of Opportunities

In this special podcast episode of "The Recruitment Flex" recorded live at TATech, hosts Shelley Billinghurst and Serge Boudreau are joined by Adam Stafford, the CEO of Recruitics. 

With a dynamic background and a visionary approach, Adam shares his journey in the HR tech space and sheds light on how Recruitics is revolutionizing recruitment marketing. Discover the 'blue ocean of opportunities' that awaits in the realm of programmatic advertising and data-driven recruitment strategies.

These insights are just the beginning. Listen to the full podcast (press play below) to dive deeper into Adam Stafford's expert perspectives on the future of recruitment technology. 

Key Takeaways:

      • Revolutionizing Recruitment with Programmatic Advertising
        Adam highlights how Recruitics pioneered programmatic job advertising, transforming the way organizations attract talent by leveraging data-driven strategies across various platforms, including social media and job boards.
      • Embracing AI for Enhanced Recruitment Analytics
        Discover how Recruitics' AI-powered conversational analytics tool, Brion, is simplifying complex data analysis for talent acquisition professionals, enabling them to make informed decisions quickly and efficiently without requiring deep technical expertise.
      • Global Expansion and Industry Consolidation
        Adam discusses the trends in global adoption of programmatic advertising, particularly the challenges and opportunities in markets outside the US, and how the industry is evolving through strategic acquisitions and technological advancements.

Podcast Transcription

Serge Boudreau: Welcome to The Recruitment Flex with Serge and Shelley. I'm Serge.

Shelley Billinghurst: And I'm Shelley. And we talk all things recruitment starting right now.

Serge Boudreau: Shelley, we're on stage at TATech, and it's been a pretty amazing conference. I did not know what to expect. This was my first TATech. It's probably the best speakers I've seen anywhere. What's your take?

Shelley Billinghurst: Well, and to have the opportunity to be so up close and personal. When we go to conferences, we're usually the ones interviewing other CEOs or thought leaders. To have the opportunity to just sit and soak it in has been awesome.

I have to say though, Serge, you missed your famous introduction.

Serge Boudreau: Oh, I forgot to say bonjour and welcome. But Shelley, we're on stage. We have a really special guest.

I've been trying to get a hold of this guy for years, and he's been avoiding me, but hey, we got him locked in today. And I'm kidding. I haven't been, well, I have been, but I'm glad you had me.

Shelley Billinghurst: He's been stalking you.

Serge Boudreau: So Shelley, do the intro.

Shelley Billinghurst: Absolutely, I am very pleased to introduce and welcome to the show Adam Stafford, who's the CEO of Recruitics. Thank you for joining us.

Adam Stafford: Thank you, Shelley. Thank you, Serge. Very happy to be here. Serge, you got me.

Serge Boudreau: Finally, after years. You've been hiding out.

Shelley Billinghurst: So one of the things we always wanna start with, we always wanna know what's your backstory. Can you talk to us a bit about you and your journey in the HR tech space?

Adam Stafford: Absolutely, good question. My journey is a little bit unorthodox. I'm a product manager by trade, but product management did not exist when I went to college.

And so I've been a restaurateur, I've been a restaurant manager, I've been a DOD supply chain specialist. I spent a year in Afghanistan supporting the DOD, the army and the air force. I've worked in DC actually for many years, supporting growth strategy and technology.

And when I moved to New York about 10 years ago is when I flexed into HR tech. And Recruitics is my second role in HR tech and in TA tech in particular, but a bit of a winding road. But what I really found was coming from a background where I've been in site operations, I've had to hire a lot of people, I've had to manage a lot of people.

And ultimately the systems and technologies that have been in place over the years, especially 10, 15 years ago, very antiquated, very difficult to use, introduced a lot more friction in particular on the talent side, but even internal to the organization. And if you really think about the experience of advertising and job advertising and recruitment and attracting talent, what we've done as an industry over the past 10 years, maybe that's at 20 years, we've taken the advertisement out of the classifieds and we've moved it online. And we've taken the applications off of the paper stack and we've moved them online.

And that was really like step one of the digital transformation, right? And so I got into this field and I went, oh my gosh, there's an entire world of opportunity. And it's a really exciting place to be because 10 years ago, HR historically very underfunded, very tech, almost adverse.

I know, I know, I know. But when you look at the amount of opportunity there is for improvement in the space, it's something that is still really a blue ocean of opportunity for technologists, but also for professionals of all stripes.

Serge Boudreau: I'm curious, I'm sure everyone in the audience here knows what Recruitics is. The audience listening at home probably doesn't. So what is Recruitics? What problem are you trying to solve?

