'A Fear of Not Working, And a Fear of Working':'s Singular Perspective On A Singular Crisis

The largest job search engine comes at the COVID-19 crisis from several unique perspectives. Foremost, it is a barometer placed at the center of the record unemployment storm. As Indeed CMO Paul D’Arcy told us hours after the release of the historically tragic jobs report last week, his site is more than an activity meter around job searches during these challenging months. It also records the deep ambivalence many sidelined workers feel right now about the prospect of having any job. Meanwhile, is itself one of the most visible advertisers, especially in video across screens. D’Arcy has had to pivot from a brand memory strategy to informational messaging even as creative production shut down and media planning had to be reshuffled. Suffice to say we had a lot to talk about. This extended Q&A highlights an even deeper conversation with D’Arcy that Brand Insider readers can hear in its entirety in our companion podcast

MP: By coincidence alone, we are speaking on May 8 and an hour after release of the worst U.S. jobs report in history. Twenty million jobs lost in April and unemployment rate at 14.7%. What does an unemployment spike of such historic proportions look like at the largest job site in terms of activity, job posting, etc.? 

D'Arcy: There have been dramatic changes in the way people are hiring and what people are hiring for. There's no sector that has seen an increase in postings since February, and the sectors that have had the largest decrease in job postings are pretty dramatic. In hospitality, we've seen postings decline by two-thirds and child care by 63%, in beauty and wellness by 57%, arts and entertainment by 56%. Some big numbers. Sectors that have had smaller than average declines are pharmacy, not surprisingly, which is down by about a quarter, nursing by 30%, loading and stocking by 30%, software development by 33%, so we do see a pretty dramatic shift.

MP: On the activity side, however, are people coming and using the site in different ways and at different volumes?

D'Arcy: We initially saw a real shock. When the pandemic hit in March, people were frozen. We saw a pretty sharp decline in activity and we've seen activity grow back since then.

We saw passive job seekers, if they were employed, stop looking and we've seen the number of active job seekers increase rapidly. We've seen really different things in different parts of the world. This shock in the U.S. is definitely unique to the U.S. What we've seen through Europe and Asia and other places is more efforts to preserve payrolls and keep people in their roles and we've seen less significant declines. Probably the best example of that is Germany, which is still running pretty close to normal.

MP: "Here to help" has become the unofficial brand tagline as brands pivot from sales messaging, that many find unseemly now. Can brands be genuinely helpful right now?

D’Arcy: The main thing that people want when they come to Indeed is to understand what jobs are available and to dive right into looking for a job. That is the vast majority of activity. There's the better part of 200 million resumes on Indeed and all of a sudden you have a set of people who were very urgently looking for work. One of the first things we did was allow people to tag themselves as being "ready to work immediately," and then allowing employers to search for those people. We saw more than a million people tag the resumes in the first 72 hours in response to that. We made it really easy for employers to tag jobs as whether someone needs to come to a work location, whether they're remote and will continue to be remote or whether they're temporarily remote during COVID-19. We've categorized an enormous number of jobs based on that. Some very quick things to make it easy for people to find the right jobs in a way that's relevant to this crisis.

MP: Tech sites like yours are so algorithmically-driven. But this is a time of tremendous anxiety and pain for a lot of people, and you provide what is a very intimate service at the moment. It raises a big existential question to me. For a brand like yours, what sort of personal connection can you have with customers and clients? 

D'Arcy: There's a lot of ways that we do it. It's a great question, and I would say for a lot of the early years of Indeed, when we were smaller in terms of our people and resources, a lot of it was a website that is just a technology platform. We now have a lot of connection with both employers and job seekers that's more human.

On the employer side, we have thousands of people that work with millions of employers around the world, and they're in communication every day throughout this crisis. We've very deep connections by the nature of our business.

On the job seeker side…we collect people's stories and comments, we run surveys to get input continuously on the site and we look at those. We also have a page called "Got a job at" where, when people get a job, they share their story with us. We've had 15 million stories shared. I have a job seeker experience team. They're continually running Facebook Live Q&As with job seekers that you can access via our site. We have career coaches that are part of marketing and sit as part of an engaged community which gets millions of users a month and are right in there helping answer job seeker questions. We have a social impact team which partners with Goodwill and other organizations to help people with barriers to employment to get jobs. 

MP: Have you learned anything about this crisis from these consumers, from that human contact, about how people are experiencing this? 

D'Arcy: It's so varied and so personal. The recurring theme is this mixing of a need to work with a fear of becoming sick. A lot of the jobs right now put people close together. It's harder to find remote work right now. If you look at the people who have been most affected by this crisis, 85% of people who have lost their jobs earn $40,000 or less in the United States. What we see is many of those people may have conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus. There is a fear of not working and a fear of working. It puts people in very, very difficult situations and we certainly see that come through.

