Job Corps, a U.S. Department of Labor program, is the nation’s oldest and largest residential job training program. Job Corps offers training to at-risk youth ages 16 through 24. Providing room, board and an allowance while students learn, the 37-year-old program trains more than 68,000 young adults every year at 120 centers across the country in more than 100 vocations.
Prior to 2000, Job Corps had no national advertising presence. Television advertising was piecemeal, with each state conducting individual marketing campaigns to boost recruitment. In the fall of 1999, with student enrollment at 91 percent of capacity, the National Office of Job Corps made a decision to conduct a national media recruitment campaign to increase enrollment at Job Corps centers throughout the country.
Job Corps, an open-entry and open-exit program, must recruit more than 100,000 students into its program annually. It competes with every branch of the military and a myriad of public and private job training programs for young men and women. Yet Job Corps has less than a tenth of the advertising and public relations budget available to the armed forces or many other programs. McNeely Pigott & Fox’s first challenge was to create and place ads that would cut through the clutter, engage 16- to 24-year-olds, and prompt them to call Job Corps. Our second challenge was to recruit three traditionally hard-to-reach subgroups -- females, Hispanics and students over the age of 18. Both goals had to be met within an extremely limited budget.
MP&F was asked to conceive, produce and place seven English and two Spanish :30-second commercials. Since extensive research in past years has led MP&F to use only actual Job Corps students or graduates as spokespeople for the program, we launched a nationwide search for our “stars.” Successful Job Corps enrollees and graduates who represented the ethnic diversity of the program were identified and screened. Filming took place over several weeks in three states. After filming, the commercials were tested with our target age group in Chicago; Phoenix; and San Marcos, Texas.
The objectives of the campaign were to maximize Job Corps’ advertising dollars; to create a steady stream of student referrals for manageable follow-up by Job Corps admissions counselors; to reach Hispanics, females, and older students; and to generate a sufficient volume of inquiries about the program to achieve 100 percent student enrollment.
The severe limitations of our ad budget required us to buy early and buy in bulk. To maximize nationwide coverage we chose to buy only syndicated shows. Our lineup included Jenny Jones (1,157,000*),Ricki Lake (1,436,394*), Sally Jesse Raphael (789,000*), Jerry Springer (1,625,000*), Touched by an Angel, Smackdown - World Wrestling Federation (1,258,000*), Jam Zone / Hits from the Street / Rap City (BET), and Univision’s Novelas, Cristina, Primer Impacto, El Gordo y La Flaca, and El BlaBlazo (145,000-400,000*). Networks included ABC, BET, CBS, FOX, NBC, PXN, Univision, UPN and WB. Touched by an Angel was chosen to reach influencers of our audience such as mothers and grandmothers. (*Number of 12- to 24-year-olds viewing each show.)
In addition to the air time purchased with each show, we negotiated for public service announcements in order to increase our overall penetration.
When compared to Job Corps’ regional television spot buys in 1999, our 2000 national buy provided the client with three times as many gross rating points, and the average cost per point was reduced by 60 percent.
On average, Job Corps advertisements aired 18 to 19 times per week for 19 weeks over an 11-month period: January 10 to November 17 in all 210 markets in the country.
All ads carried Job Corps’ national 1(800) number, which was answered by a toll-free telephone information service. Telephone operators answered telephone inquiries in response to the ads, provided callers with information about the Job Corps program, and referred interested callers to the appropriate Job Corps admissions counselor for further screening. Job Corps admissions counselors then screened applicants for eligibility and enrolled them into the Job Corps program.
MP&F monitored the results of the buy weekly by working closely with Job Corps’ information service to track the number of callers. Modifications were made to the buy when necessary. The volume of calls at the beginning of the campaign required the information service to add phone lines and increase their staff.
Job Corps’ 1(800) line was flooded with calls. An average of 9,000 calls came through during weeks our ads were airing. At least 7,000 calls were logged during weeks we were not on the air. Between January 10 and November 30, 2000, the Job Corps Information Service talked to 372,770 interested young people. Of that number, 208,458 asked to be referred to an admissions counselor. Fifty-five percent of the callers were women, 55 percent were 18 or older, and 16 percent were Hispanic. By year’s end the national student enrollment was 99 percent of capacity, and many recruiters had students on waiting lists holding for center openings.
The major objectives of the campaign were realized, and the National Office of Job Corps has contracted with McNeely Pigott & Fox to conduct the program’s second national campaign in 2001.