Adam Stafford: So simply put, Recruitics is a recruitment marketing platform. So our mission every day is to make it easy for our clients to attract and hire great talent. Now we're known in this audience for really pioneering programmatic advertising, programmatic job advertising specifically.

And that was 2011, 2012, 2013. But today, what Recruitics does is we bring a data-driven philosophy to all facets of recruitment marketing. That could be from TikTok advertising to job boards, could be career sites, landing pages, video engagement solutions.

And we have a core founding belief that if you use data to make decisions, you're gonna make a better decision. And that's whether a human is making that decision or a machine.

Serge Boudreau: How do you do it? What's the secret sauce?”

Adam Stafford: It's actually, it's very simple, Serge. This is more a business principle than anything else. If you hire great people and you build great technology and you give those people great tech, you get great results.

It may not be the answer you want, but it's very simple.

Shelley Billinghurst: So are you saying that you invented Programmatic?

Adam Stafford: So Recruitics invented Programmatic. Tim Deneen actually is in the room. I'm going to claim credit for Tim here. Tim is the inventor of job programmatic advertising. Tim? Give a wave, take a bow.

Serge Boudreau: Take a bow!

Adam Stafford: Tim, thank you for creating a segment for me to have a job in. I appreciate that. I owe my job to you. And Tim was an Indeed employee in the early days of Indeed.

Serge Boudreau: There's a lot of them here.

Adam Stafford: Yeah, and Tim looked at the consumer advertising space and he looked at the job advertising space and he said, there's gotta be a better way. And Tim, early days figured out how to do this.

Since then, a number of friendly competitors have entered the field and we compete and cooperate. Ultimately, as we looked at programmatic advertising, taking shape over the first few years of programmatic advertising, going up against the entrenched, then I'll say it, post and pray, job board models or the duration-based advertising models. You know, Everybody going against it, it was kind of banded together. It was interesting. We competed, but the market share was so wide open for programmatic that what was good for any one of us was good for all of us.

Shelley Billinghurst: Recruitics recently launched, let me quote you, the world's first AI-powered conversational analytics experience for talent acquisition. And Serge and I debated, the name is Bree-on or Bri-on? Or how do you say it in French?

Serge Boudreau: I said Bree-on when I asked him, and he looked at me like I had eyes on my forehead. Like, what are you talking about? It's just what came to my brain, but.

Shelley Billinghurst: How do you say it?

Adam Stafford: Our analyst is Brion, though I am fond of Château Haut-Brion. And so I understand the inclination. Yeah, let me tell you a little bit about Brion. Brion is an AI analyst, right? Chatbot, you could call it that. That is the current form of this technology today.

But what we saw in really late 2022 and going into early 2023, there's been a lot of talk about AI at the conference here. What we saw is that the barrier to entry in terms of producing generative AI and producing AI applications that could actually create, versus simply calculate and regress and provide an answer, which we've done for a long time, the barriers to entry came way down. And so four or five years ago, we've always talked about using AI to unlock value in our data at Recruitics.

And the barriers are just too high, quite frankly. When you wanted to create generative AI or use advanced AI models five years ago, the first thing you did is you hired academics and scientists, right? You had to actually make the AI. Today, we just have to put it to work. And so we saw that opportunity unlock with really the first instance in use, my first use of ChatGPT, the LLMs that have propagated since then, there's quite a few different options. We use OpenAI and ChatGPT at Recruitics, and the advancements are phenomenal.

And so the LLM though, really is that language processing layer. And what we really saw an opportunity to do was to unlock the insight and ultimately the data-driven results that we get from the data we collect doing advertising across millions of jobs. We saw the ability to unlock that and make it available to people who do not have a technical background.

And so the point of Brion is that Shelley, Serge, anyone in the audience with a non-technical background can log in to our analytics application and ask: what are my top performing sources? Which job board should I use in the Northeast? Which state should I use that job board in? Which day of the week am I getting the best results on?

Serge Boudreau: And they can see that ahead of the game. Now, if you're using programmatic, do you run it, you see what the optimization, then three months after you kind of have an idea, okay, this is going to work well at this particular time in this area. So what you're saying here is, I can see up front.

Adam Stafford: I'm saying you can see up front and you can get instant answers about what's happened and what's working and what isn't. And that's a big change because we, as a service provider, we employ a lot of analysts. And that's because our clients, our TA professionals, they typically come out of recruitment and they're not data analysts.

And the skill of data analysis really isn't germane. It's something that recruitment professionals have had to learn as an adjacent skill to their core skill set, their core skill sets of empathy, of management, of ultimately attracting talent. They've had to learn this other thing that's complex and technical and it's hard, right?

