Joe Mullings

Talent Brand Through Rich Storytelling– Mullings Group CEO Joe Mullings

Joe Mullings Founder and CEO

Joe Mullings is the Founder, Chairman, and CEO of the world’s leading search firm in the medical advice industry, the Mullings Group. Joe explains how long term investments in building a talent brand through rich content & storytelling is a crucial part of an effective hiring strategy.

Episode Transcript



[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me. A podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontline’s modern recruitment.


[0:00:12.8] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions. Where are they willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.


[0:00:22.7] RS: No holds barred, completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs and everyone in between.


[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.


[0:00:39.7] MALE: Talent acquisition, it’s a fantastic career, you are trusted by the organization, you get to work with the C-Suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between and everybody knows you.


[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me.




[0:01:00.0] RS: Joining me today on Talk Talent to Me and broadcasting in form the most heroic of recording studios I’ve ever seen on this podcast anyway is the CEO and the founder of the Mullings group, Joe Mullings. Joe, welcome to the show, how are you today? 


[0:01:12.8] JM: I’m doing well, thanks for having me on, I’m excited to spend some time together.


[0:01:16.9] RS: Yes, me as well. Tell me first about your week a little bit. Are things chaotic? Are you drinking from a fire hose? How do you organize the chaos that is running a company?


[0:01:25.7] JM: I think we’re running a handful of companies out of here all interrelated nonetheless but marketing company, media company, search firm and a few other products in product development companies in their sort of early stages. I surround myself with brilliant people, I have a calendar that has a meeting every 30 minutes, starts at 5 AM, runs to about 6:30 PM at night and I’ve got people who direct me on where I can best be used and people who take things off my shoulders that they’re much better at selling the problems on them myself.


Today’s Wednesday. Started this morning in Miami, flew our plane or company plane up from Miami to beat the traffic for two hours to Palm Beach, jumped out of that, ended up in the office and been hitting it hard ever since.


[0:02:12.1] RS: Thanks for slotting me in here in your back-to-back schedule. I imagine your calendar looks like a three-year-old playing Tetris, right? Just block to block to block. I do appreciate you being here and you mentioned you have half a dozen perhaps, companies kind of all under this umbrella.


The search firm, the media company, you’re doing all these magnificent content production, I guess just to set some context here, would you mind kind of drawing a circle around what the Mullings Group is and what the key offerings are?


[0:02:39.2] JM: Sure, we’ve got the Mullings Group Companies and we built this 32 years ago around the search industry, the headhunting industry. We are the number one search firm in the world in medical device industry and had been so over the last probably 15, 20 years, based on pure numbers. Then, about six years ago, we started introducing content, video content in particular, we were the first search firm with a video on LinkedIn and we started putting production level, high quality production level content on LinkedIn on behalf of our firm and on behalf of our clients’ firms. 


That grew itself into a full production company, award-winning, a Telly award-winning production company, especially on our fourth season when we feature technology in Israel two years ago. We’ve got a full-blown 5,000 plus square foot studio and another couple of thousand square foot of editing suites and marketing people. We also have TMG 360 media which is a media PR firm that caters to the merging technologies and life science in medtech industry.


[0:03:44.0] RS: I’m interested in the shift to producing content as an additional offering for the folks you were servicing with the search firm. You mentioned six years ago, that sort of kicked off and that was around the same time where people would email me cold and say, “Hey, Rob, can I pick your brain?” and I would say, “Pivot to video and then send it to the archive” Right? That was the extent of my insight to them but it was true, it was a little bit of a cliché but content is king, et cetera, et cetera, we’ve all heard it.


I’m curious in your mind, what was the trend you were seeing where you’re like, you know what? We need to be offering this to folks, this is an area where our clients were missing out when it comes to getting the word out there.


