While tech industry execs debate rising tension between IT and marketing pros, careers website TheLadders has avoided that struggle and rapidly evolved.
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If there's supposed to be regular tension between IT and marketing departments, then somebody forgot to tell the folks at TheLadders.com.
"If that is a common perception then I am extremely happy to say that is not what we experience here," said Tom Murphy, director of enterprise business at TheLadders, in an interview.
There's a cultural element behind how TheLadders avoids the IT-marketing power struggle. The Silicon Alley, N.Y.-based careers site is in perpetual startup mode and remains lean at a little more than 100 employees. Its employees work under the paired slogans "love the customer" and "our team wins."
There's also more than feel-good corporate mantras at work. TheLadders, which originated as a premium executive search firm for workers in the $100,000+ annual salary range, has since adapted its approach to target a much broader set of job seekers and employers, in part by offering free listings for employers and recruiters. Today, it's again shifting gears to become a "mobile first, Web second" company, meaning that its products, such as a new iOS app, will be developed first for mobile platforms and later for the general Web, rather than vice versa.
TheLadders, like LinkedIn, is fundamentally a technology business. The young company's evolution -- and the apparent harmony between marketers like Murphy and the 46-person technology and engineering team -- has been enabled and driven by marketing automation. Once TheLadders turned to firms like Marketo for its email programs and Hubspot for its blogs, Murphy's team no longer needed IT to put its marketing plans into action. Email alone is a major activity for the company and used to be a major resource drain.
"I no longer need to work with IT to ensure we have the bandwidth to support our email campaigns," Murphy said, noting that TheLadders might send out as many as 100,000 targeted emails in a given week, depending on what's going on inside and outside the company. "That's a lot of constraint on an IT department."
Yet it's not a matter of marketing cutting IT out of the loop, according to Murphy, nor is it about downsizing IT pros. (Actually, they're hiring.) Rather, it's a business strategy based on assigning internal skills to the projects where they'll deliver the maximum return. People with no technical background -- like Murphy -- can manage the day-to-day marketing operations without much IT intervention because the technical nuts-and-bolts have effectively been outsourced. IT pros, on the other hand, get to work on bigger-picture initiatives such as the company's mobile makeover. The new iOS app, like the other mobile apps and features that will follow, was built in-house.
"To be frank, coding emails is below the skill set that we're recruiting [internally] at TheLadders," Murphy said. "We're recruiting engineers and IT [professionals] that are supposed to be building the best and the brightest [products]."
The same holds true for the back-office IT function, too. That's very much alive and well at TheLadders, responsible for traditional areas like desktops, Exchange and the company's voice system. That group also administers the firm's Salesforce.com deployment. But don't let the familiar hallmarks of a service-and-support organization fool you -- the back-office IT pros are very much part of the firm's forward-looking technology approach. Murphy pointed to disaster preparedness as a recent example of proper resource allocation. Once IT no longer needed to spend much time supporting TheLadders' marketing operations, it was able to redirect those resources into better backup and recovery planning.
The payoff was nearly immediate: TheLadders is headquartered in downtown New York City, smack in evacuation zone 1, which was devastated in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy.
"Because of our IT team, we had zero downtime [as a result of Sandy]," Murphy said. A chat feature was temporarily knocked offline, but everything else -- phones, website and so forth -- stayed up and running throughout the disaster. "We should have been taken out by Sandy, but our IT department enabled us to move forward."
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