MP: Indeed is an enormous advertiser across multiple platforms. Typically, your media spend is going into a lot of broadcast TV. But also radio, a lot in pure search, a lot of video. How has your own marketing plan and media allocation responded to the pandemic? 

D'Arcy: We've definitely shifted the mix. Our advertising is usually a mix of employer focused and job seeker focused. We dramatically slowed down employer focused. On the job seeker side, we're doing less radio as people drive less. We're doing a lot of TV and TV's over-delivering right now because TV viewership is up so dramatically. Obviously, we reduced out of home and things that are less useful and less relevant. 

We've also shifted the messages. "Here to help" is the right sort of message for us. One of the most difficult things with TV right now is creative production. All that shut down globally. And we're usually pretty nimble. We will film in Prague or in the Ukraine or in Canada or in Australia or wherever. But now there's nowhere to go. You're left with two choices. One is to use stock imagery and footage or animated or text ads that are voiced over or submitted crowdsourced video and we've done ads in multiple categories.

Our ads have evolved. A couple of weeks into the crisis, we released an ad of job seekers sharing their stories of having lost their jobs during the pandemic and [having] already found a new job on Indeed. We did that very quickly. Now we have ads that keep up to date on the number of employers hiring in the U.S., that's 40 or 50,000 and they're adding 400,000 to 500,000 new jobs each week. That sort of information is really useful to people who are thinking about what they might do next.

MP: Well, that's an interesting shift — from a large base of branding awareness, traffic-driving strategy — you are now a primary information source that everybody's curious about.

D'Arcy: It's exactly right. In normal times, our branding is emotionally driven to create memory. It's for people to think of Indeed when they think of jobs and to remember us as long as they can. Right now our advertising strategy is to give people the information they need, to be helpful right now during this crisis, and advertising is a really important part of that.

MP: What does the market look like now? Have the opportunities changed in terms of availability and price?

D’Arcy: It really is a broad mix of things, but it's been very, very rapid change. For us being heavy on TV, the main thing we've seen is really substantial over-delivery on the buys. There are a lot of people consuming video at home. We hear a lot of stories about that, and that's both through platforms like Hulu as well through traditional linear TV. But there's been pretty rapid shifts.

MP: Have you been using more OTT?

D'Arcy: For digital perspective, we find that long-form video content, whether it's watched on a computer, a phone, over linear TV or through some other app, all performs pretty well in terms of driving long-term memory and outperforms, in our perspective, ads delivered through social, through radio, through shorter-form video like YouTube.

MP: That's a good segue to the other piece I want to talk about, which is the human piece of the company itself. I know you have major offices in Austin, Stamford [Connecticut] and, I imagine, presence worldwide. How have you managed the lockdowns internally in terms of staffing, work at home, collaboration among you?

D'Arcy: We've been home for more than two months. We went on March 3; we were really early. We have offices all over the world, people traveled a lot. We made the decision as a leadership team to send all 10,000 employees home immediately. Many of our teams had never worked from home before. That announcement was made at 4 p.m. U.S. time and the next day people were home.

There's a lot of people where the situation is difficult, but there's also this amazing equalizer of everyone being a face on the screen and a video call that has been really good and more connected in some ways. Creative, brainstorming work and other things is harder over these formats. I don't know that we've cracked that. But a lot of things have exceeded our expectations. It'll definitely change the way we work in the future.

MP: What's the current plan for return to normal? 

D'Arcy: We've announced that we will open no office before Sept. 1, and we're not going to require anyone at the company to go back to an office until 2021. Operationally, we expect to be in this mode for a while. But there are other things that are returning really fast. In places that are opening up, we're seeing hiring come back.

We are big sponsors of football in Germany, of Frankfurt in the Bundesliga and they are going back and starting playing next week. So we're getting ready to ramp up the sponsorship activities related to that. There are places where things are coming back piece by piece, and it's looking a little bit normal but that's going to be, as they say, a dance and it'll be back and forth and waves of that and it's going to take a long time.

MP: But you are seeing in markets where lockdowns are reversing a bounce back in jobs?

D'Arcy: We're seeing that in the U.S., absolutely. In places that have opened, we see increase job seeker traffic and increases in job postings, absolutely. I'm in Austin, Texas. It is a little bit crazy, but restaurants are open again here. This is a place that behavior has changed dramatically. But the malls are open. You can go to stores and when that happened, people started rehiring people.

MP: What do you expect is going to change permanently for your business?

D'Arcy: We've seen organizations be much more willing to do things differently and experiment, in particular ones that need to hire quickly. It's big shocks to the system like this that lead to big change and for people to question why they do things and to try things differently. In that, we see a lot of opportunity.

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