January is traditionally a period of career change, as workers evaluate their current jobs and often begin searches for new employment. This year, amid a continuing “Great Resignation” and pandemic-induced demand for more worker flexibility and career fulfillment, job changes are occurring at a breakneck pace. The transitions are fueling demand for talent platforms and staffing companies such as Fiverr and Upwork, which are dialing up their marketing to seize on the trend.
Booming freelance economy fuels ad battle among job search brands
“There has been a growing interest in flexible work from both companies and individuals, and the pandemic has accelerated that in all sorts of ways,” said Barry Asin, president of Staffing Industry Analysts, which covers labor market trends. “We just did this giant experiment in flexible and remote work and companies that were previously resistant to that have realized that it actually works and it’s opening up a whole new labor market.”
Companies including freelance talent marketplaces such as Fiverr and Upwork, and traditional recruiting sites like CareerBuilder, are flooding TV and social media with new advertising as they try to capture a piece of growing demand. Upwork recently hired Melissa Waters, formerly global VP of marketing at Instagram, as chief marketing officer as it boosts its ad cred. Fiverr, fresh on the heels of its first Super Bowl spot last year, has been on an acquisition spree that includes last year's purchase of Working Not Working, which connects freelancers in creative jobs to potential employers.
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Even business-to-consumer marketplaces such as home services site Thumbtack, which connects homeowners with contractors, are investing in marketing with the recent hire of Amanda Reierson as head of marketing. She came from Farmers Insurance, where she was involved with digital marketing.
“These marketplaces are popping up because people are in a one-click-world. And marketplaces, from a digital perspective, enable more of that one-click-world by making things like a pro available for hire without having to talk to someone,” said Reierson, who is planning significant headcount growth for her marketing team. “That’s the root of why a lot of these marketplaces have popped up because now we have the digital technology to match people with whatever product or service you need.”
Growing gig economy
Both workers and employers are responding—and the so-called “gig economy,” worth $1.3 trillion in the U.S., is exploding. In 2020 talent platforms grew 25% year-over-year in gross spend volume, compared with 20% growth in 2019, according to Staffing Industry Analysts. It found that large organizations are using such platforms as resources now more than ever, with 22% of big employers using such sites in 2021 compared with only 14% in 2020. Talent platform sites like Upwork and Fiverr are not nearly as large as traditional temporary staffing firms, representing just 3% of the $392 billion global staffing industry. But the platform startups are growing and could reach $15.1 billion in gross revenue this year, SIA found.
“These guys are spending a lot of money on marketing—there’s a network effect and they want to be the winners of that networking effect. They’re willing to spend advertising dollars to make sure they’re the biggest,” said Asin.
The pandemic shifted career requirements for many workers, who began to place a premium on location flexibility and shifting hours rather than things like foosball or free beer. A survey last year from Working Not Working, called “Adland Careers Now and in the Future,” found that over 50% of creatives want to switch career paths.
“It used to be people who got laid off were the only ones freelancing, but that totally changed,” said Justin Gignac, co-founder, noting that COVID “added an incentive of people going ‘Hey, what do I want to do with my life, what are my priorities, what am I willing to tolerate with a job?’ The things that people were attracted to before—the jig is up. All that stuff that used to be the perks are not the perks anymore.”
Moving beyond word-of-mouth marketing
In the past, Working Not Working, which counts brands such as Apple, Google and Airbnb as its top clients, has primarily relied on word-of-mouth to grow its platform to 1,000 high-level creatives, ready for roles including anime directors, photographers and illustrators. Employers pay an annual or monthly membership fee to access Working Not Working’s pool of talent. Yet this year the company is focused on expanding its talent pool, and that means doing marketing for the first time, Gignac said. It will run its first marketing campaign, a short film that will run on digital channels such as YouTube.
“We were whispering about our brand for so long—now we have the opportunities and we feel an obligation,” said Gignac.
Waters left Instagram for Upwork earlier this month because she saw a chance to grow the 20-year-old brand beyond its low awareness at a time when talent marketplaces are all the rage. Upwork, which has a robust in-house team that works with outside agencies, debuted a national campaign in November. A series of films, “The Perfect Fit” campaign focused on how Upwork can solve talent gaps for businesses. It’s the latest in what Waters expects to be a heavy marketing investment this year—particularly at a time when revenue is also growing. In its most recent quarter, Upwork reported a 32% rise in revenue to $128.1 million.
“We will be leaning into marketing,” she said, noting that Upwork is rolling out new product lines as well. “Because we have single-digit awareness, we have such an opportunity—so much headroom to grow not only how much people think about us and consider us, but also for people who know and love us to be able to introduce them to our portfolio of products.”
Fiverr, a public company that started in Israel, has continued to pour more into marketing since going mainstream last year with its first Super Bowl ad. While the company isn’t planning a 2022 game day spot, it is “investing significantly” in marketing such as TV, according to Duncan Bird, VP of brand marketing and digital.
The 2021 Super Bowl spot positioned Fiverr as a resource for small businesses by playfully referencing the Four Seasons Total Landscaping company used in Rudy Giuliani's infamous press conference during the 2020 presidential election aftermath. The ad “exceeded expectations,” Bird said, especially because Fiverr ran a social media campaign in conjunction with the Big Game spot. It followed that ad with a campaign called "Something From Nothing," which shows how people can follow their dreams into reality. This month it is expanding that campaign into out-of-home advertising, including digital ads and hand-painted ads in New York City. Fiverr is also experimenting with influencer marketing and podcasts.
“We are always trying to experiment with our marketing and make sure we are learning—that is one of our great skills as a company, that we don’t just find something and keep repeating it,” said Bird, noting that the majority of marketing is done internally. “We want to be the poster child for this is the way to work.”
So far, the strategy is paying off. Fiverr reported third-quarter revenue of $74.3 million, a 42% increase over the year-earlier period. The company reports fourth-quarter earnings in February.
Traditional online job listing sites like CareerBuilder are also trying to remain top of mind with fresh marketing that taps into the new mindset of job seekers. The brand recently ran a campaign called “Let’s Job it Up” designed to recruit around the “Great Resignation.” It was the first marketing push in at least two years, according to CMO Kristin Kelley. She said all of the job movement has put a strain on talent acquisition organizations to build awareness. Now, CareerBuilder has to be more creative with job descriptions, adding video and using TikTok and other social media to market the brand. The company is tapping Instagram influencers, like a female truck driver, and using ploys like contests as well as QR codes in cinema ads. Later this quarter, the company plans to roll out a new initiative called Colab, where candidates who are not on LinkedIn can network and get resume guidance.
“The job of a place like CareerBuilder is a mathematical equation—we have to keep awareness levels high because candidates aren’t exclusive to any job board, they will apply to the jobs served in front of them,” said Kelley. “It’s incredibly important that CareerBuilder be seen,” she added, noting that “we are maximizing the avenues around us to get the word out.”
Of course, the marketing blitz may be short-lived. That's because experts expect an eventual shakeout as some marketplaces gain ground over others. In addition, rising advertising costs could result in a pullback by some brands that will be unable to invest as heavily in customer acquisition.
“In 2020, the cost to advertise went down quite a bit and talent platforms were very opportunistic on that and invested heavily to drive brand awareness—a lot of enterprises were simply unaware of what talent platforms are and that has been a huge driver of growth,” said Brian Wallins, research manager at Staffing Industry Analysts. “I expect that to subside to some degree because the cost is bouncing back up.”
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