Five solutions for improving recruitment campaigns

by Ben Kunz 

Buried in the cluttered news of last fall’s U.S. presidential election, Nielsen, the advertising ratings company, released a report uncovering a crack in the communications field. It had been no secret that American media habits were shifting; from 2011 to 2015, for example, print use in the United States declined 52 percent and TV viewing slipped 4 percent, as mor­e and more people turned to computers for news and entertainment. 

But Nielsen’s October “Comparable Metrics Report” unleashed a whopping of significant findings: from 2015 to 2016, TV use dropped another 10 percent among young adults age 18-34, while online video viewing shot up nearly 40 percent. Old media habits weren’t just shifting—they were running out the door.

If you work in communications for recruitment or public influence and aren’t adapting to these media changes, you face trouble. Luckily, there are five simple solutions to improving campaigns in this new world of fragmented, morphing audience behavior.

Redefining communication

First, let’s recall what public communications—call it recruitment or advertising or PR or anything else—has always been about. Since the Romans first painted campaign slogans on stone walls 2,000 years ago, advertising was meant to reach an audience with a message via a medium designed to influence. In recent history, from the late 1800s to about 2001, advertising focused on media placement to make campaigns work. If you wanted to reach housewives in the 1950s, you’d run an ad in Better Homes & Gardens. If you wanted to reach young people for college recruitment in the 1990s, you’d run TV ads on MTV. The media placement (e.g. MTV) was a proxy for finding the right audience (young people). Communications was about painting on the right stone wall.

But about 15 years ago, this old strategy changed, driven by two factors: Consumers, especially young people, began moving to computer and mobile devices for reading and viewing; and data started to replace media as the way to find them. If communications has always been about finding an audience, data illuminated the audience in new ways.

Direct marketers used to call data “mailing lists.” But now, online marketing in particular can provide thousands of data overlays to reach people interested in specific products or services. To push a recruitment message to scientists, for example, you no longer need to run ads in MIT Technology Review or IEEE Spectrum; instead, you can target online videos or banner ads to audiences who work in robotics, drone research, or specific organizations simply by plugging in to digital data.

Five approaches for beating media shifts

The nice thing about relying more on data, and less on media placement, is it allows campaign managers to build a frequency of impressions against their audience across different communication outlets—in effect, making the campaign more effective.

Here are a few approaches:

  • Traditional media targeting. TV, radio and print still work, but if you include them, make sure you dig into the ever-improving research tools that tell you exactly which audience is using which type of media. GfK Mediamark Research, for example, is a study of 25,000 U.S. residents, their demographics, position titles, product usage and media behavior, that can pinpoint how audiences act. ComScore does the same for digital behavior. (Most advertising agencies subscribe to these tools; if yours hasn’t shown you this data, give them a call and ask.) In a recent recruitment campaign targeting healthcare professionals, for example, our agency found that physicians spend a lot of time on medical websites—but dating sites were also extremely popular. Including a broader range of media outlets, with data overlays, creates more impressions around a specific audience. 
  • Third-party data overlays. Digital marketers can now plug into so-called “programmatic buying systems,” which act as electronic bidding systems for targeting digital ads against online audiences. These systems launched in 2007, with AppNexus and MediaMath as early players, and now marketers can connect online ads to more than 10,000 data attributes from eXelate, BlueKai, and other data providers. Simply put, these are the equivalent of old direct mail “lists” now deployed online. Is your target audience in-market for a higher education degree? Are they researching specific products? Do they have a certain position title? All of these attributes can be connected to ads, making them more effective.
  • Lookalike modeling. One you’ve identified your audience—say, by tagging all the respondents who come to your website—you can match their profiles to people who look or act just like them. This is a powerful recruitment strategy because “birds of a feather flock together,” and a person interested in your offer is likely to have friends, or fellow humans with similar profiles, also interested. Email lists, for instance, can be uploaded and matched to Facebook, which then can target other users with similar profiles. If you have a pool of 50,000 respondents to your website, you can expand your targeting to the 1 million people who most closely resemble them. While not a perfect science, response rates from lookalike modeling tend to be 2x or 3x higher than regular advertising targeting.
  • Geo-fencing and mobile device fingerprinting. Of course, the biggest shift in media use is the movement to mobile. Here’s a test: In your next business meeting, bring a basket and ask everyone to dump their phones inside prior to the meeting. You’ll see the look of pain, the itching fingers, as your colleagues ache to grab their mobile devices back. Mobile has become the new American addiction.

Geo-fencing is one basic approach to target ads based on the locations of mobile units. For a recent consumer campaign, we targeted the parking lots of Walmarts around the United States to ping users with ad promotions prior to them walking into stores. In recruitment campaigns, this often works well by tagging people who walk into physical perimeters—such as college campuses—that indicate they are in-market for a service.

Mobile device fingerprinting is a similar, but more nuanced, approach. In essence, this “tags” mobile phones, allowing you to serve ads much later when the phone users have migrated to different locations. Mobile company Rocketfuel recently ran a successful campaign for Brooks running shoes, by targeting the mobile phones of spectators who lined the path of the New York City Marathon. The idea was brilliantly simple; anyone standing on a street watching the race was likely a running enthusiast. Later, as the crowds dispersed, the owners of those phones were retargeting with a series of Brooks running shoes ads—even if they had flown back to their home cities across the United States. “Fingerprinting” allows you to find audiences and then communicate to them in the future.

  • Integrated media measurement. All of these tactics are fine and dandy, but the only way to control outcomes is to build media plans that forecast results, and then set up measurement systems to evaluate how all the tactics work together. This requires going beyond the standard Google ad serving reports that show how many people click on digital ads; the best measurement approaches combine feeds from TV, print, OOH, digital and social, and the provide statistical analysis of how the waves of media support each other. 

If you do all of this right, today’s shifts in how people use media really won’t matter anymore—because you’ve moved your communication strategy away from media placement as a proxy to true data-based audience targeting. With the actual audience at the center of your recruitment or communications campaign, you’ll be focused solely on what matters: The people most likely interested in what you’re trying to say. 

About the Author

Ben Kunz is senior vice president of marketing and content at Mediassociates, a media planning, buying and analytics agency. He has guided recruitment and communications campaigns for clients in the government, healthcare, higher education, travel and technology sectors, including the Centers for Disease Control, Marriott and Elon Musk’s SolarCity.