What differentiates TLNT from ERE.net? What are the trends in HR and talent management TLNT is reporting on? What's "in the news" is industry consolidation!
John Hollon is Vice President for Editorial of TLNT.com, and the former Editor of Workforce Management. He has written extensively about human resources and talent management, and joins us here for a Big Picture Channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio.
TLNT "is an HR blog about the business of HR, with news, insight, and topical information from experts and thought leaders in HR, talent management, and all areas related to HR and managing a workforce. This includes legal topics and issues, compensation and benefits (health, financial/retirement, and voluntary), HR technology and software, training and development, HR management, and other related areas."
This year, TLNT presents its first TLNT Transform Conference in Austin, Texas February 27-28 at the Palmer Event Center.
John Hollon Interview Transcript
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Peter: John Hollon is president of editorial for TLNT.com and the former editor of Workforce Management. He's written extensively about human resources and talent management and joins us here for a Big Picture Channel podcast on TotalPicture Radio.
John, welcome to TotalPicture Radio.
John: Thanks Peter. Happy to be here.
Peter: First of all, can you tell us about TLNT and how does this all fit in to the ERE.net empire.
John: Essentially, it goes back to April of 2010 when I was still at Workforce Management. Workforce Management, the company that owned it had decided to move the magazine from Irvine, California where it had been published for many years, to Chicago. I was trying to figure out how I was going to make that work and I got a tweet from David Manister, who's the CEO of ERE. It basically said, "Look, I don't think all of your staff at Workforce is going to want to make the move to Chicago. Would you like to chat with me about some opportunities that I may have for them?" Of course I was thinking about yeah, I would love to talk to them because they weren't all going to move.
When I finally got them on the phone - and by the way, I had only met David once. I met him once at a SHRM conference I think in Chicago in 2008, five minutes in the press room. At any rate, he'd been following me on Twitter, so we got together on the phone. When we got together, he said, "Look, I'd love to talk about your staff but I want to talk about you first."
He had had this vision for extending the ERE brand. ERE, which I don't know if most folks know, but it's really about recruiting recruiters, staffing, that kind of stuff. It does a great job, really dominates the market there. But that is just a little piece of the larger HR, talent management, people management side of things.
He had had this vision to basically do what we had been doing at Workforce, but that the publisher there decided it didn't work anymore and that was timely news, trends, insight analysis about HR talent management. So he had been looking to launch a website about six months later, but had this notion 'look, John may be on the market. He'd be a good guy to do this. I'm going to reach out to him.' He did and it was the kind of thing where I could do the job without moving so I can continue to stay in California. I got hired April of 2010 and we launched TLNT June of 2010 right before the SHRM conference in San Diego.
That's sort of how it started and it's slowly grown, but we've had real nice steady growth, especially for the past year; it's been really great, great growth. We're starting to connect with folks. It always makes me feel good when people tell me, "Wow, I'm really getting things on TLNT I feel I can't get anywhere else." That always tells me that I'm doing something right.
Peter: That's great. You're right. I know David and I've covered many of the ERE conferences and expos. When you go there, you're really talking to the recruiters who are doing the work in the trenches, the hard core people who really focus on that and are passionate about that specific thing.
John: Right. It's been nice and I think there was a real concern at first when we launched TLNT, that TLNT was simply going to cannibalize or take away from the ERE audience. What we found out is that we have built a complete separate and distinct audience that come to TLNT. So there's a little bit of overlap, but there's not much. It's really a very different and distinct audience.
Peter: I'm looking at the TLNT website right now and you have headers of News, Management, Legal, Insights, Benefit, Training, HR basics, Staffing, Technology, Rewards and Recognition, Global HR. How many people do you have covering this, John?
John: It's essentially me in charge of it and I've got a number of people who contribute.
Peter: Folks like Lance Haun.
John: We are picking up things from here and there. We do certainly a great deal of original content, which I write some. Lance Haun, who a lot of folks know, who's on the ERE side, writes some.
Peter: He's been on my show.
