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Graduate Communications

February 15

The Art and Science of Storytelling — Building Meaningful Connections with Today's Youth

I have spent the past eighteen years working in the campus space in one form or another and there has never been as big a shift in student behavior as I have noticed in the past three years when it comes to recruiting. This shift is being driven by several key factors including media fragmentation and the desire for audiences to have meaningful experiences; kicking off a resultant need for employers to actively and creatively engage their target audiences in their culture.

First, a non-violent revolution is taking place in the creation and consumption of information. Media habits have changed dramatically in the past five years. Today, we have ubiquitous broadband Internet access, a multitude of social networking platforms, 450+ channels of digital television, digital video recorders (DVRs), iPads, iPods, iPhones -- all driving media fragmentation and a serious case of A.D.D. To quote my colleague Deirdre Mammano, consumers are now "media-snacking." We now have the ability to get information how and when we please and we no longer wait to receive information when it is pushed out to us, but actively search for content.

Thanks to this shift in user behavior, companies wishing to recruit top talent can no longer rely on simply broadcasting messages to engage their audiences. Now, companies must "atomize" their employer brands and messages across platforms and mediums to make them ubiquitous as well as available to candidates when and how they choose to access them. Although this is true for experienced and entry-level talent pools alike, nowhere is this more important and visible than in campus recruiting.

Today's students are media savvy and on the leading edge of technology and they have an inherent distrust of corporate entities. We are watching audiences move away from "manufactured messaging"--advertising that is solely from the viewpoint of the company and can be perceived as being disingenuous--and toward more authentic and transparent experiential advertising. Students care more about what their social graph a.k.a. their friends--think of a potential employer than about what a company says about itself. "Show me, don't tell me" is the prevailing desire of top campus talent.

While many of the changes in the world of campus recruiting are being driven by the new, there is something more elemental at work, too. Since the dawn of Homo Sapiens approximately 50,000 years ago, two key behaviors have been indelibly linked to our growth and development as a species. First, we live in tribes. Whether they are large or small, we form tribes around common interests — defense, agriculture, survival, etc. Second, we tell stories. Human history has revolved around the idea of oral tradition for eons. Today, we tell our children bedtime stories and we love to share a good yarn with friends over dinner. Taken together, the ideas of tribes and storytelling become incredibly powerful as we develop a new paradigm for campus recruiting.

Tribes and storytelling are critically important to the on-campus recruiting process. The most common form of on-campus engagement is the career fair. Often, fifty or a hundred companies will gather in an auditorium and set up their booths, banner stands and table top displays in the hope of having the chance to interact with students. Yes, career fairs provide a good venue to rally the flag and show your corporate colors, but in reality, it is difficult to stand out when your company is typically just one among hundreds attending the event. Instead, companies need to zig while everyone else is zagging, figuring ways to tell their story in a differentiated way.

For example, in the UK QinetiQ — a company that developed a material that changes color in cold temperatures — chose to recruit on-campus on days when other companies were not present. QinetiQ even built an inflatable igloo — yes, an igloo complete with piped in cold air to showcase their material — in the central quads of their key campuses to create both a buzz and a differentiated experience. They told their story when everyone was listening, instead of trying to be heard at a career fair where other companies were also talking.

Companies that excel at telling their own employer brand stories are better able to engage their audiences and provide authentic and transparent views into their organization. Then, as the stories become socialized in the market, tribes begin to form--tribes of people who understand, value and connect to the culture provided by the employer. Ultimately, good storytelling allows companies to reach deeper into the talent pool, to become talent magnets and to attract not just more people, but more of the right people--people who will succeed within the organization.

It is not enough to simply show up on campus with a different approach. It is critical that companies also build digital experiences that are immersive, engaging and most importantly sharable in today's fast-paced communication environment. A great example of this is the work we recently developed in partnership with Procter & Gamble (P&G) to attract millennial candidates. Procter & Gamble was willing to be open and honest about their culture, the available opportunities and their people. ExperiencePG.com was created as an adjunct to the P&G career site in order to showcase the types of people that P&G is seeking, the work their employees have done both at P&G and prior to working there, and to have a little fun with some billion-dollar brands (check out the interview video). The P&G story is told quite clearly on the site and, more importantly, it is carried through to the social spaces (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn) so that tribe members may share it with others.

Companies that combine the "zig while others zag" approach and use differentiated digital experiences to tell their stories will win the hearts and minds of top talent on campus.

Feel free to reach out to me with comments and questions at steven.ehrlich@tmp.com.

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