"Back in the old days, Monster used to outspend us 20-1. They were spending millions on TV when we were running ads on AltaVista," remembers CareerBuilder.com's Carter McDonough. Since then the company blossomed and grew so much that last fall everyone, including offline and online agencies, got together in a series of intensive meetings to plan an ad campaign to run during the 2005 Super Bowl.
The creative, featuring a human office worker surrounded by co-workers who were chimps, struck a true chord in the American psyche. Site traffic rocketed upwards to its highest peak in the history of the company (link to chart below).
But, this kind of peak isn't self-sustaining for very long. The marketing team had to invent a follow-up campaign to extend the Super Bowl messaging into a year-long event... without spending gazillions on more high-profile TV media buys. CAMPAIGN
What's even more effective than a high-profile mass media ad campaign with clever creative? Human-to-human marketing. The team decided to launch a cross-country road tour to touch as many US consumers as they could in person in 43 cities over the next eight months. Here's how they extended reach to as many consumers as possible in each location, without breaking the bank.
Step #1. Pick the best in-person team
"We hired people, not resumes." In fact the hiring process for the 12 reps for the tour resembled a reality TV show, with hundreds of wanna-bes working their way through competitive rounds. After selecting the best applicants from a round of videoconferences and in-person meetings, CareerBuilder.com flew the finalists to Chicago for one more round to pick the winners.
"There's an X factor," explains McDonough. "You can pick the best team after a five-minute conversation in a room for training. We hired the spunky, energetic people who really believed in the brand. They would feel good to wake up in the morning knowing they were helping people to find jobs."
Then the winning teams had a week of intensive classroom and practical training so they knew the CareerBuilder.com site as well as the booth and offers they'd be running.
Road tours are exhausting. To keep team spirits up, CareerBuilder.com rotated team members, practiced "random acts of kindness" and ran lots of incentive programs. "You name it, we've given it away to them. We're so nice to them."
Step #2. Pre-event prep and marketing
The 43 locations were chosen based on a formula of how much traffic CareerBuilder.com already got from those cities (vs how much the site deserved), how much partner co-op marketing was available and when local events such as Taste of Chicago were scheduled.
During the 3-4 weeks before each actual event, marketing swung into place to prep the ground with four campaigns:
o Posters - 24"x32" posters featuring the chimps were posted in a permission-based campaign in the top 20 cities. ("Permission-based" means the poster placement was paid for. The opposite is "poster sniping," whereby posters are slapped up without asking the owner of the wall first. Permission campaigns are easier to monitor.)
o Newspaper ads -- CareerBuilder.com is partly owned by several large newspaper chains so the team could take advantage of comped or heavily discounted remnant space.
Would they run the ads if they had to pay full price? McDonough said she'd definitely test it and be sure to include a trackable response device, such as a sweeps entry code for the campaign microsite.
o Local PR -- "We're not just sending out a press release saying 'Hey we're coming to town,'" notes McDonough. "We do a lot of research before we go into a city -- what the big industry is, who the employers are, what drives the economy. This is a local marketing campaign."
The team sent a localized press release followed by personal phone pitches to local media.
The goal was to get as many local radio and TV interviews as possible (along with inevitable print press) so locals could hear the genuine energy in a CareerBuilder.com rep's voice. The team's PR department sent over a local employment crib sheet before each interview, plus the staffer being interviewed spent roughly 45 minutes reviewing the site to get stats and job opening info firsthand.
Then, instead of talking about "meet us at the booth," the focus of the interview was a hard-hitting look at precisely which jobs were available at the site for locals that day. "It's a soft sell. The event visit doesn't have to be crammed down people's throats."
o Email -- CareerBuilder.com segmented its house opt-in lists by zip code to send out "We're coming to your town" notices a day or two before the event.
Step #3. Maximize presence at the event itself
It's important to be as flexible as possible with your booth so you can fit into almost any space where you wind up. The teams had two vans with booths that could be positioned together for big presence or operated separately. (Link to on-site shots below.)
Each booth had four involvement devices along with two staffers to entice passersby to stop for a moment:
o A fun game to play with a giant chimp poster.
o Monitors set up for folks to look for jobs on the spot.
o Postcards (small enough to fit into a pocket or wallet without folding) with a sweeps entry offer.
o A digital photo-op with yourself being placed on either the front page of your local newspaper or in a screenshot from the Super Bowl ad.
Whenever possible, the team chose spots for maximum foot traffic at events. "You don't want to be in a corner at the back." Plus, if the location didn't work well, staffers wearing special explanatory T-shirts (link to sample of T-shirt below) roamed the event on foot armed with yellow cameras for the digital photo-op.
One key: Never, ever did event attendees see either an empty booth or a bored staffer sitting behind a card table with glazed eyes (an all too common occurrence at events).
Step #4. City marketing outside of events
If you've driven your van all the way to a city for its big weekend event, why waste the weekday hours? The team set up shop at city locations such as major subway exits and outside office complexes. Then they took advantage of foot traffic during the rush hour and lunch hour.
Key: This was a perfect time to push a microsite or other Web URL because so many workers were on their way to begin working on a computer.
Step #5. Register traffic at viral microsite for post-event touches
You guessed it. The postcards the team handed out with sweeps offers and "pick up your digital photo here" offers all promoted a campaign microsite (link below). The site was very clean and also featured:
- Sweeps and personal photo access registration form including a separate checkbox to sign up for CareerBuilder.com's newsletter enticingly titled 'Job Seeker Toolkit'
- Viral offers to send your photo to friends
- General photos of the tour itself and scheduling info
- Profiles of the booth crew members to continue that human connection
- Job search starter linked to the main CareerBuilder.com site
Step #6. Track results
Naturally, the team tracked analytics from the microsite including click paths for visitors, drop-off pages, registration rates and viral factors.
Plus, they also tracked main site traffic coming from the local area (identified by a combination of registered users' zip codes and general traffic IP address) before, during, and after an event. And they measured the "touch" factor for each city tour, which equaled the reach of the event activities plus the local PR.
All of this was combined into a weekly report circulated internally on the highest levels.
"We were not even halfway through the tour when I got increased budget for next year to do the same thing. That tells you your CEO loves it, the company loves it, it's going great," says McDonough. "We're in the second to last month now and overall numbers have exceeded all expectations."
Putting the extra effort into handpicking reps made a real impact. The teams were so energized by their mission that they pitched the site to strangers even when they were ostensibly off duty. (In fact, they wound up recruiting another staffer at a pizza parlor one night on the road.)
Notably, every single current road crew member wants to come back and work on the 2006 tour.
Matching as much creative as possible to the Super Bowl ad helped the impact. "If I had a nickel for every time we got into town and people said 'I remember that commercial!' The recall was there."
The super-local PR worked. "We got a lot more local press pickup than we were expecting. People appreciated that this was very targeted stuff and not a generic CPG tour." Depending on the "wiredness" of the city and the size of the events, an average of 30%-70% of postcard recipients went to the site to enter the sweeps and/or download their photo. As a general rule of thumb, the bigger the event the lower the conversion rate simply because of mind-space competition.
Predictably booths set up on weekdays to catch office workers got the highest conversion rates because people got a postcard on their way indoors to go to a computer.Useful links related to this article
Creative samples and photos from CareerBuilder.com's campaign: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/careerbuilder/study.html
Swivel Media - Experiential marketing specialists who helped create and manage the tour for CareerBuilder.com: http://www.swivelmedia.com
Picture Marketing Inc - The vendor providing the cameras and "in-a-box" software that made taking consumers' photos and posting them line easier: http://www.picturemarketing.com
Campaign Microsite: http://www.cbtourusa.com