John: I also have some contributors who write, like Ron Thomas who used to be the senior VP of HR at Martha Stewart. Ron always has a great post first thing Monday morning and that's very well read. A lot of things like that.
We also are able to feature blogs that people are writing for but perhaps don't get as much visibility as they should. We can offer them up to a much larger audience. For example, my friend Tim Sackett who's a staffing and HR professional in Lansing, Michigan - Tim's got a blog The Tim Sackett experience - He has some great, provocative, really well-read blog posts that we use on TLNT, that were getting some exposure on his own blog that we can give them to a much broader, larger audience.
I'd been in media for a long time. I started in newspapers and worked there for 20 years. I've been in magazines. I've worked during the dot com boom in San Francisco. I've been editor of business journals; I've done a whole bunch of things, and I think one of the great changes has been the notion that sharing, aggregating content that is out there is a good thing. We do that a lot.
In newspapers, it used to be called syndication where you would buy syndicated content or New York Times news service, or something of that sort and share it with your readers. I worked at newspapers in California, Hawaii and Montana where you would share that stuff. This is just a little bit different version of that. With so many bloggers and so many people out there writing, there's a tremendous amount of good content, really insightful, really engaging stuff that just doesn't get a lot of eyeballs. So one of the things we've really tried to do at TLNT is share that with folks and I think that we've been fairly successful at it.
Peter: So you're sort of like a Huffpost for the HR world.
John: Right. We do a lot of news. We do a lot of trends, but we also do insight and analysis, which people are looking at and looking for too. So we do all of that. Our traffic has been steadily growing. It grows virtually every month. In fact, I was surprised; November was the best month that we've had. November, in most places I worked in the past, has not been a great month because you've got Thanksgiving, and the day after Thanksgiving and Veterans' Day. So naturally, because of all the days off, it's not a month that you see an increase in traffic. But for us, it was.
December is going great guns too. I don't think we're going to hit another record simply because the end of the year kicks in and you get the Christmas, New Year and those things. But still, it's been really steady and really, really great.
Peter: That's great. What are some of the trends in HR and recruiting that you've been reporting on recently? All of this industry consolidation that's going on, what do you make of all of this and what are some of your projections for 2012?
John: Certainly there's a big consolidation going on in the HR technology space. I think we're going to continue to see more and more of that. The SAP Success Factors deal was just like the latest one, but you're going to be seeing more of that as a lot of technology providers look to sort of sweep up smaller providers that maybe do something that the larger provider does not do as well. Success factor has really done really well in the cloud computing side; they make talent management systems and things of this sort. SAP which is a very large company, but is German so they just didn't have quite a big of a footprint here as they would like. It's going to really, really help them there.
You are going to see more and more of that stuff, I think, as time goes on.
I think employee engagement is also a really big topic. I've written about this a lot. Every survey that comes out basically says two things. It says, (1) employee engagement is at terrible, terrible levels and that by and large, employees are terribly disengaged with their companies, which is to a certain extent a fallout from the recession and the way a lot of companies dealt with employees and workers during the recession. That it was this notion of you should feel lucky that you have a job, which I think people do, but they don't want that rubbed in their face. So you've had a lot of that, and I work for a company that was terrible at communicating with people about the changes. Not just that we took a cut in pay and stuff, but my experience is people understand those things when times are tough. What they don't understand is the company not being forward and upfront and willing to share information. How long is this going to last... Keep us in touch... If you don't know, can you give us regular updates - these kinds of things. A lot of companies haven't done a very good job at that.
Every employment engagement survey I see says it is terrible and that workers are ready to bolt. The problem is, the economy hasn't allowed them to sort of go with the second part of the thought which is bolt. But I believe that as the economy slowly starts to improve, we're going to start to see people leaving. We're going to start to see people going. Now top talent can always go, so there's that. But I think you're going to see a much more widespread version of that. Not that we're going to suddenly see huge shortages, but I think it's going to slowly grow and it may grow so slowly that it sneaks up on a lot of companies. So I see that coming too. That's going to be a pretty big thing.