[0:04:19.0] JM: There’s a couple of areas that required exploration. One of them was, we already had been accustomed to taking in video at scale because of Facebook, because of Instagram as examples of social platforms and we also being accustomed to that by commercials on TV, that was really the terrestrial side of things and then once you started to move to the Internet, you were able to not need the middle man anymore, I.E. the networks and most cases, even a production company, you could put out your own content.


When it came to the talent access world the recruiting world, historically, that has been a one-to-one conversation on the telephone, even if it’s an HR department or a headhunting company, talking to an individual, trying to get them to consider looking at the opportunity or best case, you put a job posting up onboard and that job posting basically was a set of demands that you put on the market of, “You must have previous experience” “Must have been — ” “Education must be — ” it’s a series of demands and it has nothing to do with explaining to people who they might become when they went to work at your company.


We realized that we could reach, today, we reach over a hundred thousand people a day on behalf of our company and our clients, using media. By telling stories, not just haphazardly, there’s a real structure to how you put a story out around a client for a hiring brand, for talent access, for attracting the right kind of people and then using targeted advertising against that video, both organic and in paid fashion. 


That really changed the paradigm quite a bit for us and took our efficiencies, our capabilities to about a 4X return on success on placements made on behalf of clients.


[0:06:08.9] RS: I’m glad you brought up job descriptions, and particularly, I like your characterization of them as a list of demands. It assumes that someone wants to work at your company and that assumption, either assumes they want to work at your company or it assumes someone’s so unthoughtful about their career that they see a list of demands and like yeah, I meet those, I might as well throw my hat in the ring.


Is there still a place for job descriptions or in your opinion, does it miss the nuance of what people are looking for when they consider a new role?


[0:06:40.6] JM: Job descriptions and job postings really, for the most part, only access the active individuals in the marketplace, it doesn’t address, perhaps the most valuable cohort which is the passive group of people who are not looking, who are so busy, their head is down solving major problems in their current role. They are not going to job listings, job postings, one-ads, however you want to categorize them.


You’ve got to figure out how can you get the attention of that passive market and that an applier who is spending zero time because they have zero-time shopping for a job. They’re not looking for a job and I’ll tell you, after 8,000 successful placements, in our organization, I would say, 90% of those people were not looking for a job, probably more, I’m being a little conservative. They had to have been reached out to and marketed to and nurtured. 


That’s an important word if you’re going to increase the level of talent your organization and constantly be top grading is nurturing those relationships and doing that via storytelling, both long and short form copy, a long and short form video. It’s a chorus of efforts in order to access and constantly have on a slow drip, the best talent in your domain.


[0:08:02.3] RS: I like that, a slow drip and this approach mirrors the way marketing is done in other areas of the business. Your marketing team is putting out material that is not just for the people who are looking to buy that month, right? Immediately looking to buy, they might not even have the ability, they might not be at a stage of seniority where they can raise their hand and be the decision maker but you developed this content, you nurture and you story tell for a long time, the people who read your blog and see your videos today are your buyers tomorrow or next year, right?  


It’s how that general strategy goes, why not point that at recruitment, right? Why not point that at the talent market and then you create the slow drip, it’s just a funnel for a different sort of end goals, a job, rather than a sale. You mentioned also that a deficiency of job postings is that they never address who someone would become as part of a job. Why do you think that’s so crucial to point out to a potential candidate?


[0:08:57.7] JM: You brought up something really interesting, this is still one of the mysteries of capitalism to me. Sometime around 60 or 70 years ago, leadership said, human resources is going to be our talent acquisition tip of the spear. Human resources by DNA are gatherers, are sort of in charge of taking care of the internal family and they are not trained, they’re not resourced, they’re not technologically equipped to find talents in an invasive way or tap into the passive candidate marketplace.


The second part of the issue today is, when leadership tries to start to tell its story to the market, it goes to its marketing department, who may have some skills on how to create a desire, a want, a brand, around their product or service but have zero — and I mean that literally, zero experience on how to tell a story to a marketplace on behalf of an organization, on who you will become, should you decide to join our organization.


