The Recruits of the ‘Big Green Book’

Thomas Publishing, best known for its “Big Green Books,” no longer prints a book. That means hiring a different type of employee and a new way to approach recruiting.


Thomas Publishing is best known for its “Big Green Books” – the directories and buying guides of suppliers, vendors and service providers in just about every industry imaginable.

Thomas published the books through two world wars, the Great Depression and the peaks and valleys of innumerable business cycles. But as with most of the publishing industry, the shift from print to the online, globally connected space has left its mark on the Big Green Books, the last of which was printed in 2005. The company now produces the same directories, but solely for online users.

This adjustment — which is threatening many job seekers and a big chunk of the American workforce — wasn’t just a challenge for the company’s print-centric leadership; it meant the human resources department needed to recruit a new breed of employees and leaders.

“When the paradigm shifted from print to the Web, at first it was very difficult to fill open positions,” said HR Manager Susan Meltzer. “But over the last few years, it’s gotten easier as the older generation of editorial, marketing and sales workers has gotten comfortable with the Web format, with the technology.”

Generation X and younger workers, too, are making the search, recruitment and hiring process even easier, since most have grown up using Web-based technology and implicitly understand the new paradigm of the Web, she said, including how best to organize and present information clearly on the Web, and palatably to the audience.

“Editorial hires have to have technical expertise in Web content delivery,” she said. “They have to know how to work with various Web publishing technologies as well as have the editorial skills to convey and organize information — to translate and elucidate a huge volume of information in a way that makes most sense for our clients,” she said.

On the Web, that usually means distilling information into a size and format suitable for Web sites, meaning more concise articles as well as ones that pay particular attention to keywords, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques, she said.

The most difficult hires are those Meltzer makes in the sales department, she said. Candidates must have excellent sales and marketing skills, of course, but must also have a background in publishing and be familiar with the online space and Web-based technology, SEO and SEM. They must also understand how to present and close what can be a complex solution.

“We have a number of online marketing and online sales solutions,” she said, “as well as our editorial content across our four business units. We serve both the buyer and the seller, and thus far we’ve been enormously successful in bringing them together.”