I think too in 2013, there's going to be a lot of activity with the companies getting ready for the real big kick-in of healthcare reform, which is supposed to happen in 2014. I think you're going to see more and more companies get ready to go on that. They're going to be doing a lot of work because now it's like that much closer. It's not like in 2011 where it was we've got two years to wait. 2012 is going to be, okay it's starting to get closer now and we need to do some things. I think a lot of companies may also question, do they get involved with these healthcare exchanges, which is to say they drop their own coverage for employees and simply pay the penalty and allow employees to go out on the market and get it on their own. It's really up in the air how companies are going to deal with that. I think we're going to see some more clarity to that in the New Year.
Peter: That's some really great information. I covered the SelectMinds Client Conference in New York this month and in her keynote, Anne Berkowitch who is the CEO of SelectMinds said that 2011 was the year of social media, 2012 will be the year of mobile. Do you agree?
John: I think so. I think mobile is really moving. In fact, one of the things that - it's interesting you should say that - when I talked to people who want to contribute and write for TLNT, one of the things I have to caution them is that we need to keep it at a certain length. Generally, our posts are between 400 and 850 words or so (they can go a little bit more than that), but one of the things I'm constantly saying is that look, people are accessing TLNT through more mobile devices, pads, things like that, where the reading experience is that much tougher and people can't simply just read really long, long things. That's because people are just using their mobile devices almost in place of a computer at times. I know I do it. Not that I would not rather get on my laptop and work or to see things, but if I don't have it, the mobile device is the next best thing.
I think she's absolutely right; you're going to see more and more of that. And I think too, as you see things like the Kindle Fire, start to press like the iPad and bring the price down and more and more people get involved in that. I think this whole notion of mobile phone, smart phone, pad technology is going to continue to grow.
Peter: Yeah, I totally agree. As I told you before we started recording, my new website has just launched. One of the main priorities for that website was, I have a flashplayer on the old website so you could listen to the content online. We changed that to an HTML5 player and have really optimized the new website for mobile. When I go to these conferences and events, I just see so many people using iPads that you just really have to make sure that whatever you're putting out there is accessible by these mobile devices.
John: Right. I think that that's something that a lot of companies need to be thinking about. I think that Anne's right, you're going to see more focus on that in the coming year as we continue to grow there.
Peter: I want to talk to you about the TLNT Transform Conference, which will be held February 27th and 28th in lovely Austin, Texas. On the conference website you say Transform will be an experience unlike any other HR event you have ever attended. Why so?
John: One of the things, and you talked about ERE Media being a parent company of TLNT. ERE is known for their ERE Expos and their conferences and such.
Peter: Yes, they do a great job - always.
John: It's simply a logical extension of that for TLNT to have a conference. We launched Transform, which as you said is going to be on February 27-28 in Austin, Texas. I've gone to many conferences and I've got to tell you, I've been to every different type. I've seen them. I go to a number every year, as I know that you have. I've been through the full gamut of conference experiences and what really struck us with conferences, and particularly the big SHRM conference in June and a lot of those things, they're very much about the here and now. They're very much about what you need to do today.
What we wanted to do was to make Transform be forward-looking, not just about what you need to do to succeed today - what do you need to do to succeed in the future, what you need to do to get ahead in the year or years to come. So that was the focal point. We also looked at having very different types of speakers and such there. So that's our goal is to be a very forward-looking, very different conference experience from the other ones that I'm familiar with and I think most everybody is.
Peter: One of your keynote speakers is Billy Beane, who's the general manager of the Oakland A's. Of course he's played by Brad Pitt in the movie Money Ball. I have not seen him at a conference. So I'm looking forward to that. Who are some of the other people that you're bringing in?
John: Billy Beane is a big name and one of the reasons why we got him is that as I think the movie Money Ball shows really well, it's about a talent management system that's sort of ahead of its time. He did a really good job there. He's going to talk about that.
We have people like Jim Knight. Jim Knight is the senior director of training at Hard Rock International. He really goes around the world training folks. He is going to be talking about how to build a team of rock stars.
