Vegas Police Use Innovative Campaign to Lure Gen Y Recruits

January 23, 2007
Last spring, facing steadily declining numbers of candidates and a rapidly growing city population, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department did something unusual: It hired a high-power advertising and marketing firm to revamp its recruitment, especially of Generation Y-age candidates.

    In May, the department launched its Protect the City campaign—highly stylized black-and-white ads resembling comic strips from the 1930s and ’40s, with police officers depicted as heroic and selfless.

    "It glorifies the image of what people perceive the job to be," says Lt. Charles Hank, who heads recruitment for the LVMPD.

    Currently, 75 percent to 80 percent of the department’s candidates are in its target age group, 18- to 25-year-olds. It was an urgently needed turnaround—the number of police officers in Las Vegas had fallen since 2001, from 2.5 officers per thousand people to 1.7 per thousand. R&R Partners, the firm that created the "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" campaign, donated its services and began exhaustive research to understand the Gen Y population.

    What soon became clear was that traditional police recruitment ads—those featuring a group of racially diverse men and women in front of a patrol car with some message akin to "Join Us" —were not working. Gen Y, also called Millennials, differ from Gen X and baby boomers in many ways, but perhaps most significantly in their media savvy, their need for quick gratification and recognition, and their lack of long-term commitment to a particular company.

    "This is a generation that expects a lot from institutions. They expect learning opportunities, creative challenges and proof of their ability to add value," says Bruce Tulgan, founder of Rainmaker Thinking, a New Haven, Connecticut-based workplace research firm that specializes in generational differences, and author of Managing Generation Y.

    Tulgan says that because these young people grew up during the dot-com implosion, the fall of WorldCom and Enron, and the September 11 attacks, they don’t think long term. "They want you to answer the question ‘What can you offer me right now and next week?’ "

    R&R developed a profile of Gen Y job seekers and examined their motivations.

    "These kids want a career that makes an impact, but they also want to stand out in their peer set," says Billy Vassiliadis, the firm’s CEO.

    His conclusions were echoed in "A New Generation At Work," a report based on research conducted in 2002 by the Families and Work Institute for the American Business Collaboration, a consortium of Fortune 500 companies working to address employees’ work/life balance issues.

    Among the many differences between the generations noted in the report, Gen Y "really expects a meaningful job," says Jan Cibian, a senior consultant with ABC. "They are more likely to leave if they are dissatisfied with job meaning."

    All that research drove Protect the City’s design and message—and it paid off. The number of applicants from May to October of 2006, compared to 2005, is up 101 percent, according to figures from the LVMPD. The new Web site,, has had more than 48,000 visitors since May. Hank says the Web site went "from the equivalent of a warehouse to a high-end department store" in terms of its appearance, content and ease of use. Media research focusing on the consumption habits of Gen Y directed advertising to places like gyms, cinemas and gas stations, as well as radio, television and billboards.

    In October 2006, R&R began to use search engine marketing and optimization to drive people to the Web site.

    "It’s much more cost-effective than national advertising, and the younger demographic spends a lot of time on the Internet anyway," says Fletcher Whitwell, media director for R&R.

    Clicks on the Web site in October and November were up 155 percent compared with the period from May through September.

    Although customizing recruitment to meet the needs of Gen Y job seekers worked for the police, it can also be applied to other industries. In 2004, international law firm Greenberg Traurig launched its "Fast Track" recruiting program specifically targeted at Gen Y candidates. The firm identifies law students it wants to recruit for summer positions and sends its most senior attorneys to campus for interviews.

    Carol Allen, Greenberg’s chief recruiting officer, says Gen Y’s needs differ from those of previous generations. For one thing, they want quick responses. "We make call-back decisions on the spot," Allen says. And the firm’s marketing materials for summer associates are edgy—at least for a law firm. The 2006 theme was "Built for Change Lawyering," and former summer associates had a lot of input in developing those materials because they understand what will resonate with their peers, Allen says.

    "We want them to know age or number of years of experience is not a barrier to making an impact here," she says.