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NEXXT Exclusive: Gordon Burnes, CMO of Bullhorn

NEXXT EXCLUSIVE: this month the boys have a chat with Bullhorn's CMO Gordon Burnes about the current state of marketing in the recruitment space on the heels of their annual survey.

Notably, the guys dig into the most popular (and unpopular) strategies being deployed by firms around the world. Spoiler alert: Job boards are in trouble.

Enjoy, and be sure to visit Nexxt ... there's no show without sponsors like them.


Chad: This, The Chad & Cheese Podcast, brought to you in partnership with TA Tech. TA Tech, the association for talent acquisition solutions. Visit

Chad: Okay, Joel. Quick question.

Joel: Yeah?

Joel: Dude, I pretty much check it immediately. I bet everyone listening is reaching to check their phones right now.

Chad: Yeah. I know. I call it our Pavlovian dog reflex to text messaging.

Chad: What?

Joel: We had a crazy high candidate response rate within the first hour alone.

Chad: Which are all great reasons why The Chad & Cheese Podcast love Text2Hire from Nexxt.

Joel: Love it.

Chad: That's right. Nexxt, with a double X, not the triple X.

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Joel: Easy.

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Joel: Hey, boys and girls. It's your boy, Cheese, here with another monthly exclusive sponsored by Nexxt. This month, we're honored to be joined by Gordon Burns, CMO, that's chief marketing officer, at Bullhorn. Gordon, welcome to podcast.

Gordon: Hey. Thanks so much. Good to be here.

Joel: Give us the elevator pitch on you and tell us about Bullhorn, for those who don't know.

Gordon: Yeah, great. I've been at Bullhorn about four years. Came from IBM, where I ran marketing for part of the information management group there. Really excited to be at Bullhorn. We've been growing incredibly quickly over the last four years. We do CRM software plus operations capabilities for staffing firms of all sizes. We like to think that we help companies do everything from candidates all the way through to cash. We operate worldwide. But, most importantly, we're focused on delivering a great customer experience. We've been able to ... had the opportunity to work with a lot of wonderful people and a lot of wonderful companies. It's been a great ride so far.

Joel: What does a typical client look like? Are we talking global? What size? Company names that people might know?

Gordon: It's interesting. We have about 8,000 customers right now, close to 100,000 users. It really spans the entire spectrum, from entrepreneur just starting out, gets out of college and wants to dive into the business, all the way through to Adecco and Manpower and Kelly, some of the largest firms. And we sort of organize our company around these segments because, obviously, larger companies operate very differently and have very different needs from smaller ones. So we really try to meet the needs of our customers, whatever size they are.

Chad: So, Gordon, you would actually put out a marketing survey. Now, coming from Bullhorn. So, first off, I think it's awesome. We get more information with regard to marketing, especially in the staffing arena, but why did you do it? What was the impetus for actually wanting to put together research or a survey like this?

Gordon: Yeah, it's interesting. I think that the marketing in the staffing industry is going through a really big change, and we're sort of at the front end of a big wave that we believe is really going to sweep the industry. And that's going to happen at the organizational level, it's going to happen with technology, it's going to happen with tactics, and it's pretty exciting.

Gordon: If you look around at the evolution of how staffing firms arise, a lot of owner operated businesses grew up super strong on the sales side, but they get to a point where they're really trying to scale programmatically. Like, how do we scale without just knocking on doors, right? And then they say, well, there's this thing called marketing, so they go hire somebody that they knew in college, and this person does a little advertising, and it doesn't really work, and so they're sort of stuck, right?

Gordon: So I think a lot of owners, owner operators are saying, hey, what do I really need to do to scale this business, and marketing's probably a really important component of growing the business in the long run, so what do I need to do?

Chad: Right. Right, right, right. So in the actual survey itself, and just going top line, it actually said "87% of global staffing and recruiting firms do not have a CMO." No love.

Gordon: Yeah.

Chad: So who is in charge of marketing, or are they just not doing marketing at all? I mean, that doesn't make any sense to me.

Gordon: Yeah, no, it's really interesting. I think all firms are doing marketing for sure, and I think what that statistic points out is the relative importance that most firms put on marketing. Marketing is sort of like an afterthought, and so the chief marketing officer, or the person who is in charge of marketing at the firm typically does not have a seat at the executive table.

