Breaking the Mold

By Michelle Neely Martinez Jun 1, 2001

HR Magazine, June 2001 Tales from some of this year's Creative Excellence Award winners

Todays recruitment advertising does a lot more than promote job openings. Its about selling and branding an organizations image, convincing applicants that this is an employer of choice. But at the same time, ads that merely brag about the companys greatness are pass, explains Lynne Meena of New York-based Lynne Meena & Co., a newspaper advertising firm. Meena directed the judging for the 2001 Creative Excellence Awards (CEA), which honor achievement in employment advertising.

Many recruitment ads, whether in print or broadcast or on the Internet, are too boastful about the companywe this, we thatwithout thinking in terms of the needs of prospects, Meena says. Theres often a fine line between establishing an image as an employer of choice and being viewed by readers as boastful and brash. But this years CEA winners (based on 2000 campaigns) were able to walk that line with remarkable grace.

This years crop of winners speaks in conversational tones and really relates to the potential prospectwhether the job is for a $100,000 financial services wizard or an $8-an-hour amusement park employee, says Meena.

To honor recruitment campaigns that are original, creative and effective, the Employment Management Association (EMA), a professional emphasis group of the Society for Human Resource Management, sponsors the annual awards. EMA received more than 1,000 submissions for judging. The CEA competition is divided into five categories with 64 subcategories, ranging from print media, employee referral programs, college promotions, Internet campaigns and radio and television announcements to outdoor displays and direct mail campaigns. Fifty-eight Best of Category winners emerged, and 220 entries received merit award recognition. One special honor, the Dansker Award, is given to the ad campaign that is distinguished as the best overall.

The editors of HR Magazine selected four winners out of this illustrious group to tell their stories of how the campaigns developed, how they honed their messages and why their strategies worked.

Dansker Award Winner: Seattle Police Department

At the Seattle Police Department, the same style of protect our city recruitment messages had been running for years. Instead of falling back on whats always been done, Officer John Ritter, the departments recruiter, called on JWT Specialized Communications in Seattle to help create a fresh approach to recruitment promotions.

In addition to livening stale advertising, Ritter had a more immediate concernfilling 125 open positions. We had to change our mindset, even though it is often hard, due to the type of environment we operate in, he says.

Instead of just seeking local talent, the Seattle Police Department created a nationwide print advertising campaign called A Job Like No Other. Rather than using fancy graphics or photographs of people, the campaign relied on all-text ads to stay within a low budget and avoid stereotypes of what officers look like. We are targeting a widespread age group as well as a very diverse group of people, and we didnt want pictures, Ritter says.

Including the web site address on the ads was an important choice, says Ritter. Now about 80 percent of candidates who test for the police department use the Internet to obtain more job information including test sites, as well as fill out an application. This relieves us of about 100 calls a day, ensures that applicants are receiving consistent information and saves us $2 on postage per application.

Part of the campaigns edge was the humor, says Mary Olson, creative director for JWT. The type illustrated how the Seattle police put their life on the line, yet theres the lightheartedness of the city portrayed in the copy.

The use of humor represents a real departure from how most police departments depict themselves. The light tone helps attract candidates who would never dream of becoming a police officer. Humor helps open up peoples mindset, says Ritter, which is a real advantage since many people view police departments as a closed community.

The ads also used location as an attraction elementone that makes the Seattle Police Department stand out among competitors. In addition to highlighting the uniqueness of being a police officer, the campaign showed Seattle as a great place to live and work, explains Olson. The tag line A job like no other. In a city like no other. is a strong statement in itself, which makes the department stand above others, she says.

What really intrigued the judges was the fact that the ad campaign was so unpredictable, especially for the public-service sector. It creates a real feeling for the job, says Meena, and the tag line instills a sense of pride.

PETsMART: Hot and Greasy or Warm and Cuddly?

Not only does the photo of a lovable pooch holding a french fry in his mouth bring a smile to your face, the headlineA french-fry machine wont lick your faceimmediately tells you why working at PETsMART is worlds apart from other retail and restaurant jobs.

Speaking about his work on the PETsMART campaign, Nick Vacca, vice president and creative director at New York-based Bernard Hodes Group, explains: The whole creative strategy is targeting the employee benefit factor. It doesnt work to think the job offer is much better than another. You really have to establish an image so prospective candidates have a preconceived positive notion of the employer. Its about brand advertising, which is very similar to consumer marketing.

Carol Cox, senior vice president of HR at PETsMART in Phoenix, Ariz., explains: We are very interested in employer branding in all our advertising. We want to get across who and what we are, and what our culture and style are, so we can attract the right candidates. What we say to people is that it is a fun, warm and very caring atmosphere.

