HR Magazine - June 2000: Winning Ways To Recruit

By Michelle Neely Martinz Jun 1, 2000
HR Magazine, June 2000

Vol. 45, No. 6

Want to grab attention with catchier recruitment ads? Learn what worked for some winners of the Employment Management Association's Creative Excellence Award.

In these tough recruiting times, how do employers stand out from the crowd? Pay, benefits and family-friendly arrangements may help seal the deal, but first you have to grab job candidates’ attention. Recruitment advertising is the first exposure many people have to an employer’s name and image, as well as the first opportunity employers have to set themselves apart from the competition.

To honor recruitment ads that get their messages across effectively and creatively, the Employment Management Association (EMA), a professional emphasis group of the Society for Human Resource Management, sponsors the Creative Excellence Awards. More than 1,000 entries were submitted for this year’s judging, with 200 winners in 60 categories.

The winning campaigns offer a lot of lessons about how to get attention. The editors of HR Magazine chose four winners as snapshots of how some employers selected their messages and worked with their advertising agencies.

Booz-Allen & Hamilton: Keeping it Simple

As more employees look to strike a balance between work and home, the newspaper ad campaign for Booz-Allen & Hamilton speaks to that desire for balance. Beneath a vertical lineup of paper clips and a diaper pin are the words, “We believe business should always have a human side.”

“We wanted to show that the firm cares for people and their ability to strike a balance between work and life,” explains Gary Gracie of TMP Worldwide in Vienna, Va., the creative director and writer of the campaign, which won a merit award in the consumer newspaper category. Booz-Allen declined to discuss the campaign’s cost.

Being named by Working Mother magazine as one of the “100 Best Companies To Work for in America” in 1999—and using the award logo in the ad—certainly strengthened the family-friendly message, explains Jean Callahan, director of recruiting for Booz-Allen & Hamilton. “At the same time, we didn’t want to oversell ourselves,” Callahan says. “We wanted to take an honest approach, tell people that they will work hard, yet they still will be offered the flexibility needed to do life-important things” such as those mentioned in the ad—spending time with their children, coaching a youth baseball team or competing in a marathon.

“We couldn’t paint [the company] as a relaxing place,” says Gracie, “because that’s not realistic. The truth is today’s technology-advanced workplaces are not easy places to work, but Booz-Allen & Hamilton will give you the tools you need to cope with balance between work and life.”

The simplicity of the campaign is what makes it eye-catching, especially for time-crunched professionals who saw it run in newspapers throughout the country. “The simpler the visual and text, the more difficult it gets during the creative process and the more effective the ad becomes,” says Gracie. “We took almost a Zen approach where we stripped away a lot of unnecessary elements to get the pure beauty of the message. If you cover up the visual, you would not have any understanding of the message, and, likewise, if you covered up the words. The two elements work in unison with each other.”

Creating simple ads is difficult, says Callahan. “You are used to using corporate lingo when talking about the opportunities of employment. The real challenge here was how to reach those talented individuals who haven’t walked here in the halls with us yet.”

Carroll’s Foods of Virginia: Hogging the Classifieds

Carroll’s Foods of Virginia Inc., in Waverly, Va., demonstrates how more traditional employment advertising, in the classified columns of local newspapers, can give an employer a relatively inexpensive way to reach job-seekers.

For the past year, the 550-employee swine production company has livened up its classified newspaper advertising. An ad seeking financial analysts is headlined “Never a Boar” and features a cartoon pig talking on the phone. A pig stands atop a big-rig truck over the words “High on the Hog” in an ad for truck drivers. A pig works at a computer in the “Pigs in Cyberspace” ad for inventory clerks. In the Creative Excellence Awards, the ads were named best in the consumer newspaper category for one-column classified ads.

The catchy tag lines and crisp, humorous illustrations “really emphasize what Carroll’s Foods is all about,” says Janet Jackson, senior account coordinator with Nationwide Advertising Service in Raleigh, N.C.

The pig illustrations have become a theme throughout Carroll’s Foods’ recruiting activities and have appeared on billboards and in college recruitment brochures, adds Tammy Fitzwater, assistant HR manager.