We have Libby Sartain who a lot of folks know, she was the chairperson of SHRM way back 2000. Libby's famous for - she was the chief human resource officer at both Southwest Airlines and Yahoo. Even though the bloom is off the Yahoo rose a little bit, both of those were very forward-looking companies when she was there. She is going to talk about that.
I got my friend Tim Sackett, a number of other folks. Some of the people who write for TLNT will be there, people like I said, Tim Sackett, Anne Bares, she talks about compensation. Mel Kleiman, who's Houston-based and Mel does a lot about hiring. In fact, we run a piece from him every Monday on hiring wisdom, so that's good. Eric Meyer, who's a Philadelphia attorney who writes a lot about legal matters as it pertains to employees in the social media space. He's gotten to be very hot. He's going to be leading a panel discussion with a number of HR professionals about that. My friend Ron Thomas, who is the senior vice president at Martha Stewart Living. Ron is the chairperson who's going to be keeping the trains moving at the conference.
We're going to have sessions on engagement and healthcare, and just all the things that people are dealing with now. I think it's going to be a great conference, a great event and I really hope people can find time and budget to come down and see us in Austin.
Part of the thinking was too, this conference, because it's at the end of February - a little bit ahead of when most of the spring conferences start, so there shouldn't be any real conflicts with folks. For people in the north, it's a way that at that point - I've lived up north and you sort of get tired of the winter by the time the middle part of February kicks in - it's a way to get out of the cold, to get down to some place a little bit warm. We hope that will be a draw too.
Peter: Do you have an expo component to this event?
John: We're going to have an expo hall. We're going to have a number of vendors and folks there. I've had really great response from a lot of those people. If you look at the Transform website, which is transform.TLNT.com, you can see a lot of our sponsors who will be there: Pinstripe, HR Marketer, HR.com, Employee Screen IQ, People Report, BPI, there's just a whole bunch of them and we will have more. It's a little bit tough because we're at the end of the year right now, so a lot of people aren't thinking about it. But it's going to come up real fast because again, it's February 27th and 28th, that's really only a couple of months down the road. We certainly have some great discounts in place for people who will sign up now and go.
I think it will be well worth their while. Our hope is to build on this and to make Transform a real annual event that's really worth going to. A big part of our thinking is, we sort of looked at it, once you get past the big SHRM annual conference that they always have in June - last year it was in Las Vegas, this year it's going to be in Atlanta... it's sort of like, what's the next conference? Once you get away from the niche stuff like HR technology and things of that sort, and we really couldn't think of a general HR talent management conference that sort of jumped out. So our feeling is that Transform, if we really do it right, is going to be able to sort of fill that gap and be yes, you need to go to SHRM but there's also this thing Transform that they're doing this spring that's a great forward-looking event that will really help you to get on top of where you need to be and what you need to be doing to sort of succeed in the future.
Peter: John, thank you so much for taking down to speak with us today on TotalPicture Radio. This has been really a fun conversation. I am definitely looking forward to the TLNT Transform conference.
John: Great! Peter, I would love to see you there and hopefully some of your listeners will be there too.
Peter: Is there anything I didn't ask you that you would like to share?
John: Just one thing is that we have a daily free email newsletter at TLNT. So if people want to go there and sign up for it, it's a great way to get the latest TLNT material from the last 24 hours, dropped directly into your mailbox. It's free, so I just urge people to go and sign up for that too.
Peter: John, thanks again for taking time to speak with me today.
John: Thanks, Peter. Always a pleasure.
We've been speaking with John Hollon, VP for Editorial at TLNT.com. You'll find this interview in the Big Picture channel of TotalPicture Radio's new, completely redesigned and mobile-optimized website at totalpicture.com. Visit our site for a complete transcript of our podcast with John and while there, please sign up for our newsletter. Connect with me on Twitter @peterclayton and join our growing TotalPicture Radio Facebook community. Thanks for listening.
About Peter Clayton
Peter Clayton, Producer/Host, is an award-winning producer/director of radio, television, documentary, video, interactive and Web-based media who has created breakthrough media for a wide array of Fortune 100 clients.