Gordon: In terms of how do we really grow and expand, and how do we manage our customers, the marketing voice is sort of secondary, and I think, in a lot of cases, it's really relegated to, "Hey, can you go place some ads on that job board over there" versus what is the strategic way we can deploy our marketing dollars to grow fastest?" Those are two totally different things. One is just really tactically ... You just go and hire your friend out of college to go place ads on a job board. The other is a really complicated question to answer. Where do I put my marginal dollar of investment to grow the firm?

Gordon: To answer that question is very hard. You've got to have a lot of data. You've got to have a lot of information. You have to have done a lot of tests around different channels, but if you want to spend your money correctly, you've got to make the investment to answer that question.

Chad: Well, for staffing firms, it's really two sided though, right? Because you're trying to grow the business line, so you're trying to gain more clients, but also you have a marketing aspect where you're trying to help focus on the candidate side, too, right? Or is that something you guys really don't touch on?

Gordon: No, absolutely. Totally, and that just sort of increases the complexity. But, you know, in this environment, the challenges are really weighted on the candidate side, right? We're essentially a full employment. We've got the job mix that a lot of the clients is changing, so you need to find different kinds of skill sets. I think, for the most part, the 60% to 70% of the challenge on the marketing side is really about figuring out the candidate side of the equation versus the client side.

Joel: Gordon, I'm curious about some historical perspective from the survey, which doesn't quite come out in the executive summary. Assuming that you've done this survey a few times over the years, 80% is a very bad number in terms of embracing marketing, but what, historically, do you see ... Are staffing companies embracing marketing more, or is this number going down over time?

Gordon: Yeah. So this is the first year we did a formal survey. We have, over time, started to notice that more and more companies are placing VPs of Marketing in CMOs, and so this year we said, hey, look, we really have to go get some real quantifiable data to understand how this is changing. Going forward, we'll definitely measure it, but as we interact with our customers and our prospects, we're starting to see the CMO be a larger voice in the conversation about how to run the business, and it's because of this question of scale and allocating dollars more effectively.

Gordon: And it's also, I think ... There's another component, which is there's a lot more technology out there to allow you to do different things that companies are sort of questioning, and do you really need somebody to say, hey, look, we want to put in a chat bot, or we want to put in marketing automation, or we want to put in dialogue management or whatever it is, and to have someone who can really do that effectively.

Joel: So a few of the metrics really stuck out to me, but I think the one that really sort of surprised me in going back historically ... Job boards talk a lot about "We're not dead," "We're as good as we've ever been," or "We're healthy," and the fact that your survey had that only 50% use job boards really shocked me. What do you think about that number?

Gordon: Well, I think what's happened is that there is a whole new set of channels to get to the candidate that didn't exist ten years ago, that you now have the whole email channel. You have social channels. You have pay-per-click. A lot of people are doing texting now, right? So I think it's more that there's just a proliferation of tactics that are available to go reach candidates, and also clients as well. And so I think in the old world, you probably had single channel marketing really, and now it's really about multichannel marketing.

Chad: Well, and often those channels, I mean, one of the channels that looks like it's gone down dramatically is pay per click job ads, only 34%.

Gordon: Yes. Yeah. Yeah, and I think what's happened there is that it's a little bit like the gold rush. People, when new channels become effective, you just have a whole bunch of money flowing into that channel, and it drives down the return. Right? And so this is another reason why the marketing function is so important, is that it's really about figuring out: What is the most effective way to generate your candidate sourcing and candidate engagement? And I would say that's another big piece of the puzzle here, is that a lot of these firms are figuring out that they're sitting on a gold mine, which is their own candidate database.

Chad: Right.

Gordon: And so as opposed to just spending money on job boards, they're saying, "Hey. How can I reactive the people that I've already talked to? Maybe I haven't talked to them in a while. But how do I activate that relationship and then start building on it?"

Chad: A couple of things, because that last part is something that we get onto a lot on the podcast. But first off, do you believe ... Because most of your clients, they're staffing firms, and Indeed is kicking staffing firms off of their platform. They're putting them in "Indeed jail." Do you think that might be a part of the impact as well, because they were spending a lion's share of their pay per click on Indeed? And now they're kicked off, so they're looking for other ways.

