Why we stopped recruiting for agencies.

I’ve recruited into this market for nearly nine years now and have worked heavily with agencies for most of that time. There are many great agencies which are filled with great people, but at the beginning of this year, we made a decision not to recruit for any of them any more. Why have we done this?


First, a quick look at the recruitment model.

Not wishing to bore you, but to answer that question properly, we need to first look at the contingency recruitment model – ie. how companies like mine actually make their money. Recruitment works on a risk/reward model – it’s basically no-win-no-fee, to put it crudely. We get paid when we introduce someone who is hired by the business.

As a recruiter, part of my job is to put the appropriate level of work behind a job in order to get a result (and get paid). In order to do this, we’ll look at a number of factors – the number of other recruitment agencies who have been instructed on the brief, what our current candidate pool is like, how strong our database and network is in that area and for the level, where the role is based, also factoring generic business factors – how busy we are, whether we have other briefs on at a similar level – that sort of thing.

In-house recruitment teams.

Most agencies have invested in building in-house recruitment teams to one extent or another and this makes a lot of sense. Agencies grow quickly and the market has high staff-turnover across the board – they demand volume and the sort of attention you’ll only get from dedicated in-house staff. I have friends in several of these sorts of set-ups (including former NRCoers Nic and Nik), and these sorts of teams are made up of experienced recruiters who know what they’re doing.

Demand in the market.

I can remember a time (not-too-long ago) when I spent my hours crane-lifting people from one agency role to another. The market heavily leant towards agencies, with lots of growth and differentiation – excitement in the market. Agency roles were fairly varied, and as a candidate in fields like search, you didn’t have a great deal of other options.

As I explored in this earlier rant, there’s been a humongous surge in the number of people wanting to move out of agencies. It’s extremely difficult for agencies to find strong candidates for like-for-like replacements (ie. an Account Manager moving into a similar Account Manager role). Part of the problem is that the roles themselves no longer differ enough, or at least they’re not perceived to differ enough. A lot of the time, it results in mercenary moves. One solution to the shortfall has been over-promotion (explored in yet another rant here).

The difference it makes.

The difference this makes is pretty simple when you boil it down – in order to fill agency roles, you need to to talk to people. A LOT of people. Agency recruitment has become even more of a volume-game and put simply it’s not one we’re good at playing. Quality and quantity seldom mix and as a business which works by referral-only, the market has moved away from us.

Recruiting for in-house roles.

We’ve been weaning off our agency client base for three or four years now. We were fortunate to have been heavily involved with the build out of a sizeable in-house performance team back then, and subsequently referred to other businesses who were doing the same. The balance between agency and in-house has been gradually shifting for us and we’ve got a point where it makes sense for us to focus 100% on helping to set up in-house teams.

In-house, we tend to work as sole-agency or as one of a few specialists, so the level of risk we’re exposed to is much lower. Thanks to demand from the market for in-house roles, we can also work roles more efficiently. Focus on quality rather than quantity.

Agencies will always have a place in our heart, just not our balance sheet.

For more information on moving in-house, read our collection of blogs here.

Be your own boss, sort of. Life as a contractor

Nadiya average Paid Search expert

As the number of people I interview grows it’s becoming harder and harder to describe sitting down and having coffee in new and exciting ways. Well here goes. I had come to a warm beverage shop to meet Nadiya, a free-thinking, footloose Search specialist, currently working at ASOS.


Nadiya has forsaken big agency life for the seemingly not-so-secure life of contracting – taking short term contracts, from whoever needs a temporary Search expert. As we sat down to drink our, hot, brown, foamy, coffee-tasting drinks (I’ve lost it) I wanted to know what the potential pitfalls are of contracting, how strong the contract market is and why it can be great leaving a permanent job for a short-term contract.

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How would you reinvent the digital agency?

Everything’s going to be Hall-right

“You’re going to have to do very well to beat me now.” I shouted confidently to Neilson at the other end of the table. Three minutes later, he had beaten me.

We were playing table tennis and I had been 10-5 up in a game to 11. Not my finest hour on the table, still, you can’t help but enjoy a bit of ping pong. Our battle ground was in the centre of an emerging creative hub of a new look Kings Cross. Soon to be home to Google HQ, Kings Cross is proving to be a popular spot for creatives and entrepreneurs, and was where Neilson Hall had chosen to locate his innovative new digital agency, Illuminate.

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Neilson has spent his time until recently working for some of the biggest digital agencies in the business and it seems he has taken all the positives and applied them to his own project. I wanted to know which learnings Neilson had taken forward and which aspects of digital agencies belonged firmly in the past. Over to Mr Hall.

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