Some turn into data nerds and they love it. Others do not, and they do it out of force and necessity. But Brion does it, says it. I can just do that for you. You don't have to hire somebody else to do that for you.

Shelley Billinghurst: That's incredible. Cause I know it's usually starting with one question, you get the data and then you realize, oh, that poses a different question. And then you're usually six questions deep.

And if you're having to go to an analyst, even a really good data analyst on your team, they might get you the answer… in about a month?

Serge Boudreau: How bad is—you haven't had really good analysts—a month?

Shelley Billinghurst: It's, you think it should be longer?

Serge Boudreau: Oh, Probably shorter.

Shelley Billinghurst: Well, if the analyst has good tools, that's what I hear you saying here is that we now have a tool where you can just ask exactly what you want rather than having to put together.

Adam Stafford: So that's exactly right. I think about being an SVP of TA who's running a large marketing budget for a Fortune 500 company. What do you want to know on Monday morning?

How much have I spent this month? Where are my applicants coming from? Which requisitions am I behind on? Am I pacing ahead or behind of my budget? Am I pacing ahead or behind of my fill rates? I want that information at 8am on Monday.

And I want it every Monday. Okay, you could hire an analyst to do that for you and work on the weekends and prepare reports and all that stuff, but you don't need to anymore. And that's what's really exciting about Brion, is that Brion can give you those answers.

And instead of it going through an email to your agency on the service side, to the marketing team, to an analyst who goes into a queue, does the work, munges the numbers, answers one question, and then it flows back through that same chain. And it's usually not a month, it could take days, but now you can do it in minutes. So a couple of things that we did, very interesting conversation earlier with Guru, talking about how to limit the responses that AI provides.

And that's actually one of the core tenets in our dev practices as we brought this to life. So we said, if Brion isn't confident, we want Brion to say, “I don't know,” or to say, “here's what I do know, and here's what I don't know.” And in the first versions, that was pretty frustrating for me as the CEO, right?I'm like, come on, we got to know here, right? 

But our CTO pushed back on that and said, actually, we want to project the confidence that we are confident in. Because at the end of the day, Recruitics, our name, recruitment and analytics, right?

And analytics is all about data, and that implies and has to be imbued with accuracy. And so for us, the first feature really focused on giving accurate results. The second one was actually follow up questions.

So Shelley, like you said, you ask one question, that begets another question, that begets another question. It's almost biblical in scope, right? And then what Brian does is it actually comes back and says, here's three or four questions that you might want to ask next.

Serge Boudreau: What has been the adoption with your clients? How are they feeling about it?

Adam Stafford: So adoption is early. We've rolled this out to a select set of clients. On the governance topic, we have Fortune 500 clients who've just said, "Hey, saw your press release, can you make sure that's turned off?”

Serge Boudreau: Yeah, okay, yes. That's exactly where I was going. I'm curious.

Adam Stafford: You know, we built this in a modular way so that it can be applied or opened up or pulled back. And so what we're doing right now, we're in an early release program with a select handful of clients. What's really interesting about putting this into the wild is that clients are doing things with this that I would never have thought to do.

Great client of ours, LabCorp. They're a laboratory services provider for the medical field, one of the largest in the country and the world. Our point of contact at LabCorp, Edith came down from on high and said, "Chris, you've got to cut your budget by 10%.”

Instead of calling us, he actually asked Brion. He said, take a look at my media mix, take a look at my performance. Where can I cut 10% of budget without drastically impacting application flow?

And I went, wait, did the bot tell you how to spend less money? Turn that off. Turn it off.

No, but more seriously, you know, what happened? He actually gave me a very useful response. Because what Brion is able to point out is Brion is able to point out where 10% is significant but not too significant, but it was really where moderate reductions in budget would result in application flows that it believed would still guarantee a good outcome.

Looking at places where there's a little bit of over delivery, look at places where maybe there were underperforming publishers in the network and he was able to use that as a foundation to actually implement that plan. So it's very cool.

Shelley Billinghurst: Amazing.

Serge Boudreau: Thanks for sharing. I'm going to ask you a little bit of a controversial question. So in 2019, Recruitics acquired KRT marketing, which was a shift because we saw TMP bought Poringo, there was ClickIQ bought by Indeed.

So recently, we had AppCast, who is actually sponsoring this segment, acquire Bayard, which caused a lot of the conversations in the agency world. It's like, hey, our data is being shared to potentially a customer. What's your take here? Because you went through it in 2019.

Adam Stafford: We did. And so a little bit of background on the Recruitics acquisition of KRT marketing. It was a very interesting time.

Recruitics actually, our first product was a $49 pay-as-you-go monthly product. Our roots were as a tech company. And we became an agency, really, with roots and foundation in technology.