Gordon: Yeah. For sure. I mean, I think there's a mass exodus in the job board world towards very specific boards that are really targeted at the talent pools that you're looking for. And I think these sort of mass market forums are becoming the return on your dollar in these mass market forums is just dropping dramatically.

Chad: Right.

Gordon: And I think that's what you're seeing, really. And that's driving other changes as well.

Chad: I guess what it comes down to, the second part of what we were talking about was the resume database. Right? Companies have spent millions of dollars to actually create these resume databases, but they never use them. They're always looking outward instead of inward. So are you guys looking to, there at BullHorn, are you looking to partner with companies that actually help rejuvenate those databases and also market to those databases, versus going outside, going inside first?

Gordon: Yeah. For sure. Absolutely. I think putting in place the right technology to be able to programmatically go after the resume database is really important. I mean, there are all sorts of generic marketing technologies like Marketo and HubSpot that help you manage emails that you might send into your candidate database. And then there's more specific technologies that you could use around sort of putting out surveys or developing new content that you use to activate these relationships that have sort of gone dormant. I mean, there's also a whole content angle here, which is-

Chad: The nurturing type of angle. Right?

Gordon: Yeah, exactly. And if you think about the whole inbound marketing world, that HubSpot in particular championed, that's another, I think, source of candidate activation. I know we have one customer that has generated 30% of their fills through really awesome content that they post on their web, and then on their website. And then propagate through social media, so they have a very, very active social media presence that the candidates will follow. And then they get engaged with the content. And then as they get more engaged, then they start to see some of the opportunities that the company's working on.

Joel: Gordon, I'm curious about your thoughts on LinkedIn. It wasn't mentioned in the survey. Curious about its impact today versus maybe in the past or where you think the impact is going, as well as your opinion on sort of Microsoft's recent acquisition of GitHub and how that'll play into the whole sort of staffing, marketing world.

Gordon: Yeah. Really, really interesting dynamic there. LinkedIn is pretty interesting in the sense that they have, at least in the professional space, virtually 100% market share. And the challenge, I think, that any staffing agency will have with LinkedIn is: How much money are you going to spend there? Because you're already, assuming you have LinkedIn recruiter licenses, you're already spending a ton of money. Right?

Chad: Yeah.

Gordon: And then to the extent that you're using it for paid job ads, you've just got to figure out. You've got to make sure that you're getting the return that you want, versus the other channels. And I think this is really the crux of the issue here, which is that you've got to put in place the right information systems in your marketing departments, so that you can understand where you're getting the best return on your dollar because there are so many different channels. And to do that, you've got to invest in technology and you've got to invest in people, the right people that can actually make those decisions based on the data that you're collecting. With regard to LinkedIn, I think that we use it here, BullHorn of course.

Gordon: I think any staffing firm you talk to will use it. I think the question is making sure that you get the right return on those dollars. I think with regard to GitHub, what's interesting is that's obviously a portal into an incredibly important talent pool. And so the real question is: How is Microsoft going to allow staffing firms to get access to that talent pool? Now they have some cultural challenges around that. I think most of the GitHub folks are not necessarily anti Microsoft.

Joel: Yeah, they are.

Gordon: But they're doing their own thing. Right? It's a lot of ... And so I think Microsoft's going to have to tread pretty lightly there in terms of how they expose that world to the broader commercial world that LinkedIn is really trying to unlock for staffing firms.

Chad: We talk about Microsoft obviously and LinkedIn because they're one and the same now. But what about being able to utilize a company like Google to really boost your brand like we've seen with Jibe and some of the other orgs that are out there the plug into their job search API. And now Google has a candidate API, so that obviously the search, the job search is happening from the candidate's side of the house, and then also from the recruiter's side of the house, you're having the candidate search, having those come to together with their beautiful, magic black box of machine learning and AI. Is that something that you think, not just from a technical standpoint, but from a marketing standpoint, that gives an organization like BullHorn possibly an edge?

Gordon: Well, it's interesting. I think we're still in the early, early, early stages with that. When we talk to firms about how they're handling this, sort of the ones that are really on the cutting edge, what they're doing is, they're starting to experiment. And there are definitely some wobbles in terms of how that algorithm works. It could be on a region basis. It could be on a job basis. Could be on a pay basis. You really have to go and sort of experiment and see what's working. I think where we're headed here is that each firm is going to get more and more specialized around very specific candidate pools. And the channels that line up to access those talent pools will start to become clear because, as we talked about earlier, sort of the move away from Indeed by some firms is largely driven by this notion of, I need to get access to a richer and more specific talent pool. Right?

