How marketing is changing the way companies hire

Brands like Lowe's, McDonald's and Staples are using creative promotional tactics to recruit in today's tight labour market.

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This story was originally published in the 2022 Summer issue of strategy magazine.

By Brennan Doherty

Instead of running a job fair, Lowe’s recruiters arrived at three Canadian cities earlier this year with examples of ways an applicant could trash a home reno job.

Splattering white paint across a closet full of clothes or installing a toilet seat upside down are definitely mistakes candidates need to avoid on-the-job. But the “Make Yourself Failproof” OOH and social media campaign, created by Sid Lee, also showed just how valuable home reno skills are to employees – and, more importantly, it helped the brand stand out amid a brutally tight labour market.

“A lot of recruitment campaigns have a corporate tone,” says Jacynthe Prince, director of brand engagement at Lowe’s Canada. “They talk to people’s heads rather than their hearts. If you want to convince an 18-year-old to apply for a summer job at Lowe’s, or at Rona, or at Réno-Dépôt, you need to talk to their heart first.”

In March, Statistics Canada data showed employers were trying to fill a record one million vacant jobs. Doing so required more than a LinkedIn or Indeed job posting. Instead, several companies like Lowe’s, McDonald’s and even government arms found interactive methods like the aforementioned reno failure art, video games and Twitch streams to promote their workplace culture.

“One way to grab people’s attention and wake people up is to do things differently,” says Kristy Pleckaitis, VP of strategy at Broken Heart Love Affair. “[These brands are] thinking about [attention-grabbing] consumer marketing tactics and applying them to recruitment campaigns.”

Pleckaitis points out that using consumer marketing tactics for recruitment isn’t new, particularly for brands like McDonald’s. For its “Snapplications” event in 2019, the QSR asked Snapchat users to submit 30-second videos to its hiring portal rather than old-fashioned cover letter-resume combos. Then came Cossette’s award-winning “Friends Wanted” campaign, which invited applicants to apply alongside their pals, with the goal to paint a picture of the company as “modern and progressive” in its hiring practices.

Applying a compelling consumer lens to ordinarily flat corporate marketing has worked well in the past, and is picking up steam amongst retailers and QSRs again.

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McDonald’s created “Crush the Rush Crew” to attract employees by way of a video game that showed the hustle and bustle of the job.

Continuing its unconventional hiring practice, McDonald’s launched a video game developed with Verizon called Crush the Rush Crew in May that simulated the action of a busy drive-thru team. Rebecca Smart, marketing director of brand strategy at the QSR, says it was specifically designed to grab the attention of young applicants (although it is open to applicants of any age) – about 70% of McDonald’s restaurant crews are between the ages of 16 and 24.

“While a general job description may help applicants imagine what a job could look like at a McDonald’s restaurant, we know games are a fun way to engage our target audience, and Crush the Rush Crew offered potential applicants a unique way to get a feel for the hustle and bustle of the job,” Smart wrote to strategy.

While McDonald’s Canada didn’t offer specifics on how successful Crush the Rush Crew was in meeting the company’s hiring goal of 25,000 new employees by August, Smart says it saw a “substantial number of direct drives to our hiring website.”

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The Quebec government discussed job openings via Twitch influencers.

Beyond major commercial brands, even the Quebec government has rethought its hiring tactics. Earlier this year, the Ministère du Travail, de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale (MTESS), alongside Cossette, convinced Twitch streamers to hand over their channels to IT, construction and civil engineering experts. The result was a campaign where applicants learned about those specific careers through familiar games such as Minecraft and Cities: Skyline.

Creative recruitment campaigns do more than just act as walkthroughs for particular jobs or skillsets. “It provides brands an opportunity to communicate not only to potential employees, but also consumers [about] what their values are and the type of people they are looking to bring in,” Pleckaitis says. “It communicates something about the company itself.”

Staples Canada ULC-Calling the passionate- the curious- and the

Staples targeted young Canadians, immigrants and retirees in a hiring spree.

Three years ago, Staples Canada was going through what Daniella van Weringh, senior director of learning and talent at the brand, calls a transition from its reputation as simply an office supply company to its current tagline, “The Working and Learning Company.”

Van Weringh says, “We knew with that transformation that we would also need to attract talent. So, how do we want to go to market? What’s our story?”

As a result of that thinking, Staples created a hiring campaign that targets three specific demographics in an effort to fill over 1,000 jobs nationwide: young Canadians, landed immigrants looking for jobs and retirees who want to work. Like any good marketing campaign, Van Wernigh says Staples is reaching each group through age-specific social media channels like TikTok and Facebook.

Staples is also starting to use brand influencers at all levels of the company to attract applicants. “These are people who work for us,” says Van Wernigh. “They live our values; they’re high performers. And they love working at Staples.”

These types of recruitment tactics are not likely to disappear if/when the tight job market begins to loosen. Pleckaitis says companies will always need employees, and consumer marketing tactics can show candidates just how much a brand is willing to invest in them.

“It’s all going to bode well for the brand at the end of the day,” she says. “So I don’t see it stopping. I think there will always be a need for companies to reach out and bring people in.”