That storytelling is critically important for the future success of, especially moving forward since the pandemic in January 2020. You are not going to have the same dynamics and responses in the marketplace that you got away with before that and being able to tell that story, then we’ve created something called the four pillars that’s been incredibly effective on our behalf and on our client’s behalf on telling that story. 


That’s just like when we watch movies at a Hollywood, you have the antagonist, you have the protagonist, you got the dragon who lives in a cave and then somebody saves somebody at the expense of the bad guy or the bad girl. You can pretty much unwind ever action story like that. Having said that, I watch organizations create these content and it’s just done haphazardly and they either pick diversity as their theme throughout the content or they highlight one individual and they don’t build a campaign around that. 


They don’t tell a story about, “Who will I become, how can I find myself in your story? Tell me about the market you’re in, tell me about the product that services the market you’re in. Tell me about the people I’m going to hang around with” and then ultimately, probably, most importantly, “Tell me spiritually why I want to show up every day and trade the hours of my life for the paycheck you’re willing to give me and it better be beyond the Benjamins.”


That is a real art and a craft in itself and producing content around that with again, short long-form video and short long-form copy and being able to hit the right audiences is not something to take lightly and I have yet to see an organization pull that off inside their four walls. 


[0:11:58.0] RS: I do enjoy that you are casting this job search story against the traditional hero’s journey, as you can map it against an action movie or however people identify with stories, with themselves as a hero, with the journey that they would go on and should point out, it’s a little on the nose but in the hiring process, you will have literal refusals of the call which just you know, on the nose but wanted to call it out.


Can we beat up the existing content play a little bit more? What are companies missing when you see the employee spotlight or you see maybe they do, make one video and then try and utilizer it a million ways, what is the gap between the content you typically see companies put out for recruitment marketing purposes and an effective content strategy.


[0:12:42.4] JM: Well, what I have watched happen is there’s not enough patience and there’s not enough predictability in the cadence of what’s going on. Most companies will come to us and say, “Hey, we want to do a company signature video and we want it to be 14 minutes long and this is what we want in it.”


It’s this – when’s the last time you watched anything 14 minutes on LinkedIn, first of all? Let’s go there. They look to boil the ocean with their content and when in reality, it’s a series and we call it hum, sing, shout is you’ve got to have a signal going on 24/7, a very low amplitude, very low frequency signal going on all the way. Again, that comes in those fourth categories. Probably long and short form copy, long short-form video and even stills. Stills are magical in my opinion, they are low cost, high impact, as long as your copy is good. 


Then, the second overlay on that is the sing and that’s a little bit higher amplitude, a little bit less frequency but it has more of a powerful input on it. That’s where usually where you want to hit those four pillars that we talked about with the level of frequency. Then you’ve got your shout and your shout generally is when something big is going on, maybe happens four to six times per year and those all working together with the chorus of content is critical. 


You’ve got to give yourself six, nine, 12 months to get this — any kind of output from a reality-based ROI, assuming you’re even doing it right. If you do something wrong for nine months, the outcomes are going to be terrible. However, if you do something in six to nine months with the level of competency that you’ll continue to top grade your product like, we didn’t start out like this, we started out with tow college kids with two small Sony cameras. 


We learned and then we refined and we added to our budget and we learned and refined and added to our team until now, we are the go to organization in a trillion dollar industry on creating content for organizations. I mean, that’s a long answer to it but it’s really what I think is the critical area that most organizations miss.


[0:15:01.8] JM: Thinking beyond the four-man presentation a little bit, could you maybe give an example of an impactful campaign and what about the actual tone and what about the message do you think made it so impactful?


[0:15:16.7] RS: We’ve got, as an example, we’ve got a great campaign going on right now, I can’t give you the name of the company but I can give you what they do. They’ve got a pretty complex, surgical robotic system that is only second one cleared by the FDA for soft tissue in the United States. Those who know my industry know who that is but let’s just say that.