Chad: Right. Right.

Gordon: And I think that's where it's going to go. Now where I think Google has an advantage is on the matching algorithms. Obviously, they're one of the leading AI companies. But they're going to open those algorithms up, and so we'll be advantage of them. Other staffing industry software vendors will be able to take advantage of them. There will probably be third party services that do matching across job openings and talent pools. I think the key thing for a staffing firm right now is to start experimenting because this is going to evolve very quickly here.

Chad: Yeah. But don't you see that really giving a marketing boost as you're trying to, obviously, go out and pitch clients? And saying, "Look. We've got the best tech in the world. We know what we can do great. We know what we can't do great." Do you think that actually provides an advantage? Or do you think it's really just kind of smoke and mirrors?

Gordon: No, it absolutely provides an advantage. There's no doubt. There is no doubt because you're going to be shut out of either, most probably the talent side, on the talent side of the equation if you're not trying to figure it out. Now in the end, you have to have that relationship with the candidate. Right? You've got to get that candidate to actually make the emotional connection to the job.

Chad: Yeah.

Gordon: Algorithms still have not been able to figure out: Does the candidate have an emotional affinity for saying yes? Right? People are still better at that than anything else. And so the question is: Can you use the algorithms to filter through the candidates that aren't going to be applicable to a particular job? And then use your personal skill, if you're a recruiter, use your personal skill and understanding of human nature to actually persuade the candidate to take the job. Right?

Chad: Right. Right.

Gordon: We've seen or heard the recordings of the Google bot calling up the hair salon and making a-

Chad: Duplex.

Joel: -Duplex.

Gordon: It's absolutely insane right? Very, very cool, but it'll be interesting to see that, see Duplex trying to figure out "Okay, how am I gonna persuade them to create an opening when they don't have an opening?" Right?

Joel: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Gordon: That's something the machines aren't doing yet.

Joel: I'm curious Gordon, social media was listed as the most popular medium by which you would find candidates in market. How exactly are customers and folks you surveyed using social media? Are they advertising? Are they just using it as a sourcing tool? Is it both? Talk about that.

Gordon: Yeah, I think it's really born out of this notion of inbound marketing, where you're sort of getting your brand, your content, your point of view out in the market and creating a relationship with the candidate through that point of view. Clearly, there's also a bunch of advertising that's going on through social media as well. And that can actually be done on a Geo-located basis. So, we've talked to some firms that are pretty successful doing that as well. But, I think fundamentally and structurally, that's what's going on, is that firms are realizing to build their brand and to build their presence, they really have to have a point of view in the market with the candidate pool that they're pursuing.

Chad: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Gordon: I would note that social media was the number one choice for companies that do not have a VP of marketing or a CMO. The number one choice for companies that do have a CMO or VP of marketing is email marketing followed by marketing automation, which is really about candidate nurture.

Joel: Right.

Gordon: So, social media sort of becomes an important part of the equation, but it's really, I would say, the top of the funnel. And then you start building the relationship with the candidate relationship tool.

Chad: So, where do you see texting coming in? Because texting is starting ... We're starting to see a wave-

Joel: You read my mind.

Chad: Of companies who want to be able to engage candidates where they're at. And, they're not in email because they're not answering email. So, yeah, it is effective but it's not as effective as text. So, as a CMO, this is probably something ... You wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. Do you engage on the text side of the house? And, are you starting to implement that in BullHorn?

Gordon: Yes, absolutely, I would say that we have a bunch of partners that offer full texting capabilities. It's probably one of our fastest growing categories within the BullHorn marketplace for sure. I think everyone's seen the data on what the response rates are when you send a text versus when you send an email and there's no doubt. It's like ... order of magnitude higher if you're sending a text versus an email. So, companies are definitely gravitating that way. I do think that their ... If you think about spheres of intimacy with the candidate ... Sorry, it's like a little marketing jargon for you.

Chad: Let me write that down real quick, sphere of intimacy. Gordon just invited me into the sphere of intimacy.

Chad: Of intimacy.

Gordon: Exactly.

Joel: He's never known that octagon before.

Gordon: That's in the marketing 201 class.

Joel: Now we know what they teach at Harvard.

