Firm asks students: What do you want?

Branding awards recognize unique approaches in recruitment advertising

In the world of accounting, the benefits and salary for articling students are pretty much consistent across the board, regardless of the size or location of the firm. So when students attend the annual campus recruitment sessions to choose which firms to apply to, they’re looking beyond traditional compensation packages for the firm that best suits their needs.

“You have to pick the place that feels right for you,” said Jared Wilson, an accounting student from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT).

Wilson found that place when he attended the presentation of the Calgary-based firm Meyers Norris Penny at NAIT in the fall.

Instead of telling students what the firm had to offer, Meyers Norris Penny built its entire student recruitment campaign around the question, “What do you want?”

The firm’s newspaper ads and posters showed young people giving answers such as, “I want to make partner by the time I’m 30,” “I want to work at a firm with a social committee that plans more than retirement parties” and “I want to do more than just cash and receivables my first year.”

During the firm’s on-campus presentation, partners, articling students and recent graduates asked students what they wanted and told them how the firm could meet those needs. Students could also have a photo taken, tell the firm what they wanted and have the firm mail them back their picture with their own customized answers.

“Most other firms’ method of getting you is just to tell you what they give you, and I think the ‘What do you want?’ campaign put it back in the students’ hands,” said Wilson. “It was definitely a pleasant change from the norm.”

This unique approach helped the company win the award for overall advertising campaign at the second annual Employer of Choice Marketing Awards, presented by Working, a Toronto-based recruitment advertising network owned by media conglomerate Canwest.

The firm hired 180 students from across Canada following the fall campus recruitment campaign. While this was more than in previous years, it was the quality of hires that really stood out for Bob Twerdun, vice-president for human capital at Meyers Norris Penny.

“The quality of our hires has continually improved,” he said. Showing students just how the firm can meet their needs, and backing it up with personal testimonials from employees, ensures a higher proportion of best-fit candidates, he added.

Calgary-based power generation company TransAlta won awards for both its pay-per-click (PPC) online campaign and print campaign.

For the PPC campaign, the company bid on Google keywords so when users searched for terms such as “engineering jobs Calgary” and “trade jobs Calgary,” links to the company’s engineering and plant operations and maintenance microsites appeared at the top of the search results. The campaign quadrupled the company’s click-through rate from 0.04 per cent to 0.17 per cent.

Each site has a video introducing the specific career at the company, a question and answer section, a day-in-the-life section that shows visitors what a typical day for that job is like and a testimonial from the department leader.

“Each of these microsites is meant to tailor the message specifically to that group that we’re trying to attract,” said David Moulton, senior advisor of communications at TransAlta. “We wanted to convey a true sense of the culture and opportunities that exist here.”

The Internet is the best way to reach younger workers, said Moulton. But Alberta’s oil and gas giants often overshadow other companies online. The pay-per-click campaign was a way for TransAlta to battle that anonymity.

“You don’t have to be the most well-known company in town, just the one who did the best in bidding on the right key words and understanding your audience,” said Moulton.

To further raise its profile among jobseekers, TransAlta ran a series of attention-grabbing newspaper ads from last July to December.

The company developed more than 24 different ads, highlighting aspects of the company such as a sabbatical program, a vacation policy that is the same for everyone, regardless of seniority or rank, and the variety of career paths.

“It had to catch your attention. It had to have that emotional hook that was compelling to people,” said Moulton. “The idea is to, slowly over time, start to convey a sense of what TransAlta is all about.”

The ads have nearly doubled the number of visitors to the company’s careers home page and at least 30 per cent of site visitors are coming directly from the newspaper ads, said Moulton.

Both campaigns were developed internally and the company relied on a team of about 200 employees who contributed in different ways — from running focus groups to writing ad copy.

“In the print ads, or in the information conveyed through the micro-sites, we’re addressing a lot of the issues that are really germane to individuals in their daily lives,” said Moulton. “Hopefully by putting that human face on it, it makes us seem a more human organization.”

As part of its campaign development, Meyers Norris Penny also held focus groups with students hired in the past few years to find out what their experiences were to ensure the campaign was true to life, said Twerdun.

“We know that the best recruiting mechanism we have is to make sure there’s an absolute connection between our promise to our people when we hire them and their experience because they’ll talk to others who are back on campus or acquaintances,” he said.

In the age of social networking sites such as Facebook, companies can no longer spin their image.

“There would be no point in us promising things that we don’t deliver because that would quickly become known among next year’s group of hires,” said Twerdun.

Employer branding
And the winners are…

The importance of employer branding is increasing as the labour market tightens across the country.

This can be seen in the increased number of applications made to the Employer of Choice Marketing Awards, said Antonio da Luz, director of national sales recruitment at Winnipeg-based media conglomerate Canwest. The awards are sponsored by Working, the Canwest owned Toronto-based recruitment advertising network.

“Across the country, especially in Western Canada, there are so few qualified candidates, and there are so many job vacancies so it’s important to really stand out and be different and really accentuate those differences and what makes you unique,” said da Luz.

To do that, employers need to focus on what makes the organization a good place to work and then promote a few simple, core messages that highlight those benefits, he said.

Advertising: Overall campaign

Meyers Norris Penny
Student Recruitment —

People’s choice

Pay-per-click Campaign

Advertising: Broadcast

Tim Hortons
A Job That Fits Your Life

Advertising: Print

TransAlta print

Advertising: Online

Alberta Government
Redesign of Alberta Government Jobs Website

Community/corporate citizenship initiatives

Tim Hortons
Camp Day

Job fair/recruitment event marketing

St. Joseph’s Health Centre
Many Faces One Mission

Employee internal communication programs

Federal Express Canada
Binks’ Link — President’s Blog

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