Spherion’s Temp Life Is A Branding Phenom

Have you ever gotten a video resume where the candidate brags about her gorgonzola mashed potatoes? Or another where the candidate declares his faults, one of which happens to be that he lies?

Trouble has. His given name is Nick Chiapetta. (Think about it. You’ll get it.) His job is to screen all the video resumes that the director of human acquisitions, Alina Deloris, gets, and recommend candidates to her for temp jobs with Celltons, a company that makes cellphone buttons.

Nick, or Trouble, as he prefers to be called, used to own the temp agency where Celltons is now, until an unfortunate incident involving a bus and a 33-week absence lead to the agency’s demise. Now he’s temping for Celltons.

Those of you still reading, but wondering what I’m talking about, you are excused. You may return after completing the pre-requisites for this post about what may be the most incredible branding adventure in recruiting history.

Everyone else here knows about The Temp Life, Spherion’s Internet TV show. What began as a branding effort aimed at the entry-level demographic has succeeded so well it has been declared a “bona fide phenomenon” by Fast Company. It begins its fifth season in November.

Produced by CJP Digital Media, the phenomenon tag is anything but hyperbole. The videos have been watched some 18 million times. The show was nominated this year for a Streamy Award — the online Emmys. It has a Facebook page and a loyal Twitter following.

It’s also been picked up by cable TV syndicators and is being shown to 1.9 million Marriott, Hyatt, and other hotel guests every year on in-room entertainment.

“A phenomenal success,” declares Lisa McCarthy, Director of Marketing and PR for SFN Group, Spherion’s parent, who says the success surprised everyone.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” she told me. “We didn’t know what we were dealing with.”

That was back in 2006. YouTube was a year old and hadn’t yet been bought by Google. In the recruiting world, we were all worrying about the impending “War for Talent” and the necessity for employers to brand themselves.

Spherion was worrying about that, too. One of the largest staffing agencies in North America, Spherion Staffing Services was discovering it was almost unknown among college students, few of whom even thought about temping.

Like so many other employers, Spherion knew it needed to raise awareness of itself, especially among 18-25 year-olds, the entry-level demographic.

“We were sitting around a room brainstorming ideas,” McCarthy recalls. There were thoughts of using Second Life, the virtual world that was a hot trend for a while. Videos were an obvious choice for branding. But Spherion’s push-the-envelope culture, plus the demographic it wanted to reach, meant a talking head video wouldn’t do.

What emerged was the Internet TV show you see today. “My gut instinctively said it would work,” says McCarthy. To be sure, especially considering the investment she would be asking the company to make, focus groups were conducted to see whether the idea would resonate with the target audience.

It did. The C-suite bought into the idea and, though McCarthy won’t say what the program’s budget is, it clearly has grown along with the show’s success. Still, she says it’s less costly than a full-blown ad campaign.

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Branded entertainment is not new. It was pioneered in the early days of radio, later making the transition to television. Although cost and audience taste have curtailed branded broadcast TV productions — Hallmark is one of the few remaining — it’s flourishing online. IKEA, for instance, sponsors Easy to Assemble. Topps, the trading card company, and Dick’s Sporting Goods, sponsor Back on Topps, the winner in the Branded Entertainment category.

What’s different about The Temp Life is the almost complete absence of a Spherion pitch. Only at the beginning of each episode is the company mentioned. The show’s website discreetly offers a jobs tab. But that’s it. And that’s intentional.

The demographic Spherion is pursuing is savvy to obvious pitches, explains McCarthy, and easily turned off by it. That’s also why there’s no attempt to capture viewer information, either by requiring a registration or even offering a newsletter or other come-on.

“Maybe at some point we’ll do something. Maybe not,” she says. “We didn’t want to make it a commercial.”

So what’s been the results?

McCarthy says that as a branding effort, The Temp Life has accomplished more than the brainstorming group could have hoped. The viewership numbers are her primary metric. A second is the buzz. The Temp Life pops up regularly in entertainment and marketing blogs, and was named one of Brandweek’s Bright Ideas.

She wouldn’t give me any details, but she did mention that a second series, aimed at a different demographic, may be in the works. She soon heads to New York, where The Temp Life is filmed, for a meeting to discuss the new show.

Though few employers have the kind of resources to sponsor an Internet series, let alone two, McCarthy believes The Temp Life offers ideas recruiters can adapt for their own companies.

“It’s really all about content,” says McCarthy, who eschews those common and all-too-formulaic job hunting tips and ideas. “Talk about the local things in your community,” she says. “The key is to build a rapport with the people out there.”

Videos are great, but there is no silver bullet. Take advantage of all the social media available. Be useful, she counsels. And “have a little fun.”

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.

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