Let’s go ‘Rambo’ on “Post and Pray”

In an excellent blog post titled Post and Pray: Gone and Hopefully Forgotten, Pinstripe suggests we erase from our minds the idea of merely posting resumes on websites and praying they get filled. But I say we never forget. I say we go ‘Rambo’ on the fallacy that “prayer is the answer”!

As an Executive Search Consultant who writes fiction (or am I a novelist who also recruits?), I’ve a unique perspective. I’m privy to stories in a number of industries that cross relate. One apocryphal story that seems especially appropriate in today’s economy is how the movie First Blood (i.e. “Rambo”) came into being. This was told to me by David Morrell the man who wrote the book on which the movie was based.  First, a question:  How much do you think David was paid for the film rights to the film that eventually grossed over $125,000,000? Did you guess $1M? $500K? Certainly $100K? Nope. He was paid $80,000 for the film rights for the film that resulted in a four-movie franchise that grossed over $726,000,000.

“How can that be?” you ask. “Did his agent rip him off?”

Actually, the agent more than paid for himself, but we’ll get to that later. The reason that David Morrell sold the rights for $80,000 (and was thrilled with that price), was that he made the deal in 1972. That’s right. Ten years before the movie was finally made. Columbia Pictures originally purchased the rights and then sold them to Warner Bros. The story passed through three different companies and eighteen different screenplays. That is ten years.

The geniuses in Hollywood may have thought themselves prudent for saving production costs on making the film. They also let inaction become the rule of thumb. They let a fantastic story die on the vine for a decade because they didn’t want to take a risk. Two of the companies actually passed on a $726,000,000 project (my pet theory is that those same individuals—banished from Hollywood—are the very same folks who later passed on the publishing rights to the Harry Potter franchise because it “just wasn’t right for them”). There are dozens of examples of this in Hollywood. Once an idea has been around town for a while, there’s little chance the film will get made. Everyone assumes it’s a bad idea.

What in the name of Orson Wells does any of this have to do with recruiting? With “post and pray”?

Well, I’m curious how many times otherwise well-run companies have gone with “post and pray” in order to avoid paying a fee only to miss out on the very best potential candidates. I wonder how many of those firms paid HR representatives salaries for weeks/months/years. These HR generalists were evaluating resumes submitted through their website that were nowhere near qualified, or perhaps qualified, but nowhere near the right fit. How many hiring authorities and C-level executives spent hours/days interviewing under-qualified candidates? And I know for a fact that a decent percentage of those under-qualified people were hired and ultimately let go before they ever contributed to the bottom line.

A top-performing employee typically makes his company many times what he or she earns. Is that multiplier 2x? 3x? 5x? If so then, each month that a vital position remains unfilled because of the “post and pray” mentality, money is being lost. Money that eventually dwarfs the size of a recruiting fee. In other words, every film Columbia Pictures and Warner Brothers released between 1972 and 1985 which made less than the $300,000,000, in a sense “lost” them money. When the big picture is examined, there can be no other conclusion that a search firm which helps its clients find and attract the top talent in a reasonable time, more than pays for the fee that is charged them, if only in opportunity costs.

Lastly, here’s something to consider:  A good Executive Search Consultant acts in a very similar way to a literary agent. They help ensure that both parties benefit by the connection. In 1985 when David Morrell was paid the industry standard half the amount ($40,000) for the rights to the sequel (Rambo:  First Blood II – that cost $44,000,000 to produce), he wasn’t as depressed as one might think. Decades earlier, his agent had apparently thought ahead and made sure that his clients retained the “Ancillary Rights” for anything produced from the book or film.

“Ancillary rights?” David asked his agent, when informed of the sale. “What are those?”

“You know. For the sale of things like lunchboxes. Action figures etc.”

“Lunchboxes? Action figures??? Everyone dies at the end of the book.”

“I’ve dealt with Hollywood before. Just trust me on this.”

David trusted. David profited. And so should you and your clients.

Steve Prosapio

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5 Responses to Let’s go ‘Rambo’ on “Post and Pray”

  1. C. Rork says:

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  4. Landon says:

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