Monster Grows Up: 5 Questions With SVP Elliott Seaborn


Monster 2018 cover letter

During the 1999 Super Bowl, a black and white commercial called “When I Grow Up” featured children declaring their career aspirations. “I want to file all day,” said one boy sitting outside on a farm in his overalls. “I want to claw my way to middle management,” said another, with faux confidence. And on the ad went, each kid giving a more depressing depiction than the next of the cold, stark reality of employment—a reality that can fall far short of childhood expectations. Yet the ad reminds us that our own complacency is what can hold us back from finding the job of our dreams.

Named “Ad of the Year” by Ad Age, the 30-second spot (watch the longer version here) marked a turning point for, as the pioneer of job search disruption was then known. It showed the world that one URL could help millions of people find jobs, and companies find qualified employees.

But it was Monster that was about to grow up. Throughout the aughts, it dominated the online job listing space. At one point the company was valued at more than $8 billion. But all that success turned the disruptor into the establishment. Along the way, Monster moved away from its core purpose: improving people’s lives. As other job search sites stepped onto the scene and people looked for jobs differently, its growth dipped, valuation declined and Monster found itself on the wrong side of disruption.

Elliott Seabourn - MonsterThroughout it all, Monster’s brand has remained its strongest asset. But, to turn around its business, the company has brought in new leadership, like Elliott Seaborn. Following 20 years on the agency side he joined Monster in January as SVP of Global Integrated Marketing. He joined the Outside In podcast with Charles Trevail to discuss the evolution and opportunity for Monster’s brand, and what it’s been like to cross over to the client side.

—Daniel Sills is the producer for the Outside In with Charles Trevail podcast, which explores the strategies and philosophies of brand leaders and the consumer trends that people need to know.

(This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. Listen below for the full interview.)

Monster remains a very famous brand, but it seems that it lost its way over the years. What went wrong?

Our model was built to give power back to the people and to disrupt the establishment, which at the time was the newspapers. It was much harder to find a job. Our founders said, “Why don’t we take all of that opportunity, make it searchable and allow people to see the opportunity sitting in front of them?”

The founders had a higher purpose in mind: “We want to advance lives.” That drove the business and a really strong culture at that time. Then we grew to a level where we had so much traffic it was tempting for other folks to come in—who did not necessarily have our purpose—and to monetize that traffic at all costs.

That drove a real imbalance in the business. The revenue side took over, and maybe the experience for the job seeker was less of a focus. And so, that’s where we find ourselves today. We still have this unbelievably strong brand, but we have to embrace the noble purpose that we started with.

Many companies focus on either brand purpose or on customer centricity. Are you saying the focus should be on both?

Yes. I think one’s an independent variable, one’s a dependent variable. If you don’t have the customer flowing through your hallways, then you’re not going to be successful. How do you act if don’t understand them and you don’t hear them constantly?

That’s where there’s a symbiotic relationship between the two sides. That imbalance goes into harmony. The job seekers are excited because you’re on their side. And the employers get all of the benefits of rich, happy, quality candidates. That’s where you move from a vicious circle into a virtuous cycle.

Many companies say, “We’ve got all the data we need, so we know our customers.” You’re a big data company. How do you use it to understand customers?

Every C-level person struggles with the same thing: I have all of this data and it’s telling me something’s wrong but I just don’t know why—I don’t know what is driving it.

Data is incredibly important. We use it to make decisions on a daily basis. It just happens to be a rather blunt object for understanding and giving us direction. We use data to identify some detrimental symptoms. But underneath that data is a constant flow of voice customer, saying why something is happening.

What I love is that I can match the daily concern over revenue with a daily “Hey, here’s some insight we can act on right now.” When you have those two things, it alleviates a lot of the intensity and hyperventilating over the business. You can say, “Here are five reasons why I think that’s happening” and, “Here are five ideas for a new product that we could put in market right now.” It brings massive value.

What has surprised you as you’ve switched from the agency world to the client world?

The good thing is you’re in charge of your destiny and can push ideas into market. The stakes are raised so significantly, and—I’m trying to say this as delicately as possible—you start to understand why creativity and dreaming are not as big as you would expect.

You have the constant grind of “What are you doing for me today?” You have budget constraints. You have to justify the rationale for why you’re spending more money. There is a massive amount of accountability. You don’t have the ability to be a visionary when you have this constant grind on the other side.

Whereas in an agency, you can dream all day long and bring all of these ideas to the table. I think agencies don’t understand that there is this reality.

What advice would you have for people making the switch from the agency world into the client side?

You will never make everyone happy. The real question that the company is asking is, “What are the lengths you’re prepared to go to to make this happen?” Because the very people who are asking that question are the ones who are not going to give you enough money or time.

They will question every one of your your moves. Be okay with that because that’s their job. That’s the CFO’s job, that’s the CEO’s job—they want you to say, “I’m going to go to the lengths of the earth because I believe this is what we should invest in. I believe this is what’s going to change the business.”

I think agency people will have a hard time with that because they’re used to extreme client service. And unless you really were one of those fighters in the agency world, you’re going to hear “no” and you’re going to want to turn away. But that’s not the question you’re being asked.

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