A Billion People in China Never Heard of [insert your favorite Talent Management vendor or thought leader]

Before games, my college Lacrosse coach would yell to the team "Guys, there's a billion people in China who never heard of Lacrosse!" I'm not sure if he was trying to humble us or put us at ease by suggesting that in the big scheme of life, the game wasn't a big deal. Maybe both. But whatever his motive, I don't think it made a difference, especially when he'd follow up this statement with "It's a good day to die!" (He was excitable).

I thought of my coach's statements recently in the context of the human resource marketplace.

According to BLS, there are approximately 253,000 HR "managers" in the US, 49,000 HR "assistants" and 181,000 payroll and timekeeping clerks. But one has to assume that this total (483,000) under-reports the actual number of people in HR because many who are in the field and/or influence purchases of HR related products may not necessarily consider themselves HR "managers", "assistants" or "payroll" specialists (e.g., CEOs, IT, Finance, department heads, PEOs, benefit brokers, etc.). Not to mention these numbers don't fully account for public sector employment at the state and federal level. But for arguments sake, let's assume the BLS number of 483,000 accurately reflects the total number of people in HR.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the profession's largest trade association, attracts about 11,000 HR professionals to their annual event each year.

That's about 2% of all HR people.

Stick with me - there is a point to this.

At HRmarketer.com, we talk to a lot of HR vendors (hundreds each quarter) and it never ceases to amaze me how many have never attended a major HR tradeshow or heard of so-called industry thought leaders/ analysts. It's even more astonishing when you travel the country and speak with HR professionals. Many have never heard of any of the major talent management vendors and a significant number couldn't name an HR analyst if their life depended on it. And believe it or not, a lot don't even belong to SHRM.

What does all this mean?

To industry thought leaders, it means humility (there are a billion people in China....). The HR "establishment" consists of the same few people going to the same few events speaking to the same few people/vendors and reading the same few trades, blogs and web sites. Too many of these experts (they really are experts and very smart and much more knowledgeable about the space than I am) make broad statements and predictions that are not really representative of the HR marketplace. More often than not, their statements, predictions and viewpoints are based on what is happening in the Fortune 500 or amongst leading publicly held HR vendors - after all, this is where they get much of their revenue from. But the Fortune 500 is not always representative of what's going on in HR. In fact, many HR suppliers with revenues between 2 and 10 million in sales are well established, profitable, debt free and growing. And unheard of by much of the HR establishment. I'm really not being critical or trying to demean these experts but I do believe many suffer from the Ivory Tower Syndrome.

To vendors, it means opportunity and the importance of maintaining diverse marketing programs (especially those tactics that build your online visibility) to reach what is essentially an untapped market.


In 2005, there were approximately 13 million "businesses" (non government) in the US with payroll (e.g., employees - there were over 30 million self-employed businesses with no employees but they don't really buy HR stuff). The top 50 employers (excluding the public sector) in the US employ about 11 million people, or about 9% of all employees. The entire Fortune 500 employs about 24 million people or about 20% of all employees. The mid-market (between 500 and 2,500 employees) represents about 15% of all US employees and is growing faster than employment in the Fortune 500. If you broaden your definition of the mid market to include companies between 500 and 5,000 employees, you'll find they employ about 20% of all employees - about the same as Fortune 500 employment. In my experience, when companies get to about 100 employees, they dedicate someone to oversee human resources. And there are about 120,000 companies who employ 100 or more employees. So if you further broaden your definition of the mid market to include companies with between 100 and 5,000 employees you get about 36 million employees. And this does not even include governmental employment. Add another 5 million state employees and 2 million federal employees (they need HR products and services to).

Lots of opportunities.

The mid-market is where the growth of the HR marketplace will come from in the future. It's untapped and for the most part unconnected to the HR establishment. These are the HR professionals who answer "no" to the question:
"Have you heard of [insert your favorite thought leader, analyst, trade show, talent management firm, etc.]?"
And the consolidation we see amongst major HR suppliers servicing the Fortune 500, is for the most part non-existent in the mid market. In the mid market, opportunities abound - for all HR suppliers, regardless of size.

But reaching these companies is not always easy or cost effective because there is no single event, web site, trade magazine or mail list that gets you access to them. But I'm willing to wager that most if not all use the Internet. And this is why having a strong online visibility and executing a variety of both traditional and non traditional marketing campaigns is so critical.

Something to think about when planning your 2009 marketing and PR budgets.

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