And we made a very conscious decision to continue to build technology, but keep that within our agency. When we acquired KRT marketing, what we really found is we found sort of our long lost brother and sister out on the West Coast. And we found people who thought like us and we found people who approached problems like us.

And also we were on the agency side, we were about the same size company. And really that coming together actually, but the project name was “Stronger Together.” And we became a much fuller service offering, but also kept the underpinning in technology post that acquisition.

And that's really when Recruitics became a true end to end solution provider, full service agency provider, underpinned with technology and software. We thought that was the right decision at the time. And people questioned us at the time going, shouldn't agencies be acquiring tech?

The agencies have all the relationships, they have all this money, all this stuff, right? We're just not going to worry about that too much. When AppCast acquired Bayard, now interesting thing there, you left out Symphony Talent and the HODIS transformation.

But when AppCast acquired Bayard, what we really saw that was a validation that what we did wasn't crazy, so good. But second, what it really did is it consolidated the industry in a really meaningful way. If I look at our competitive landscape now, there are clear lines and there are clear lines of technology companies, platforms that have full agency services, and that's Raidency, that's AppCast, that's Recruitics and that's Symphony Talent.

Then there are pure play agency service providers. And from my point of view, I look at that trend and I think it's going to continue. I think that the consolidation of technology being the foundation with phenomenal service layers wrapped around it is going to be the dominant model in the future.

Obviously, we have that model at Recruitics and so I believe in it. But if you look at the trend, I think that's the trend that we're seeing. We're going to see further consolidation in the industry and it's going to be towards these models where technology is really the foundation of the relationship and the services bring that technology to life and ensure that the technology is being put to the use of solving customer problems.

From my point of view, it was a great acquisition. I've got great relationships with Chris, Matt, Tom, Michael, Louis who has moved on to Greener Pastures, right? So very happy for everyone involved in that.

But I also do think that it was a really good move for our industry and for our segment of the industry as well.

Serge Boudreau: Should regular agencies be worried right now?

Adam Stafford: Yeah. 

Serge Boudreau: Yeah?

Adam Stafford: Yeah, you've got a lot of agencies, you alluded to this Serge, but you've got a lot of agencies that use the technology now that is provided to them by people they compete with.

That's a situation that we certainly never wanted to be in as Recruitics. And we made multiple decisions over the years to ensure that we did not put ourselves in that situation. And what we're also seeing is that some of the PurePlay tech providers now, there's a bit of a shift happening.

I know it's not in mass. Some folks are sticking with their current providers, regardless, but I do think that there is a risk when you're applying your proprietary knowledge, your proprietary insight, you're instituting that in strategies and ultimately in buying patterns. And all of that data is flowing through a system that is ultimately owned and controlled by your competitor. I think that's a risk.

Serge Boudreau: I'm going to jump in, we talked about this a little bit earlier as far as Recruitics being one of the first programmatic players in the space or the first now that we've confirmed that and like to actually bring the technology out. Adoption has been decent in the US, but if we look at Europe, if we look at Canada, where it's under 10%, why is that? How do we get the other countries outside of the US to adopt programmatic?

Adam Stafford: So it's a really good question, Serge. There are a couple of nuances. We're actually seeing more traction in Canada with large enterprises. We're very proud of some of the logos of some of the great Canadian companies that we service today. We actually opened a UK office, gosh, nine years ago now. And so we opened a UK office, we have a UK entity.

And early days, there was some very fast progress, in particular among job board buyers, right? If you think about programmatic technology at its core, if that's the only thing we're doing for a client, what we're doing is we're maximizing output in terms of the applications or the traffic that they're able to generate from a marketing budget. We use data to do that, right?

Very attractive and very aligned with the revenue model of job boards and staffing agencies. Direct employers solve different problems, though. CPA efficiency is one element of success, but it's not the entire package.

When we went into the UK, we saw some early pickup with customers in the job board space, a little bit in the staffing agency space. But what we really ran into is we ran into corporate cultures that were much more based on relationships, I think, than financial results. In American organizations, financial results and ultimately the P&L drives decision making.

What we ran into in the UK, and this is something that we see in Europe as well, is that if there's a long standing relationship behind a provider and things are working, ousting that incumbent provider could be large contracts for postings on one of the big job boards, StepStone, things like that, actually ousting that and suggesting a different model, there's a very high bar to make that happen. And so I do think it's coming.

Ultimately the same financial realities that American companies face are based all over the world. But what I also think is that we're seeing some of those incumbents adopt different models. And even if you look at AppCast, we mentioned a minute ago, AppCast is owned by StepStone and Axel Springer.