They’ve got facilities here in the US, they’ve got facilities in Israel, they’ve got facilities in Milan, they’ve got facilities in Japan. They want to create, thankfully, a hiring brand for their organization. Not a hiring video, a hiring brand. What we will do is we will sit with them and we will try and figure out first what does their hiring calendar look like over the next year? When does the sales team need work, when is the marketing team need work? When does the clinical team, when does the engineering team?


Then, what we’ll do is we’ll start developing the content around that on very short form video, like 60 to 90 seconds but along with that, we’ll go very precise copy that supports the video, that doesn’t just give me closed caption in the copy on the video. The video either enhances the copy or the copy enhances the video and it starts to tell a series of stories and then you deploy that organically. 


Once you deploy that organically against the marketplace, you can start to see where you’re getting content sort of a traction and then you start to put paid against that against the sort of domain and the cohort of the engineering background or the sales background or the clinical background and you direct that at them three, four, five, six, seven times on LinkedIn. 


Now what you’re doing is you’re surrounding them, not bugging them, surrounding them with storytelling around the technology, storytelling around the cross-border collaboration, storytelling around careers that can leave the US and go over to Milan or go over to Israel, start to tell stories about them defining the marketplace that they’re in and why their market their in and the product that they were — in the market they’re in and the leadership that is making the product in the market they’re in and the reason that they wake up every day to work with that team to make that product in that trillion-dollar industry and weaving all of that together patiently. 


That is a very large multiple six-figure package this client is investing in and that will probably get them, I don’t know, 20 to 30 key hires over a 12 month period and that’s how you put a monetary value on something like that that otherwise you would not get access to that passive candidate marketplace that aren’t looking but suddenly see ultra-high content value creation meaning really well-curated cinematography that is gorgeous and stands out online. 


You then start to follow the characters in the “sitcom” that’s going to be running over the next year in that and you just need to look at what catches eyeballs in the general public domain when people have nothing to gain but they just want to be entertained. That should inform you on how to you may want to present your content. 


[0:18:40.3] RS: It’s interesting, this client in particular came to you saying, “We want to build a brand” rather than, “We want a video” that seems like a key distinction and when they said that I am sure you were like, “Okay, great. I don’t have to educate you on the difference” but to have one video, I do see a lot of companies, they do that and then it lives on their slash career’s page and that’s it but you can’t expect that to convert, right? 


Because that is a stagnant static short-term one thing that’s posted once and then it disappears buried under a pile of other content. You need to have a brand or at least just like a campaign, right? The investment needs to be longer term. 


[0:19:18.2] JM: That’s right and the challenge there is that comes from the C-suite budgeting. First of all, you got to know how to do it. Second of all, you got to understand why it’s so important to building and top-grading your organization on a quarterly basis and then you’ve got to put the bullet in the head of current activities that are owned by somebody whose job depends on them performing a legacy in effective activity that they will protect. 


Because once that legacy activity that’s no longer relevant to the hiring patterns in the employment environment we’re in today and the C-suite is so disconnected from what works and what doesn’t work, it’s palpable because the C-suite generally is up to speed on things like MRP systems, their accounting systems. They are up to speed on their manufacturing systems. 


They will go out and get the best automation or the best sales training but they will put very little thought into learning what are the trigger points to have the A-player pick up her eyes and her mind and follow my brand for five months until she finally has the straw that broke that camel’s back in her current role either for something that happened with the company or something that happened at home that triggered a life decision for her and I just happen to be standing in front of her for six months that had her go, “You know what? I’m going to call up Acme Mousetraps and I am going to look to see if they have an opportunity and I am not going to go through HR. I am going to go that VP of Marketing.”


She was so cool. I’ve been watching her because I connected with her on LinkedIn after I saw her piece and what she spoke about. I am following her, I am not going to send mine because A-players don’t send their resumes to HR. A-players reach out to the hiring manager directly and you only get to know that person if they’re featured on your hiring brand. 


