Tom Burton: why I like paleo pear

The Department of Finance “paleo” graduate recruitment video is part of a broader campaign by public agencies to attract high-performance millennials — and it’s single-handedly made Finance the gorilla of viral recruitment marketing.

If the Department of Finance graduate recruitment video is not everyone’s taste, then they are in good company. A quick scan of graduate recruitment videos reveals a genre of smiling ex-grads (typically better-looking women) all delighting at what a great employer they work for. Without exception, they feel cheesy, particularly if happy clapper millennials are not your thing.

Some are slick corporate-like expositions, most are cheap and cheerful grad video grabs. Several are more ambitious, attempting to weave an alluring narrative around a more sophisticated employment brand strategy.

Finance’s “paleo” grad video falls into the latter category. Emphasising the chance to be a “game changer”, the Darlinghurst firm that put the Finance video together, Together Creative (TC), has been winning awards developing attractive employment brand for organisations in the ferocious war for the best graduate talent.

TC’s specialisation is government. They have been picking up good work with Canberra departments and agencies trying to appeal to high performing graduates, who might not otherwise be attracted by the grey reputation of the bureaucratic capital. The Department of Social Services recently used TC for an integrated campaign dubbed “it’s more than just a job”. Other clients include Immigration and Border Protection.

TC’s Australia Post graduate video — positioning Post as a surprisingly “agile, personalised, innovative, dynamic” employer —  won the best grad video of 2016 in the AGRIAS — the annual graduate recruitment industry awards.

A postie? No, that’s Josh, a marketing graduate who cycles to work.

It is a remarkably similar video to the Finance’s paleo video that was widely pilloried by copycat media on a slow news day yesterday. Peppered with lots of “awesomes”, Post’s “Grace” is also asked about her penchant for “triple shot almond milk decaf chai latte with a touch of honey.”

The larger picture is about individual agencies and departments trying to cut out a brand story that positions them more uniquely with their users, stakeholders and employees. In particular, those hard to get millennials. And the APS more generally trying to create a broader employment brand.

In its glory days, Finance was once a powerhouse mega-department, coordinating most of the federal government’s administrative services and driving cross-government reform and budget transformation. It had no difficulty attracting the best and brightest through the then ubiquitous Assistant Research Officer grad entry program. (There were some notable exceptions — I was a DOF ARO recruit — circa 1982).

Across the decades the various vogues of centralisation and decentralisation have swept across the Canberra public sector. Finance grew and shrank accordingly, but always holding onto its blue pencil budget oversight role. The attempt to lift Finance’s status as a lead central agency begun in eanest under former secretary Jane Halton and is being continued by the new secretary, Rosemary Huxtable.

The affable Huxtable is part of a new breed of leaders in the APS trying to move away from the traditional command and control mentality that many millennials find so off-putting and walk the talk when it comes to empowering staff to take risks, trust their professionals and be authentic.

“They have single-handedly made Finance the gorilla of viral recruitment marketing.”

Pushed yesterday at Senate estimates by the (29 year old) chair, Senator James Paterson, to defend the paleo grab, Finance deputy David Frederick stood up for his grads, saying the line was inserted at the time of the filming: “It was actually made at the request of the graduate. And it was basically accepted because, we took the view — and I think the agency took the view — that we are probably not the best people to understand how best to communicate to a young generation of graduates.

“So this graduate, with a bit of innovation, wanted to change the script and as I understand it that was allowed.” (Update: Mr Frederick has advised the Committee the paleo line was suggested by a member of the production crew, not a Finance graduate.)

The bigger point is that as public agencies accept the need to engage directly, they will need to take creative risks. Some work, some don’t — who will ever forget Treasury’s Dr Karl inter-generational campaign. But if the SES throw their people under the bus at the first whiff of controversy, agencies will never learn how to communicate authentically in the real world of digital media.

“Claire” and her 2016 grad cohort at Finance probably got more excitement yesterday than they will get in a year at Finance’s smart new Barton office (also part of the “new” Finance brand story). But they have single-handedly made Finance the gorilla of viral recruitment marketing. The paleo video has now over 100,000 views on YouTube.

Not bad for $4000. Finance showing others how to deliver value for money.

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