Very important article from today’s WSJ on creating an employment brand through overt creativity. Very nice quotes from Dave “Hole Man” Lefkow…
Extra special thanks to Rob “Google’s Inspiration for their Company Came from my Last Name” Dromgoole for apprising me of this article.
Start-Up Lures Talent with Creative Pitch
Red 5 Studios Created a Wish List Of Its Ideal Job Candidates and Set Up A Campaign to Woo Each One
By SIMONA COVEL
June 4, 2007; Page B4
Four months ago, a FedEx box landed on the desk of Scott Youngblood, a videogame designer working in Bend, Ore. Inside, he found a glossy box nestled in thick foam. Inside that box was another and, within that one, another.
Eventually, Mr. Youngblood opened five boxes, nested Russian-doll style, and discovered an iPod shuffle music player engraved with his name. He pressed play and heard the voice of Mark Kern, president and chief executive of online videogame maker Red 5 Studios Inc., talking about Mr. Youngblood’s past work on games and inviting him to a Web site to learn more about Red 5.
“I was blown away,” says Mr. Youngblood. Within two weeks, he interviewed at Red 5. And a little over a month later, he started a new job there — leaving his position at Sony Corp.’s Sony Computer Entertainment America and moving more than 800 miles away.
Chasing the Best
Mr. Youngblood’s package was one of 100 that Red 5 sent to its “dream hires,” identified through a concerted recruiting campaign. Four months after the recruiting effort launched, three of the candidates have joined the Aliso Viejo, Calif., upstart while one is currently interviewing. And industry buzz about the campaign has helped to raise the company’s profile.
Red 5 has struggled to compete against established, well-known companies to attract top talent. Traditional postings on industry Web sites didn’t generate enough résumés. Placing ads next to big companies’ or setting up booths beside them at industry fairs, Mr. Kern says, “diminished the perception of the opportunity and didn’t do us any good.”
It’s a perennial concern for small companies with limited resources, recruiting budgets and name recognition. “Most people you want are probably working,” rather than trolling job boards, says Dave Lefkow, chief executive officer of talentspark, a recruiting consultancy in Seattle.
So experts say small firms’ resources are often best spent focusing on ideal job candidates and courting them in attention-grabbing ways, rather than casting a wide net with job listings and waiting for candidates to come to them.
“The key point is creativity” for small companies, Mr. Lefkow says.
The Wish List
Red 5 was founded in 2005 by several members of the team behind the popular online game “World of Warcraft.” It has 37 employees in the U.S. and 12 in China, and hopes to fill as many as 30 additional positions in coming months. Red 5 was self-funded until late last year, when it received $18.5 million from venture-capital firms Benchmark Capital and Sierra Ventures, both based in Menlo Park, Calif.
Last summer, a company board member quizzed the 39-year-old Mr. Kern about how hiring was going, and, he says, he could answer only that he had ads placed and recruiters working on searches. “The resume flow was very poor,” he says. “No one had heard of us.” With many competitors trying to double their team size, Mr. Kern adds, “it’s pretty tough out there.”
The director told him he wasn’t looking for the right people — or using the best methods. So Mr. Kern decided to come up with a wish list of videogame pros he would ideally like to hire and find a way to tell them about Red 5’s plans to build its flagship game. He hoped to fill three or four key positions and sow the seeds for more hiring.
Red 5’s staff, then numbering 20, brainstormed on a roster of about 250 sought-after game developers. Then, Mr. Kern and about 10 employees spent four months learning what they could about each. “The hardest part of the project was the research,” he says. “It starts with Google, and you branch out from there.”
They rented and played the developers’ games, looking for the animation style or technology they wanted in their games. Hunting for clues to individualize each pitch, the team tracked down the prospects’ blogs and posts in industry forums. The list eventually narrowed to 100.
At the same time, Red 5 looked for help in crafting the pitch. The company spent $4,000 working with a Seattle design firm that Mr. Kern says didn’t seem to understand who Red 5 was trying to reach. So he turned to San Francisco-based Pool, whose package designs he had seen and liked.
After considering a few options — including an envelope containing a key, to be followed the next day by a locked box — the company settled on the nested iPods.
The fifth box contained an iPod with a personalized recording from Red 5’s CEO Mark Kern.
Mr. Kern installed a Chinese gong in the office to ring each time a candidate contacted him. The day the packages were expected to arrive, “nothing happened,” he says. “It was nail-biting.” But within a couple of days, the gong was ringing so often the building manager called to complain, he says.
The project’s initial budget was $8,000, a figure Mr. Kern says is “laughable.” By the time the company was finished, it spent $50,000 — about as much as it would cost to pay a recruiter to fill two key positions, he estimates.
Creativity on the Cheap
Talentspark’s Mr. Lefkow says firms lacking the same kind of recruiting budget can still replicate Red 5’s strategy. For instance, a company could offer gift cards or an invitation to a company-hosted event. Or luring talented candidates could be as simple as sending flowers and a note or a birthday card.
Also, small firms have an advantage in being able to reach out from the CEO’s office — a touch that’s appreciated by job candidates, Mr. Lefkow says, and that’s difficult for big companies to replicate because big-company CEOs typically don’t get involved in rank-and-file hiring.
Mr. Lefkow adds that when companies don’t have a lot of money to spend, it’s important that they focus on the right pool of candidates.
While Red 5’s project drew the hires and interest hoped for, it was costly and time consuming, Mr. Kern says, and the firm doesn’t plan to repeat it anytime soon. “Our resume flow is about 10 times what it was before the campaign,” he says. The company lists job openings on its Web site, but it doesn’t post paid ads on job sites anymore.
Less quantifiable are the relationships forged and the boost to the firm’s cachet within the industry. The campaign triggered a wave of blog posts from gamers, recruiters and marketers.