Because the company is located between Richmond and Virginia Beach, Va., the classified advertisements typically run in local papers such as The Tidewater News and The Richmond Times Dispatch. Fitzwater believes the ads’ catchiness helps draw candidates from a wider geographic base. “Because the ads are upbeat and progressive, people tend to consider driving a little further than perhaps they normally would for work,” Fitzwater says.

Maggie Lyall, Nationwide Advertising Service’s writer behind many of the Carroll’s Foods’ classifieds, makes the text just as upbeat and interesting as the headlines. She says her goal was to get readers excited about the company and the opportunities it offers. For example, in the ad seeking inventory clerks, she emphasized that work at Carroll’s is “not just about food. It’s about technology and using the latest computers and programs” on the job.

“You don’t have to blow the budget to produce professional one-column classifieds,” Jackson adds. For example, the creation of the pig ads by Nationwide Advertising Service cost Carroll’s Foods $75 to $150 per ad. Typesetting costs can vary from $84 to $120 for ads like these. Placement costs also vary depending on the publication and the day of the week. The ad for truck drivers cost Carroll’s Foods about $300 for a one-time placement in a Wednesday paper but the same ad costs about $600 for a one-time placement in the Sunday edition of a larger paper.

The relatively inexpensive ads are worth the money, Jackson finds. “With the illustration and logo, the ads stand out a lot more in the newspapers. It looks more professional and presents a better employer image,” Jackson says.

Mentor Graphics: Getting Aggressive

Mentor Graphics launched its three-month advertising campaign with a specific goal in mind: finding salespeople in the San Jose, Calif., area. Based in Wilsonville, Ore., near Portland, the manufacturer of software tools for engineers is a market share leader, yet unknown to many high-tech professionals working in the Silicon Valley, where San Jose is located.

“It wasn’t that we had a bad image,” says Karen Hansen, Mentor Graphics’ staffing director. “We didn’t have an image, and we needed to build one.”

At a time when many employers choose to emphasize the family-friendliness of their environments, Mentor Graphics took another approach. Although the company has won awards (from Working Mother and the state of Oregon) for offering employees work-life balance and running a state-of-the-art child care facility at its headquarters, these accolades were not mentioned in the campaign.

“We wanted to be portrayed as fun, aggressive and dynamic, so a more edgy angle was the focus,” says Hansen.

Working with creative director Kelly Crawford of JWT Specialized Communications in San Francisco, Hansen launched a recruiting campaign with the tag line “Dominate. Or be a casualty.” The ads, which Crawford says are intended to portray Mentor Graphics as “the irresistible force in business,” saturated the San Jose area in print, on billboards, on radio and on the Internet. The ads also ran nationally.

In one, a rowboat on the ocean is tagged “Your present job.” Looming behind it is a gigantic freighter labeled “Your job with us.” In another ad, “Your present job” is a hapless insect being zapped by the long tongue of a vivid green lizard marked “Your job with us.” A third ad shows a scarecrow as the present job—and a twister as the reader’s job with Mentor Graphics.

“Ben Citron, the writer, had a lot to do with the concept,” Crawford explains. “We came up with scenarios that showed total dominance, such as the predator versus prey, the rowboat versus the freighter and the scarecrow and the tornado.

“Though the ads were much more image-based than job-specific, they fit the immediate need for salespeople,” says Crawford. “The competition is really tough in San Jose and the valley. The city and highways are galleries for employer advertising, and everyone is screaming for attention. That’s why the client wanted to do more aggressive work, and it was very successful.”

One ad from the campaign—featuring the bug-zapping lizard—won the Dansker Award, the best-of-show award in the EMA Creative Excellence Awards competition. The overall campaign won best in its category for color consumer newspaper ads of more than half a page.