[0:21:31.1] RS: I’m glad you went to the C-suite because I wanted to ask you whose job this is sort of to take on this bog campaign in an area that is probably outside their skillset, you know, generating content, telling stories, engaging with agencies in this capacity may not have been a part of their career up until this time. I am thinking about your recruiter who is probably on a treadmill of open roles, is it the director, the VP, does it have to come from the top down? 


Who needs to point at something like that, a long-term content play and be the one to own this campaign? 


[0:22:10.8] JM: I’ve been saying for years right now that the CEO’s bonus program should have a component of it tied to the hiring brand of his or hers organization. I’ve been on that for quite a few years now, the same way that they get bonus on their – if it is a publically traded company, their stock price on their profits that year, on their retentions that year, on their diversity hiring that year, there should be a hiring brand aligned to executive bonuses because we will pursue what we get rewarded for. 


In competency in a subject that I’d probably say a percentage of the CEOs couldn’t put together a balance sheet even though they claim that they could run a PNL. I’d say a percentage of them couldn’t put together a quality system even though it is critical to the outcomes of the company. A percentage of them couldn’t put together a sales compensation and commission plan for their sales team, yet they hire experts and bring them in house or contract and consult with them out. 


Inability and incompetency is not a fair excuse and I do believe in the next 24 months, we’ll have an enormous reckoning in those organizations that do not create an ongoing committed multimillion dollar per year hiring brand because conventional job postings and conventional recruiting do not work as effectively any longer. 


[0:23:35.9] RS: It makes complete sense to me particularly when you think of the CEO at various growth stages like if you start with the CEO first starting their company, their ability to cultivate a hiring brand and convince other people that they should want to work there is do or die, you have nobody, it is just you, right? If you don’t have that ability to go there and tell people why they should want to work with you, then your company will fail. 


It’s as simple as that. At some point, that stops being the job of the CEO, which it sounds like you pause it, it shouldn’t. I tend to agree with you, right? That that’s the one thing that makes the company keep going, it keeps the lights on and the ice cream from melting. Easy for me to say and so as you say, look for the incentives. If they are not incentivized for, why would they ever prioritize it? 


However most leaders of businesses will concede that hiring is one of the most important things for them. It is usually not number one but they’ll put it somewhere in the top five, right? But do their priorities, do their incentives reflect that? Frequently no.


[0:24:34.8] JM: You bring up an interesting example. Most startup companies and again, depending on the technology but let’s just say for argument’s sake it’s an organization that’s going to go out and raise $5 million and then raise another 20 million maybe another 50 million, so let us put the category out there first. The CEO who comes in at that point will have a certain pull through from his or her previous experience. 


Everybody will call up and say, “Let’s get the band back together” and at that point, you can start to bring in people that you know because of your network and that’s okay but hiring exclusively from your network is only hiring from your network. You don’t even know who you don’t know and so the early you can start creating a hiring brand and you can do that and you don’t need a full-blown studio like this. 


In fact, we’ve got an experiment we’re going to be working on is we’re going to put out a full-blown hiring brand campaign that will all be shot off of iPhones and you’ll never even know it. People say, “Well, we don’t want to spend a million dollars a year Joe for our hiring brand with talent and equipment and studio.” So I am like, “Great. So go out and pay three million dollars in recruiting fees and always be a on the tip of somebody.” 


You know, you should never outsource a core competency and in my opinion, if you are an organization of more than 50 people, attracting top level talent should be a core competency that should be in house. Now, the core competency could still bring in contractors to shoot, right? But you should have a producer in house that can also have an editing — you know, there is so many college kids these days who would love to do $20 an hour moonlighting stuff and they are amazing talented young people. 


But you should have your brand development, your producer in house that reports up through not HR, up into the C-suite and what is our strategy this quarter for getting access to the top 50 most talented people in each category in our industry? I will tell you a story, this one blew my mind the other day. A company comes to me, they are a great client of mine and the president comes to me, calls me up, we just got into a conversation about something. 