So it's ultimately a PE firm and fund, but through StepStone, that relationship is a publisher going, okay, how do we figure out this programmatic thing and get ahead of it?

Serge Boudreau: As a CEO, you've got a lot in your mind. I'm sure there's nights that you can't sleep. What's a problem in our space right now that just is keeping you up at night thinking about?

Adam Stafford: That's a good question. I'll say, last night I kept waking up thinking that I'd missed our interview. So that was the first.

Serge Boudreau: Well, you're here!

Adam Stafford: So I made it and I was here. So that was good. But more seriously, with some of the problems that are facing our industry today, one of the biggest ones is fraud.

But one of the other big ones is the volume. And this is actually more serious in my estimation. It's the volume of applicants that can be delivered through AI and through automation without any kind of filtering mechanism.

And so if you're familiar with Sonara or LazyApply, we have multiple technologies now where AI agents are being deployed by candidates, which is awesome, right? 

Serge Boudreau: Why is it awesome?

Adam Stafford: Think about that use of it. It's awesome because I, as a candidate, now have a technology that can go to routine work for me. Why should I have to fill out my name 100 times to apply to 100 jobs? But oh boy, do I have any investment in any of those applications? Is there any filtering layer that says I'm a good fit for those applications?

It's already a big area of concern for the corporate buyers who look at an advertising network and say, hey, we're getting all these applicants, but it's hard to get a hold of them, even if they are qualified. Or worse yet, if it's the fraud case, we're getting a bunch of junk. And so those are two of the big problems that we have to solve.

I think that we have to do it on the employer's side. We have to meet the candidates where they are. I think that we have to embrace the fact that candidates are saying, I am not interested in filling out your application, I don't want to visit your career site. I am interested in the employment opportunity though. And I think that technology providers actually have a big opportunity here to create solutions where we can do, whether you call it matching or filtering or moderating, what we're able to do is we're able to facilitate the exchange of information via AI.

And candidate agents and potentially employer agents to actually arrive at an outcome where a candidate has been exposed to more opportunity and has been matched with a better opportunity. And it's not just within a single client's database. It's really across the ecosystem.

Shelley Billinghurst: Our final question for you.What's the future hold for Recruitics?

Adam Stafford: So it's exciting for us today. We started the conversation around Brion. And Brion is a chatbot. But if you look at the underlying technology, Brion is a way to unlock data where people are non-technical. We're applying that across all of our products. So that's very exciting.

With the caveat, we can turn it off to any potential customers listening who have not adopted AI and ultimately AI acceptable use practices and all that stuff. We can still shut it off. But AI is where we see we're unlocking the potential that sits in the vast amount of data we've collected over the past 10 years.

And as we look ahead, it enables us to be more predictive, to look around the corner, and to help our clients attract the talent that they need today, but also future-proof their strategy so that when changes happen, because everybody's familiar, there's some big job boards out there that make changes and may not always be to the benefit of the employer. When those changes happen, what we're able to do is we're really able to help future-proof the strategies of our clients against those changes so they can ensure that they have a diversified mix of talent flowing through to the recs.

Serge Boudreau: So I was hoping that you would have an announcement exclusive to us on this podcast right now that you have an acquisition that's happened here at TATech. Is that the case? Is there anything like that coming down the pipeline that you would like to share?

Adam Stafford: No comment.

Shelley Billinghurst: Nice try, though. Nice try.

Serge Boudreau: Adam, this was such a pleasure. Thank you for joining us on The Recruitment Flex. Thank you for joining us here. If anyone wants to get a hold of you, what's the best way to get a hold of Adam Stafford?

Adam Stafford: It's very easy. Send me an email, Reach out to me directly.

Serge Boudreau: That's why I haven't been able to get a hold of you. I have a connection pending on LinkedIn for probably four months now, so I'll make sure I send you an email. But again, thank you so much. This was a real pleasure, and I love what's going on at Recruitics, so congrats.

Adam Stafford: Well, thank you very much. Serge, Shelley, you have a great show. Big fan, and I really appreciate you having me here.

Shelley Billinghurst: Thank you. Au revoir.

Serge Boudreau: Shelley, let's face it, texting candidates is the easiest way to hire quicker today. But your cell phone doesn't connect to your ATS. You're sharing your personal number with strangers. That's pretty scary, right, Shelley? And it's not even legally compliant.

Shelley Billinghurst: This is where our friends at RecTex come in. They've created simple yet powerful text recruiting software that works with your ATS. Plus, it's designed by recruiters for recruiters, so you know it works. To learn more and book a demo, visit, mention The Recruitment Flex, and get 10% off annual plans.

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