Is 2018 the Tipping Point for Marketing Investments in Staffing? A Q&A with Ursula Williams

Ursula Williams

Chief Operating Officer, Staffing Industry Analysts

Ursula Williams was appointed Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Staffing Industry Analysts in 2019. Williams is responsible for overseeing all of SIA’s commercial operations, corporate functions of marketing, communications, and technology operations.

With decades of experience as a leader in the staffing industry, Ursula Williams plays an active role in how staffing executives are outlining their growth strategy and moving the industry forward. Marketing, a focus throughout her career, is quickly becoming a major area of investment in staffing as skills shortages expand and consumerization continues to impact both B2C and B2B preferences and behavior. In this conversation, Ursula sheds light on how forward-looking firms are approaching this important function now and what further questions will be answered at the 2018 Executive Forum in Miami at the end of February.


RIX: How has the sentiment towards marketing in staffing shifted over the last 5 years?

Ursula Williams: The marketing field has changed dramatically over the last several years, its role, the level of responsibility, the expectation as to what it can deliver and the opportunities that have surfaced. And it will continue to evolve rapidly.

The role is now incredibly diverse, more so than it has ever been. Marketing has a seat at the table in driving an organization’s strategic agenda, as the keeper of the customer’s voice and as a leading stakeholder in how analytics are used to capitalize on today’s and tomorrow’s business opportunities and trends.

With technology enabling everything and everyone, information travels at lightning speed and consumers are on overload. Although much of the traditional part of the role still exists, it requires a different approach. Marketers need to understand the business and the customers better than ever. They need to work hand-in-hand with sales and operations and technology and human resources and … The marketers who can bridge these gaps and pivot the fastest will succeed.


RIX: Specifically, as you get ready for SIA’s EF in Miami next month, what are the trends that execs are most interested in discussing as it relates to marketing within staffing?

UW: Great question and frankly, I hope executives invest as much time in the world of marketing as they do in other parts of the business. Staffing is a dynamic and fast-moving business. Business execs wear many hats and are being pulled in a multitude of directions. Many of the staffing executives I talk with didn’t come up the ranks through marketing or came up during a time the role was vastly different, so they are looking to understand the current landscape. Some frequent and important questions include:

Internally– What should the mission be? What should be included under the Marketing Umbrella? What type of person (background) is best for their organization? What should the department organizational chart look like? How many people? What roles? Why hire specialists versus a team of utility players? What does the RACI look like when marketing is interfacing with other departments in the organization? Who leads and who follows? How should marketing partner with sales? Why should the technology sit with Marketing vs the CIO? What is a “typical” budget? How to measure ROI?

Externally- How do we grow sales (demand) and retain/acquire candidate talent (supply), increase market presence/share of wallet, while reducing or maintaining costs? How can marketing help influence the consumer, win the sale and create loyalty for repeat business? What technologies, initiatives, approaches are in place to drive the business forward? How do today’s marketers help achieve/exceed company goals?  How to measure ROI? What does success look like?


RIX: Where are the biggest opportunities from your viewpoint?

UW: It depends on your business goals and strategies. The business environment has been on an upward trajectory for quite some time. Staffing is more understood, dynamic and relevant than ever. Technology has enabled the entire workforce solutions ecosystem to work differently, reach more customers, candidates, and to exponentially increase the productivity level of recruiters, business development teams, etc. The organization that does the best job of aligning their business goals, go-to-market strategies, technology, infrastructure and people will win.

It’s simple to state and incredibly difficult to execute.

Maximizing opportunity requires bearing in mind the following:

  • Voice of the customer is paramount. Know what your customers are thinking, and experiencing with your brand – and use it to your advantage. Course correct when necessary, use positive experiences to drive the business and create an infectious narrative.
  • Loyalty has a high barrier to entry and low barrier to exit…never take it for granted. The expense of retaining a new customer (client or candidate) is always higher than retaining, so much marketing is on new sales, new recruitment. But it’s critical to have programs in place to create loyalty and engagement. Value beyond the obvious transaction is a necessity.
  • Technology should be embraced to create advantages, increase productivity and eliminate inefficiencies, in all areas of the marketing role.
  • Internal alignment with sales, product development, technology and all functional areas of the organization is more important than ever.
  • Developing and engaging your team is a must. They are ultimately the stewards of your brand and preparing them for the role helps ensure success across the board.


RIX: What’s new at EF in response to the rapidly evolving market? What emerging questions are you looking to answer?

UW: The theme of the 2018 Executive Forum is Future Forward, so all of sessions this year are geared in some way toward a look ahead across the industry and across areas of practice, to what is emerging and to what is transforming. We have a special Keynote Panel featuring CEO Insights in an Age of Transformation, along with sessions that explore the frontiers of work, such Digital Transformation for Staffing Firms and Navigating Today’s New Economy; and much more. Obviously, the supply chain is becoming increasingly complex so we’re looking at things like talent intelligence and the on-demand talent marketplace and innovation and how the different types of advancements are impacting the paradigm of work and accelerating the evolution of the ecosystem. And we’re really asking what will organizations need to know or to do to stay successful and competitive into the future.


Bullhorn is excited to exhibit and share content again at this year’s Staffing Industry Analysts’ Executive Forum being held in Miami, FL from February 26 – March 1, 2018. Hear from Bullhorn’s Founder & CEO, Art Papas, on Wednesday, February 28th, at 11:15 a.m. ET on “Trends Gaining Traction: Real Examples of AI in Action.” See the full agenda here.