The advantage we have at PETsMART is that customers come in every day to find treats, food or toys for their pets, and its a happy experience for them, says Cox. The workplace is warm and friendly, which is a lot better than working in a retail environment where the [clothes] racks are a mess or a customer is complaining that you dont have their size, or ... sweating over the french-fry machine. We wanted to be sure to get across what our culture is and make prospective applicants realize they have lots of choices so do something you love to do.

With 550 stores and 40 more scheduled to open this year, PETsMART is in a growth mode that requires Cox to be extremely efficient about how she spends her recruitment dollars.

The black-and-white french-fry machine newspaper display ads, which ran twice (costing $3,000 to $4,000 a run) to promote opportunities for two new stores on the East Coast, attracted the right people, she says.

It was tremendously successful. We received over 300 responses, Cox says.

Not only did the photo and headline attract attention, according to the CEA judges, the ads body copy is a great example of text that is inviting and conversational: So whats it going to be? Hot and greasy or warm and cuddly? We think we have a much more rewarding and friendly environment than your average burger joint. As a PETsMART associate, youll experience the unique pleasure of working with animals and their owners. Youll thrive in an atmosphere full of fun and energy, as you provide vital services and products to make pets happier and healthier. Youll also be joining the number one pet supply center in the nation, still growing at an extraordinary rate.

Stratus: Culture Rules

Tattoos and body piercing may seem like extreme body attire for most workplaces. But when reaching out to recent or soon-to-be college graduates, Maynard, Mass.-based Stratus Technologies stresses a cultural message about individuality via graphics and type.

Though there isnt really anyone walking around the halls like the young woman portrayed in the winning ad, a lot of the young employees who dont have tattoos or piercings thought it was cool, says Jim Darroch, who created the ad for placement in college magazines and trade publications. The image worked well with the headline [Mom and Dad may not appreciate your individuality. We demand it.] and drew in readers, adds Darroch, associate creative director at ASRI in Gray, Maine.

We talked to incoming college hires about what they liked from day one working at Stratus, he says. What came out of these conversations was they were listened to and respected, that their ideas were not burned.

Stratus has a great truthful message about the work culture, says Darroch: Not too many companies can say they actually respect 21- or 22-year-olds.

The U.S. staffing manager at Stratus, Heather Olin, says, Stratus throughout its history has been committed to employees work culture. Its one of the few companies where the management team really monitors and values employee morale and benefits. Even in our ads targeting more-experienced professionals, the emphasis is that individuals do make a difference at Stratus. Whats also unique is that people can work at all levels and they get to see how the whole product [computer systems] is implemented instead of just a piece of the process.

In 1998, when Stratus won a CEA in the college category, its ads focused on the high quality of the companys products. Though the 1998 campaign and this years ads both build on the companys image, the shift to work culture is loud and clear. As Darroch explains, this years winning campaign was launched at the height of the dot-com boom. During that time, college kids would have cared less about the computing systems. But Stratus was able to employ something else very appealing, which is the work culture.

Though its difficult to pinpoint how successful Stratuss campaign has been in reaching college prospects, Olin says that web site traffic has increased 20 percent to 30 percent since the new campaign began. The ads text asks potential candidates to log onto the web site for more detailed information about open positions and co-op opportunities.

Staples: New Imaging

When most people think about Staples, they think of an office-supply store. We wanted to shatter those myths and perceptions, explains Stephanie Goldman, copy director at JWG Associates in Needham, Mass. The whole point was to get technology people to think about Staples for dot-com employment. The company created an outdoor moving transit promotion for Staples with the theme, You havent done a dot-com thing until you work here.

We gave people something new to think about, putting Staples in a completely different light, says Carl Lopes, vice president of employment at Staples in Boston. The idea behind our dot-com promotional efforts was to get IT people interested [and] let them know opportunity is here.

Released during May 2000, at the height of the dot-com frenzy, the campaign was displayed on moving trucks at special event sites, such as Sail Boston, last years parade of tall ships through Boston Harbor.

Staples had a great story. The hard part was getting candidates in the door because the dot-com portion of the business was unknown to many, says Bonnie Kirshten, vice president of corporate accounts at JWG Associates. Staples had an advantage over other dot-coms. It was backed by the security and stability of the pioneer in office supply retail. Its a very positive message because a candidate could still be part of a start-up dot-com, but with the backing of a successful superstore.

At that time, dot-coms were still like holding out a carrot to job seekers, Goldman adds. So we wanted to be very bold, very aggressive and in-your-face with the message.

Alternative Advertising

What trends can we expect to see emerge from next years CEA competition? With the economy slowing and possible cutbacks in recruitment advertising, I have a feeling that there will be more job fairs taking place around the country, says Meena. There are also many other creative venuescinema slides, employee referral programs, retention programsand they will probably surface more next year.

Michelle Neely Martinez is a contributing editor to HR Magazine and editor of Employment Management Today , published by the Employment Management Association, a Professional Emphasis Group of the Society for Human Resource Management.

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