24 August 2017

Seek on the PR offensive: Move on, there's nothing to see here

It’s been a fascinating past couple of months in the story of Seek, via their fully or partially owned brands Onploy, Sidekicker and JoraLocal, competing against the recruitment agency segment of Seek’s own customer base.

It’s clear Seek have been mindful of the less-than-helpful publicity as a handful of my clients advised me that their Seek Account Manager proactively mentioned my blog posts in a conversation about Onploy. Another client told me that “Seek are not happy with your blogs”.

I am open to the facts proving me wrong or at least me being misinformed or under-informed on their products and/or their attitude to the recruitment industry. But oddly Seek are making no serious attempt to engage me on this topic.

I initiated contact with Seek before I published the first blog on 6 July. After some communication they declined to provide answers to a list of questions I sent them and then didn’t respond to my last email on 4 July.

Thomas Amos, co-founder of Sidekicker, emailed me in response to the allegations contained in Wendy Mead’s letter to the RCSA, specified in my second blog. I immediately responded by inviting him to post a comment on my blog. No response was forthcoming. That exchange occurred over a month ago. 

A senior recruitment industry figure, acting as an intermediary, offered to arrange a coffee with a senior Seek executive. I immediately agreed and nominated a date, time and venue; then crickets. My nominated date came and went. A day later I received a response from the Seek executive advising me he would be in contact. That was at the beginning of last week and here we are, more than a week later and no further communication has been received.

In the meantime unhappy agencies press forward with their own action.

It’s emerged that in late May Randstad lodged an objection to the registration of the Onploy name due to Randstad having a business and trademark for “Ploy. The Labour market’s Uber”. Evidence is due in a couple of months.

Other upset recruitment agency owners are seeking legal advice regarding Seek’s use of the  Seek ad response data that has been generated via client-paid job advertisements, from both agency and direct-hire clients.

It’s legally ambiguous who owns the data. Does Seek, as the owner of the platform collecting the data, own the data? Or is the data owned by the paying customers who post the ads to which candidates respond?

This is an unlegislated area of data ownership that would be decided by a judge.

As one recruitment agency owner put it to me “It’s clear Seek that are acting unethically but it’s not clear that they are acting illegally”.

The case for unethical behaviour is predicated on Seek’s action in using data gathered from Seek customer purchases (job ads) to inform the construction and release of products (eg Onploy, Sidekicker, JoraLocal) that directly compete with the services of those same Seek customers. Advancing the case for unethical behaviour is Seek choosing not to advise these same customers of the existence of these products, both at the time of their development and, their subsequent public release.

In the meantime Seek Limited CEO Andrew Bassat threw fuel on the flames last week in his interview with industry news service ShortList after the release of Seek's preliminary 206/17 financial results. Bassat was unconcerned with recruitment agency unrest about Seek's forays into their territory saying that Seek's funding of these products was "focused on technological solutions rather than people solutions" which, decoded means, Seek is focused on finding way to use technology to replace what recruitment agencies do.  

ShortList also reported "Bassat stressed that Seek is not working in competition with recruiters. "I think our track record over 20 years is we could have been more recruiter-friendly. We could not have done more to seek win-win solutions in what we do"

I call BS on that, Andrew. Actually Seek could be doing a hell of a lot more to seek win-win solutions with recruitment agencies - such as telling your customers what Seek is doing with data collected from ads that Seek customers have paid for (to inform the development of products that directly compete with recruitment agencies). It appears that Bassat is too far removed from what's really going on at Seek, and the corresponding anger from Seek's agency customers, if he truly believes what ShortList has reported him as saying.

Further undermining Seek’s credibility is the issue of Seek potentially breaching their own terms of service. Here’s what Seek state in their terms of business:

Placing Advertisements

33.You must ensure that all advertisements posted to the Site comply with all applicable legislation, regulations, by-laws, ordinances and codes of conduct, including but not limited to the:
          a. Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth) including but not limited to section 31 of Schedule 2 which requires that if you are a company you must not mislead persons seeking employment as to the availability, nature, terms or conditions or, any other matter relating to the employment opportunity being offered
34. ....You must adhere to the principles of truth in advertising set out in the RCSA's Code For Professional Practice.
...You may only post Advertisements to the Site that are in respect of a genuine employment opportunity that is current as at the time of posting the Advertisement, and for which you are currently recruiting. SEEK reserves the right to request any information from you that it deems necessary to verify that a genuine employment opportunity exists.

37. You may only post Advertisements to the Site that are in respect of a genuine employment opportunity that is current as at the time of posting the Advertisement, and for which you are currently recruiting.



"Heaps of fashion management opportunities available" is not advertising an actual job, instead it’s advertising a chance to be part of an online marketplace. They are two very different things.

If Onploy was not owned by Seek do you seriously think Seek would allow ads such as these on their site? I think we can be pretty sure of the answer to that question.

Not only are Seek (via Onploy) potentially in breach of their own terms they are also arguably contravening the ACCC’s directions on misleading job and business opportunities (see page 3, Not Advertising an Actual Job, Recruitment) and potentially in breach of the RCSA Code for Professional Practice (Principle 2 Honest Dealings). 

Whichever way you look at it Seek have handled this whole issue incompetently.  It’s been a customer relations disaster and a PR case study in how not-to.

The RCSA have had meetings and exchanged correspondence with Seek over this issue as they work out how to proceed with this delicate issue (Seek are a long-time sponsor of the RCSA). I suspect more will be known after the National Board meeting held just before the RCSA International Conference in Fiji in two weeks' time. Also important will be the input of the RCSA Online and Workforce Solutions working group (disclosure: I am a member of this group which was established a year ago to help inform the Board's response to the rapid growth of technology-based workforce platforms).

Where it ends is anybody’s guess.

Watch this space.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Ross, thanks for continuing to shine the light on this to endeavour to 'keep the bastards honest'. Referencing a small piece of the article, the section on the "Heaps of fashion management opportunities available" job ad; over recent years it is obvious that SEEK no longer monitors misleading Job Ads or content. I put this in the same bag as facebook not deleting or blocking disturbing and violent profiles and content from trolls, terrorists and cyber bullies. If they took a moral, ethical or professional high ground then their numbers drop...as does their revenue and then the share price. Just like Facebook, SEEK is happy to look the other way as well and hope we are all too distracted to notice as well as continuing to deliver us their BS PR. Thanks again Ross.

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  2. Good job Ross. Perhaps SEEK should be reminded not to bite the hand that feeds them. It certainly looks like they're being less than straightforward.

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  3. Seek is friendly to us as long as we pay their invoices. They're not about working with their customers. It's all about where they can capitalise and monetise from our businesses. Recruiters see right through the BS. Yet, like robots we keep posting there. We the customers have the power to collectively challenge their behaviour. Thank you for leading this!

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  4. Very interesting. My first read of your commentary on this issue - thank you. We made an accidental error on seek ad pack billing earlier this year. We explained the error to our Seek Account Manager (it was our fault, but resulted in a huge overpayment) and requested a part refund to make it right on our side. We were declined and offered a third rate 'split your packs in smaller sizes' solution. This, after spending minimum $80k per year with Seek for the past 5 years. Bite the hand that feeds them indeed!

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