Gordon: No, they don't actually teach that. No, I think that ... you know, look, you're on a email relationship with some of your acquaintances and then some people text you. But, there are certain people that if they texted you, you'd be like “What's this guy texting me for? I don't even know him” Right?

Chad: Right.

Gordon: You know? So, I think that that's really the challenge from a marketing standpoint about how to handle texting right? When have you gotten to a point in the relationship with your candidate where you can actually text someone and they'll text you back? So, I would say it's if you think about the life-cycle of how you develop a candidate relationship, it's not at the top, right? But, as soon as you can develop that relationship, texting is gonna be the best.

Joel: Gordon, so that's the best way, and we've talked about texting, email, social media. I want to know your opinion on just the good old-fashioned phone and where that comes into play with this marketing perspective. And, I'd also like to know, Chad and I discussed on this weeks show, LinkedIn launching a voice mail component on their native app chat. So, I'd like to know your opinion on LinkedIn's new feature as well as kind of where we are with just the old-fashioned phone.

Gordon: Yeah that's really interesting. I mean, I think on the old-fashioned phone front, it really comes down to what generation you're in. I'm an Xer and I still will answer my phone. We have actually gone to soft phones here at BullHorn and we get very few calls these days. I think that the world is really migrating away from voice messaging, and I think it's directly a result of generational communication preferences just shifting. So, it depends on who you're going after. If you're going after somebody with 30 years of engineering experience, building bridges, phone's probably the way to go. If you're looking for a web developer who's great on Rails, You can try the phone but there's probably 90% chance you're not gonna get a call back, right?

Gordon: So, I really think it depends on where you're going. And so, this LinkedIn thing I think is pretty interesting. I think one thing that's definitely happening is that Alexa and these sort of smart home devices have really changed the way people are interfacing with computers. And my sense it that they're experimenting with that because I think if you take the analogy of having Alexa turn on your radio and activate different parts of your home, if you've got a smart home. Or build a shopping list, as you take that paradigm into the working world, you start to have the question of “So, how are you really gonna interface through voice?”

Gordon: The real question is whether that's just gonna be on a command basis or is it also gonna be on a communication basis. And I would bet on the former and not the latter. So, I'm not super bullish on this.

Chad: Yeah, and I think sales people are just gonna screw it up for everybody.

Joel: And marketers by the way. Marketers and sales fuck up everything.

Gordon: Exactly, well just pull up your LinkedIn feed now. We are just getting absolutely crushed by companies just filling the feed up with videos.

Chad: Junk, damn.

Gordon: Junk, some guy walking to work telling you about why XYZ is so great. And you're like “Dude, why don't you just get out and try to enunciate a little bit better and cut out the horn in the background."

Joel: Yeah, alright Gordon, we appreciate your time today in joining us. For those who wanna know about the survey, wanna know about BullHorn, where would they go?

Gordon: So, hop on and type into ... We have a little chat bot there, and type in “CMO survey” and we'll pop it off to you.

Joel: Very nice. From Chad and myself I say “We out."

Chad: We out.

Gordon: Cool guys, thanks a lot.

Chad: Okay, before we go, remember when I asked you about the whole reflex and check your text messages thing?

Joel: Yeah, you know all about reflexes.

Joel: And then I brilliantly tied it to text message's 97% open rate, then I elegantly, elegantly tied it to a better experience for your candidates. Don't laugh Chad, I can be elegant, can't I?

Chad: Whatever man, I know it's redundant, you already heard about Text2Hire, but you're still not using Text2Hire from Nexxt.

Joel: What????

Chad: I know man.

Joel: Come on man.

Chad: Since advertising takes repetition to soak in, I just thought I'd remind you again this was all by elegant design. It's all about text to hire and it's all about Nexxt.

Joel: And elegant design. So go to, click on the Nexxt logo and get 25, yeah, I said 25% off your first Text2Hire campaign. Engage better, use Text2Hire from Nexxt, two X's.

Chad: Booyah.

Chad: Thanks to our partners at TA tech, the association for talent acquisition solutions. Remember to visit

Ema: Hi, I'm Ema, thanks for listening to my dad, the Chad, and his buddy Cheese. This has been the Chad and Cheese podcast. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts so you don't miss a single show. Be sure to check out our sponsors because their money goes to my college fund. For more, visit

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