Old media troika closes in on Monster

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Declared a dead medium in the `90s dot-com heyday, newspapers have long fretted about online sites stealing their lucrative help-wanted revenue stream. But aided by employment Web site CareerBuilder, they're now close to slaying the Monster.

CareerBuilder's formidable troika of newspaper parents-Gannett Co., Knight Ridder and Tribune Co.-offers access to 130 newspapers and 400 job sites, giving it an edge over rival Monster Worldwide in the much-coveted local-job market traditionally owned by newspapers. With CareerBuilder, an employer calling to place an ad in his or her local newspaper gets the job listing posted online as well if he or she wishes.

local route

MonsterWorldwide Andrew McKelvey said that in 2003 "newspapers sold $3.8 billion of help-wanted classifieds in a bad, bad year." A little less than $3 billion of that was placed by local businesses. And in the online-recruitment world, CareerBuilder dominates among local businesses.

The two are neck-and-neck when it comes to traffic. CareerBuilder grew from 3.95 million visitors a month in November 2003 to 8.55 million in November 2004, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Monster, meanwhile, lost visitors, falling from 10.63 million in November 2003 to 8.56 million a year later. The third industry player, Yahoo's HotJobs, saw its traffic figures remain flat at about 4.3 million during the period.

Monster still trumps CareerBuilder in revenue, earning $157.7 million for the third quarter of 2004, compared with CareerBuilder's $77.5 million. But CareerBuilder this year outbid Monster to win deals with MSN and America Online to power their career centers. Undoubtedly those portals, which deliver half of CareerBuilder's audience, have helped to bolster traffic.

Now that it's achieved critical mass, CareerBuilder has taken Monster's traditional place as a Super Bowl advertiser. "A Super Bowl ad has become the premium national-advertising medium for any recruiter to announce they've arrived and set a precedent," said Joseph Daniel McCool, editor in chief of Executive Recruiter News.

"We're using the Super Bowl ad as a coming-out party for the brand in `05," said Richard Castellini, CareerBuilder VP-consumer marketing, noting that the company will spend $200 million for marketing this year, "an increase over one-third" from 2004. CareerBuilder's agency is Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago.

`don't need the branding'

While CareerBuilder pushes branding, Monster's strategy for 2005 is to leverage its household name to persuade local small and medium-size businesses to post jobs on Monster's site-whether or not they call their local newspaper also to place an ad offline. "In the beginning the Super Bowl was an enormous help," Mr. McKelvey said. "We don't need the branding. I don't think one Super Bowl ad in the competitive marketplace is going to do much for any advertiser."

Instead, in a year in which the job market is expanding, Monster plans to reallocate its media spending ratio from 60/40 branding/local targeting to 50/50 branding/local, according to Mike Sileck, Monster chief financial officer. The marketing budget is "in excess of $100 million."

The first tactical moves are one-year deals announced last week with Internet Broadcasting Systems (a collection of local-news Web sites from NBC, Cox, Hearst and others) and Infinity Broadcasting Systems (180 radio stations and related Web sites in 41 markets). TV ads will still focus on Monster's tried-and-true Fortune 1000 customer.

Monster will also expand its "Portraits" campaign handled by Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, New York. The effort showcases satisfied Monster customers-real-life employers and newly hired employees. On tap are print ads, online streaming-media buys with ESPN and MSN, banner placements and search engine marketing. Sponsorships include NCAA events in the spring and to prove its commitment to local customers, Monster is even seeking to support local softball teams.

hourly wage-earners

Having beefed up its sales staff, Monster plans a hefty direct-mail campaign to employers that formerly advertised through the site, as well as prospects, and will follow up with e-mail, phone calls and visits. The outbound effort to employers is key, Mr. Sileck said. "Newspaper classified ads are 90% in-bound traffic," he said. "The employer doesn't get a call back from the newspaper to see how it's going. Monster does that."

HotJobs, which advertised in the Super Bowl for five years, is tapping hourly wage-earners along with CareerBuilder and Monster. Calling this group "the biggest growth area for us," Dan Finnegan, general manager of HotJobs, said, "We have about 140,000 drivers who are Yahoo users, 400,000 contractors and similar numbers of electricians." HotJobs' advantage, besides piggybacking on one of the top-trafficked sites on the Internet, is that some 80 million Yahoo users have checked a box during their registration process saying they want job-search information. That means HotJobs can leverage their registration data to help employers target particular job seekers-something competitors can't do.

If CareerBuilder is poised to become the uncontested front-runner, that lead is neither guaranteed nor permanent, analysts caution. As employers and employees get younger they will turn to the Internet for jobs, as they are accustomed to doing for many of life's tasks. "At what point consumers will turn to job sites and not to newspapers is the $64,000 question," said Ken Goldstein, economist for the Conference Board.

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