Tom Burton: why I like paleo pear

By Tom Burton

Thursday March 2, 2017

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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Susan Whitbread
4 years ago

Firstly Tom, the video cost close to $40,000, not $4000. Check the Austender listing. Still relatively cheap by comparison with advertising budgets for TVCs, but not insignificant in our constrained budgetary world.

Whether or not the video comes across as authentic to its millenial targets is yet to be seen, but to those of us ‘oldies’ in the public sector, the interactions with senior officers comes across as very non-authentic and try-hard. I can only believe that the paleo-pear-banana-bread line was proposed by one of the video’s participants as a bit of a parody, possibly some intertextual cultural reference that you or I don’t get. I don’t think it’s representative of what grads generally think or do. I’ve worked with and observed many.

You reference the DSS and Auspost versions developed by the same creative agency. The DSS versions are now two years old and rather more thoughtful executions (and ultimately look to be more informative and persuasive) to attract the sort of grads the public sector really needs. The DoF version appears to be built on the template created by the AusPost campaign, but lacks some of the scripting rigour that is evident in that video.

It will be interesting to check the graduate recruitment stats across the agencies later this year – not just raw numbers but also the proportion of those total application numbers that made it past the first round of assessment.

The Mandarin
4 years ago

Not $40,000 … that’s the sum for the larger campaign. See:

Tom Burton
Tom Burton
4 years ago

Thanks Susan for your observations. The Department released a statement confirming the cost of the video to be $4000, not $40,000.

Sonia Irwin
Sonia Irwin
4 years ago

I actually think what is missing is the type of work that can be great for the career of a graduate. It seems the coffee and food angle is really catering to the lower end of Maslow’s hierarcy of need and rather hilarious after Bernard Salt’s questioning around Millennials eating out so much. My real question is that if graduates actually perceive that this is what their career looks like, it would put me off because I’d like to be involved in policy development or creative work. Not carrying around a cup of coffee all day!

Tom Burton
Tom Burton
4 years ago
Reply to  Sonia Irwin

Thanks Sonia and point well made. There does seem to be a certain obsession by my baby boomers peers with the more curated eating habits of millennials. Fortunately Australia has come a long way from the times when we thought devon on white bread and pineapple juice in a can was exotic.

John Glenn
John Glenn
4 years ago

You don’t have to be a movie director to know when a movie is rubbish.

The execution would be fine if it was part of a parody, playing on perceived stereotypes. If that was intended, it doesn’t deliver. Instead one winces at the attempt to be clever that reinforces the “try hard, almost” image. Picked up by the press, they are simply playing to perceptions for an easy score. Why wouldn’t they?

While only $4k, the damage is much greater as 100,000 viewers laugh at, rather than with, the Department – which, by the way, the public sees as the public sector in its entirety.

The problem with the ad is its reinforcement of poor brand associations, rather than amplifying positive ones.
The problem with the agency is that it produced ineffective work – either knowingly or inexpertly.
The problem with its release is that the Executives didn’t realise that.

I applaud them for trying – but accepting that not everything works means consigning some things to the bin. That would have been better value for money.

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