40 Years In Recruitment: Part Two by Russell White

Part Two – The 1990’s

This month I celebrate my 40th year in recruitment. There are not many people I know who have stayed the course in the industry and are still ‘at the coalface’ after all this time. Indeed I may be unique! Recruitment has changed beyond recognition since 1983 and I feel now is a good time to share my journey, as I somehow doubt I will still be doing the same thing after 50 years! The easiest way of doing this is breaking down each decade – sharing some of the stories and highs and lows that have occurred over a 4-decade career over 4 parts. This is Part 2 – The 1990’s.

If you haven’t checked out Part One yet, I recommend doing so first.

Personal Development

The 1990s were a period of personal development and change for me. I had to leave my previous company due to circumstances beyond my control. It had invested over a million pounds in an early iteration of computer systems that are commonplace today, connecting several offices to centralised recruitment with telephony connectivity and what we nowadays would coin a CRM system. It was the first of its kind in the UK and sadly did not work. The agency lost revenue and eventually closed several offices, and reduced headcount and although I was not impacted, I recognised it was time to go. As a ‘known’ direct marketing recruiter I approached several recruitment consultancies, specialising in marketing, looking for a new role. I was fortunate enough to be offered a job with all of them but decided to join The Lloyd Group, a specialist market recruitment company that had built its reputation on placing marketing and advertising professionals. I was recruited as a Senior Consultant to build the direct marketing division but I also was tasked with recruiting for PR agencies. 

There are many anecdotes from that early time but one that sticks in my mind was visiting a PR agency, to take a brief from the owner, who I can only describe as very Ab Fab*. The meeting was, I recall, scheduled for 9 am but she eventually arrived at 9.30 am, with two small dogs under each arm. The meeting began at 9.45 am, with the little dogs yapping and running around her luxuriously appointed office. One of the dogs decided to do its business on a Persian rug in the middle of the office but she carried on talking regardless until the smell became rather noticeable. She picked up the phone and instructed her secretary to come and barked at her to clear that mess up. Suffice it to say I did not fill the vacancy, accidentally on purpose! 

The Birth of Big Data

After a couple of years, I was promoted to Associate Director and started to build a team of recruiters but again the processes were mainly manual, involving rehashing CVs, sending details to clients in the post and lots of telephone work. The utilisation of data was becoming more important in DM around that time and I got a brief from one of the larger specialist agencies at the time who wanted someone to source data from lists and advise on selections of potential names and addresses based on the campaign requirements. The role did not have a name but between myself and the client (still a good friend), we came up with the job title Data Planner.  

1993 was a tough year, inflation was running at 10% and there was a recession in the UK that impacted recruitment. Fortunately, direct marketing as a discipline was still growing so whilst other disciplines were suffering the DM Division began to expand and the policy was to bring in people who had industry experience and train them to be recruiters. 

New Technology: New Potential

In 1994, one evening, my brother-in-law, who at the time was a Producer on Tomorrow’s World, popped around with his Apple Classic and a modem. The TV programme, that broadcast on BBC1 looked at new technology. As such he got to ‘play’ with new tech to be featured on the programme.  He plugged the modem into the telephone socket, dialled a number and after a few shrill tweets and sounds opened a program called Netscape. It was still in (what we would call Beta testing) but he had connected to the internet. He showed me one of the first websites created by Yahoo which had a directory of other websites. It was a revelation and I saw its potential. 

By 1996 we were being asked to identify people who could build, create and maintain websites. A new job role was created called Website Manager, which combined content and programming. As there are so few people around the world with existing experience, it was a case of identifying people who had complementary skills and we found individuals who designed and created CD-Roms and switched them into these roles in what was called ‘New Media’. 

In 1998 I recruited a person and oversaw the first ‘New Media’ department and one of the first specialist recruiters in this field. Other highlights by the end of the decade included placing candidates on every continent (excluding Antarctica), becoming a Board Director and working with (at the time) some of the leaders of the marketing and advertising industry, who were building Direct Marketing divisions in their agencies. By 1989 the DM and New Media Division had grown to 7 people and reached its zenith. 

I left The Lloyd Group in 2000 due to circumstances beyond my control and joined Premier Consultants.   

*Ab Fab or Absolutely Fabulous was a TV sitcom focussing on a PR mogul, starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.