Because the $460,000 campaign was the first of its kind for Mentor Graphics, the company carefully tracked its impact. During the three-month campaign, the company’s San Jose web site received 21,530 hits. There was a 56 percent increase in total resumes between the first and second quarters of 1999, and resumes submitted for San Jose jobs increased by 61 percent. The San Jose office hired nine sales or telesales employees, seven marketing employees, five engineering employees and three consulting or support employees—all hires the company credits to the ad campaign.

Mentor Graphics is unusual in its ability to quantify the results of a recruitment advertising campaign. Other companies that talked about their campaigns said that placing quantitative results on their advertising investment was much more difficult—in some cases impossible—because their image-building promotions have been running for years.

HR practitioners at several winning firms pointed out that it can be difficult to determine whether a specific ad campaign was responsible for drawing candidates. So many different media are used simultaneously that candidates may not recall whether they first heard of an employer from a magazine ad, on a corporate web site or on a billboard.

For the Mentor Graphics HR staff, the positive impact goes beyond the hires. “We really raised the visibility of the company, and, as a result of the stir it caused, the senior managers were ready to support this year’s campaign that’s in the works,” says Hansen.

The 1999 campaign’s success persuaded the company to give Hansen a $300,000-plus advertising budget for 2000—the first time the HR department has had a budget item specifically for recruitment advertising.

When Hansen needed to come up with the funds to produce the campaign, in 1999, getting money was an issue because HR didn’t have an official budget for such high-end communications. á

Hansen realized that she needed buy-in from the marketing side of the business for two reasons: funding and creativity. Selling the vice president of marketing on the idea of collaboration wasn’t hard, says Hansen, because the marketing department “needed a presence in the San Jose area from the product marketing standpoint. I couldn’t have done it without marketing,” she adds. “[The marketing vice president’s] color palette and sense of design really set the stage for the campaign.”

PeopleSoft: Showcasing Employees

PeopleSoft’s winning campaign, dubbed “People Profiles,” was designed to attract passive job seekers. The ads won the best-of-category award for a magazine or trade publication campaign using black-and-white ads of more than half a page.

The campaign, which first ran in Fortune magazine, set out to promote PeopleSoft employees as renaissance-type people with the skills and know-how to move the company forward. A portion of the ad copy reads: “From entertainers to athletes to everyday heroes, every single one of our employees has something different to contribute.”

Tim Spry, the creative director at TMP Worldwide in Sausalito, admits that he was skeptical at first when the Pleasanton, Calif.-based application software company wanted to highlight its employees.

“The people profiles were actually the client’s idea,” Spry recalls. “When we heard they wanted to do testimonials, we swallowed hard and gritted our teeth because so many of the testimonial campaigns have been done before and are god-awful,” he says. “Initially, we tried to talk them out of it, but the client insisted that if we visited the company, we would see the interesting types of people that work there.

“So, we went to PeopleSoft and started doing background research,” Spry says. “We actually found so many interesting people who could be part of this campaign, we had trouble weeding the number down to seven or eight people.”

For example, although one of the profiles features Jill, the PeopleSoft employee who won a gold medal for synchronized swimming in the 1996 Olympics, there actually were several other Olympians among the employees, Spry explains.

Like the chicken-and-sheep farmer pictured wearing his kilt and holding bagpipes, the employees featured in this campaign exhibited the flamboyant side of PeopleSoft employees. Besides choosing employees for their unusual accomplishments outside work, the campaign focused on “people who we thought readers would be drawn to, people that readers would want to work with,” Spry says.

“We are proud of our culture and we like to emphasize that by profiling employees,” says Bill Ingham, PeopleSoft’s director of corporate staffing.

Based on internal and external surveys, the “Profiles” ad campaign was “somewhat effective” at raising awareness of the company, says Ingham. PeopleSoft declined to discuss the campaign’s cost.

Ingham is now working on a new recruitment advertising campaign for 2000, one he believes will be “far more effective” than the “Profiles” campaign. “This year, we also use people to emphasize culture, but we also get more specific about the vision of the company and where the company is heading, and what’s in it for the employee, such as projects with titanic impact.”

Michelle Neely Martinez, a contributing editor of HR Magazine , is an Alexandria, Va.-based business writer and managing editor of Employment Management Today .

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