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Attract Attention to Attract Talent!

As economic developers focus increasingly on the critical need to attract and retain talent in their local economies, a three-step process has emerged as a best practice: Develop the strategy first, create the appropriate products to implement it, then promote them effectively and continuously (please see “Talent Attraction – A Strategic Approach,” published July 3, 2012).

This applies first and foremost to talent attraction portals.  Launching a portal is not enough.  The portal is a product, and like any product it requires active marketing and promotion to be successful.

The City of Calgary in Alberta really gets it.  It’s a booming city driven by the energy industry but is hindered by a chronic labor shortage and experienced a high level of out-migration.  To combat the situation, Calgary Economic Development established its talent attraction portal, “Live in Calgary” and launched a complementary marketing campaign called “Be Part of the Energy.”

Headlined by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who made several trips to Eastern Canada along with leading members of Calgary’s business community, the campaign raised awareness about Calgary as a center of business through a combination of initiatives including media relations, public relations, advertising and social media engagement on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Everything is correlated with the interactive portal  Along with comprehensive lifestyle information – “more days of sunshine than any other major Canadian city and less than an hour’s drive from the majestic Rockies” – the portal features video vignettes of business leaders from a variety of sectors discussing Calgary’s well-connected business network and entrepreneurial culture.

The combination of portal and supporting campaign did the job. Whereas Calgary had a net loss in migration of more than 4,000 in 2010, it rebounded to a net gain of 9,600 in 2011.

Diverse Channels can be used to Get Attention for Talent Attraction

As Calgary has demonstrated, the promotional methods used for talent attraction don’t need to be at the leading edge of technology.  A variety of advertising, public relations and traditional media activities can all be successful if they are appropriate to the target audience and the message.  Brochures, trade fairs, buttons, baseball caps – they all still have their place in getting attention.

All of the activities should do two things, however:  They should drive traffic to the talent attraction portal and they should help people in the target audience get the community’s key message.

Make it Possible for People to Envision Living and Working in Your Community

To get attention for your talent attraction project you must engage your visitors, relating to their lifestyle so that they can easily envision themselves taking a job and living in your community. Make it easy to find out where the jobs are and how to go about moving, obtaining housing and finding services.

Campus Philly  is a great example.  This is a nonprofit organization that encourages college students to study, explore, live and work in the Greater Philadelphia tri-state region

Through its portal,, and related programs, Campus Philly has helped to increase the number of college and graduate students who stay in Greater Philadelphia after graduation, by connecting students to internships, employers and job opportunities

Campus Philly attends dozens of on-campus events, including orientations, activity fairs and open houses. It organizes numerous activities to introduce students to Greater Philadelphia, such as the Wheel of Prizes, the Students’ Insider Guide to Philly and Campus Philly Discount Tag.

On October 17, 2011, Campus Philly introduced a creative industry fair at the Comcast Center in Philadelphia. The fair was exclusively for college students of Campus Philly partner schools seeking internships and advice from employers and experts in all fields of design.  More than 200 students pre-registered for the event.

On the portal, job listings, information about neighbourhoods and employers, a calendar of events and a slew of retailers’ discounts can be found effortlessly.  The home page features advisory articles written by staff with topics like “Top five jobs” and “Top five questions to ask your interviewer.”  Since it was redesigned in 2011, the portal has emphasized interactivity and the personal stories of both students and employers, getting closer to the expectations of its hip young audience.

In 2004, the proportion of non-native college students staying in the tri-state region after graduation was 29%.  In 2010 it was 48%.

Talent Attraction Requires a Carefully Balanced, Long-term Attitude

Such results, of course, don’t come without a great deal of commitment, effort and resources expended over a long period of time.  Many economic development organizations have great commitment and make superhuman efforts, but don’t achieve their goals because the necessary resources aren’t there.

A talent attraction marketing and promotion strategy must be realistic.  It must be designed for the long term, because it will have a long term impact on the community.

Many programs are initiated with funding from grants.  But that source of funds is finite and will come to an end.  Full stop.

Meanwhile life goes on for the talented people you have attracted to your community.  Are they finding success?  Do they actually feel welcome and comfortable?  Many newcomers, including young people and immigrants, will be inclined to move on if their new community disappoints them.  That means the return on your marketing investment will vanish.

There’s another side to talent attraction – talent retention. A sustainable talent attraction program needs to consider the long-term implications and address educating local businesses so they are prepared to extend their hands in welcome to the new people who will help build the community’s future.

As the global economy improves in coming years, talent shortages will become more pronounced.  The days of “just-in-time” hiring are gone.  A long-term talent attraction strategy aligned with a region’s umbrella economic development strategy is likely to become a key competitive differentiator for communities.

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