What these viral recruitment campaigns can teach us about employee retention

employee engagement

Canadian companies aren’t alone in their quest to attract top workers. Around the world, organizations are giving it their all to woo potential candidates in the face of critical talent shortages.

We scoured the globe for smart, head-turning recruitment campaigns, and came across four brilliant examples that were creative and shareable, yet deceptively simple. Across the board, these campaigns teach us great lessons in recruitment marketing. But if we apply these talent attraction strategies to talent retention, suddenly, some valuable, often untapped opportunities are also revealed.

Let’s delve deeper into the following four examples.

IKEA Australia’s “career instructions”

IKEA Careers Instructions

The campaign: To recruit new staff, IKEA Australia mimicked their famous assembly instructions and created “career instructions.” They hid them in stores within their flat-packed furniture boxes, just waiting to be discovered when customers got home. The campaign was highly effective, garnering 4,285 applicants and leading to 280 new hires.

Why we love it: This campaign spoke to existing brand ambassadors (aka customers). While recruitment messages can easily get lost in busy retail stores, the uniqueness of this campaign’s delivery made it feel more personalized. It surprised customers – just as they focused on assembling their new furniture.

Retention strategy takeaway: General perks and bonuses are lovely, but it’s the little unexpected gestures, or surprises, that often make an impression. Consider a day-in-the-life of your employees – when and where could you surprise them with a thank you card? What about an out-of-the-blue award to show the company’s appreciation?

McKinsey & Company and their pencil

McKinsey Recruitment Pencil

The campaign: To attract ambitious students to McKinsey & Company, the firm went straight to the source at campuses at multiple Swiss universities. To get around strict ad-free regulations, the firm distributed pencils with overly long erasers that said: “We’re looking for students who aren’t satisfied with just any solution. www.McKinsey.ch.”

Why we love it: This campaign was designed to pre-filter applicants (resonating with those who hate settling for ineffective solutions). The results showed it did just that, greatly improving the quality of talent McKinsey & Company was attracting. This pencil defied advertising rules, and seemed to effortlessly conquer the challenge of saying more with less.

Retention strategy takeaway:  We invest a lot of time and creative energy recruiting good people, but we often don’t do enough to make sure we then keep them. Like this pencil campaign, this doesn’t have to be costly. Hackathons and work-related competitions among co-workers (with great prizes) can be a cost-effective way to boost employee creativity and engagement.

Horizon FCB’s skill-testing ad 

Horizon FCB Recruitment Ad

The campaign: Horizon FCB needed a detail-oriented graphic designer to join their team. So, they asked candidates to identify 10 mistakes in their job ad.

Why we love it: There are many other “crack the code” style ads, but they are typically used for engineers, coders, etc. But this one appealed to graphic designers (and other sticklers for spelling and grammar), making it inherently shareable.

Retention strategy takeaways: Like a newspaper crossword puzzle begging to be filled out, this ad implores perfectionists to take action. Inject these kinds of fun, relatively non-intimidating challenges into employee environments, and inter-departmental groups are likely to start bonding over commonly-shared quirks.

Saatchi & Saatchi’s mobile creative director app

The campaign: How do you attract top advertising talent with a recruitment ad when they see countless ads every day for work? You appeal to their pain point: the creativity killer. Creatives in the ad world routinely come up with ideas they love, which are then left on the cutting room floor by their creative director. Saatchi & Saatchi gave these frustrated artists an outlet to share ideas with their mobile creative director app. Applicants got feedback and were prompted to consider a new creative director – one that would not stifle their creativity.

Why we love it: This app is not overtly presented as a recruitment app. Instead, it looks to engage and hook talent, and to build a relationship before the “recruitment ask.” They also shrewdly played off the Cannes Lions awards logo (the Oscars of the ad industry). This campaign went viral on social media, and the agency doubled the number of applications it normally receives.

Retention strategy takeaway: This firm put a lot of thought into the dynamics at ad agencies. Just as we invest in customer research (e.g. focus groups, concept testing, etc.), it may be time to dedicate more resources to better understand what makes internal audiences tick. Retention statistics would likely soar with such a focus.

Around the globe, the most successful recruitment campaigns are the ones that truly target candidates. They speak to those candidates directly – addressing their dreams, ambitions, and pain points. And critical insights instead of big budgets are usually the drivers behind these efforts.

The biggest lesson here is that we need to treat our employees with the same sense of urgency and care, being weary that it can sometimes be all too easy to take them for granted.


Keka DasGupta is an entrepreneur, speaker and co-founder of enkompass, an experiential learning and development firm with a philanthropic twist. With 20 years of experience as a PR and business strategist, including nine years covering recruitment marketing, Keka’s client experience includes such brands as: IKEA, American Express, Johnson & Johnson, Disney, and Nike. Keka also consults at an executive level for the ad agency DDB, keeping her at the forefront of the communications industry.

See also:
Going with the flow: 5 simple ways to improve employee engagement
The Motley Fool’s awesome employee engagement tactics
8 ways to boost employee engagement for free


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