He said, “Listen, we have a billion dollars cash in the bank” and these guys have been one of the top ten stocks for the last 10 year in not my industry on the exchange and he said, “What I need you to do for me is I need you to identify the top 10 players and the 15 different functions of the medical device industry, sales, marketing, regulatory, clinical, across the board, you know, materials, resource, operations, manufacturing.”


“We’re going to be growing quite a bit, we’re going to be doing some acquisitions. I need you to develop a hiring brand for me that is going to be constantly be getting our content in front of who you think are the top 10 people in each category at each level and I want that directed at them and I want you telling — I am not going to tell you the company, the story about us and what we’re doing and where we’re going” and there is a reason why this guy is the best CEO in the medical device industry. 


That right there should be the playbook of every single person in the C-suite and I don’t care if you make cardboard boxes or you make a car. Your goal should be to that talent access producer who is going to be getting the best people showing up for you to interview to say I want – name the 17 different functions in our domain. I want the top 15 people every day they wake up on LinkedIn, which is the best platform that’s ever been around for free for marketing. It is not a job board.


I want our content in front of them every single day one way or the other. That is the most succinct playbook that you could put in that you get these — what do you call it? Force multipliers in each of your functions potentially and at that you can change an organization that way. 


[0:28:24.9] RS: The CEO by the way has not reinvented the wheel here. This is account based marketing, right? This is an existing playbook that similar to the content play is being pointed at this crucial business aspect hiring folks, right? You know, that individual was perceptive to translate it, right? To be instead of, “Who are our dream accounts we wish we could sell to?” it’s, “Who are the dream individuals we wish we could hire?” Similar playbook just different target really. 


[0:28:53.7] JM: Yeah.


[0:28:54.6] RS: There is this famous quote in advertising I am sure you’re aware of, half my advertising budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half. In the event that you were going to goal a CEO, you are going to incentivize a CEO to cultivating hiring brand, how would it be measured? 


[0:29:10.5] JM: ROI, the denominator in every ROI equation is the time. Is it a week, is it a month, is it a quarter, is it a year? So that’s number one, so you got to define over what timeline it’s judged. Second, like most advertising, well, are you advertising for the overall company brand hiring brand not what you make but your company brand who I will become if I choose to come there, right? 


What industry that you’re in, how long does it take that story to tell and then overtime, you can always track attribution. Attribution is not hard to track based on activities. I wonder how many people when they interview ask the individual who came in for the interview, how did you hear about this opportunity? Where did you see this opportunity and what I would love to have and this should happen almost all the time that you know, I can’t remember, I have been watching Tesla TV on LinkedIn. 


On the channel that Elon created just for hiring to tell the Tesla story and it was that episode on that woman whose three kids got sent to school because she took advantage of a program that Tesla had for diversity, population, et cetera, et cetera. That caught my eye and that had be applied to that job as a safety engineer. You’ve got to create attribution but you can’t get wrapped around the axel on attribution because marketing, you’re right. 


I probably should say 80% of it is you don’t know where you should cut it but you’ve got to be on 24/7 and you’ve got to be standing in plain sight when somebody eventually needs something and you’ve got to be giving away values. So, you got to also be careful here Rob that you are not selling careers on your employer branding or hiring brand. What you have to be doing is pulling back the curtain and answering the four pillars in every piece that goes out. 


Market, product, leadership, mission and the second you start selling is when they shut it off but if you start to educate, inform and inspire in your messaging as an overlaying theme, people will not shut you off because they won’t feel like they’re the product. They will feel like that they are learning or experiencing something from watching your content. 


[0:31:41.6] RS: That’s very well put. I don’t know if we’re going to find a better book end than that. Joe Mullings, this has been a delight learning from you. I feel like this was career up leveling for me as a content creator, so selfishly I really enjoyed this. Thank you for being here and sharing all of your experience and wisdom with me today. I loved learning from you. 


[0:31:58.2] JM: Yep, I appreciate it. Great questions and really looking forward to see how this rolls out when you share it. 




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