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Showcasing culture & work environment through employer brand strategy

One of the standout case studies in my new book, "Employer Brand Excellence - A Case Study Approach," is the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). The case study was provided by Havas People and details the employer brand strategy to recruitment 1,700 Prison Officers - no easy feat!

It was no surprise that the project won the coveted Work of the Year prize at the 2016 RAD Awards after having already won for the best integrated campaign and for the best use of social media. I am pleased to share the case study below.

Company overview

The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is accountable for how prisons are run in England and Wales. Through HM Prison Service, they manage public sector prisons in England and Wales, as well as overseeing probation delivery in England and Wales through the National Probation Service and community rehabilitation companies.

NOMS is not involved in sentencing or the court process, but makes sure people serve the sentences and orders handed out by courts, both in prisons and in the community. That's a huge responsibility for individuals serving those sentences, and society as a whole.

NOMS's long-term priority is to support the justice system and prevent future victims by reducing re-offending and changing lives.


In 2015, NOMS faced a huge challenge. The service had 12 months to hire 1,700 Prison Officers. Most people have no experience of a prison environment.

What's more, they probably have many preconceived ideas and misconceptions about what it might be like to work there – and the skills required.

Havas People partnered with NOMS to bring to life the organisation as an employer, and raise their profile. We had to do more than explain what the organisation does, and the role of Prison Officers. We had to show our audience what it means and how it feels to work within a prison and environment in as immersive a way as possible.


The challenge was not insignificant. Of paramount importance was balancing education on the role of a Prison Officer itself with the culture, environment and nature of the organisation. Both were critical: this is one of the toughest and most misunderstood jobs available, but even when the right people were hired in terms of skillset, if they could not cope or feel comfortable in the prison environment, they would not stay in the role.

A further challenge was that environment itself. Whereas some employers may showcase themselves by showing the real work environment, or even holding open days and inviting candidates to experience it for themselves, most people do not have experience of a prison environment, . let alone experience of working with offenders. We also faced misconceptions in terms of what this involved.

We also had to work hard to address continued engagement with our audience. Often people would fail in one part of the process – for example the fitness test – but would otherwise make great candidates. NOMS wanted to be sure to keep these candidates engaged so that they could work on areas of weakness and apply in the future. To do so, it was important to engage them with the organisation as a whole and the employer brand itself.

What we did We brought NOMS to life for our audience, creating communications that enabled prospective candidates to truly understand the culture, values, and behaviours of the organisation – as well as assessing themselves against the role (see figure 1). We also worked hard to uncover the aspirations and satisfying nature of the role and why someone would want to do it. In doing so, we created more than a self-selection piece for a truly challenging job profile: we created a reputation for NOMS as a dedicated, satisfying place of employment where Prison Officers are truly valued for the range of skills that they bring.

To do this, we had to learn what that environment and culture is like. We held focus groups with Prison Officers, Prison Governors, and other NOMS employees. We walked the prison landings. We watched the assessment process. We spoke with candidates. We worked with Occupational Psychologists to truly understand the nature of the role, what makes a great Prison Officer, and what kind of personality it appeals to – and why (see figure 2).

Figure 1: EVP communications - SDF assessment

Figure 2: EVP communications - What makes a great prison officer?

From there, we were able to create an overarching message that spoke directly to our audience and asked, 'Is it in you to be a prison officer?' This was backed up by different formulations of the message that alluded to the rewarding nature of the role, such as, 'Is it in you to see the person not the prisoner?' and 'Is it in you to support when things get tough.'

A visually artistic and appealing brand style accompanied these hard-hitting messages, lifting NOMS away from misconceptions and revealed the true nature of working in the prison environment.

We then took our message to market with an integrated approach that spanned a broad range of media, with a website hub at its centre (see figure 3).

The website contains everything that a candidate needs to make an informed decision about applying – both in terms of the granular information about the role, and in giving a sense of NOMS as an employer.

We created an interactive game. The game puts players in a cell with an offender (played by an actor) and takes them through an intense, and highly- realistic role play situation. Not only does this allow candidates to self-select and learn about how to respond to situations, it gives them a sense of the prison environment itself – from the spacing of the room, to the background noise. This was filmed on location at a prison training centre in order to give an authentic representation of the working environment.

Figure 3: Website hub

What we achieved

Using different media channels that included print, press, social, digital, and the game itself, we were able to create an immersive impression of what it's like to work within NOMS. In doing so, we helped unsuitable candidates to self- select out of the process, and encouraged appropriate candidates to prepare for the assessment so that they were more likely to be successful.

The results have been staggering. Six months into the campaign, we surpassed the 12-month target for applications. By the end of the campaign, we had delivered circa 80,200 applications, which led to over 1,800 offers being accepted (against a hire target of 1,700). Importantly, the campaign had also successfully halved the application-to-hire ratio and significantly reduced the cost-per-hire when compared to the previous year's campaign.

What's more, we had also created a positive reputation for NOMS as an employer, with 4,628 new Facebook fans, a brand reach of more than 760,000, and an average of 60 comments, 300 likes and 50 shares per post (see figure 4). The website had received 367,033 visits.

The work has also received widespread industry recognition, winning 'Best Integrated Campaign', 'Best Use of Social', and 'Work of the Year' at the 2016 RAD Awards in the UK.

Figure 4 : Noms at social media

The business impact

Of course, with any organisation of this importance and influence, the impact extends far beyond filling roles. In creating such a thorough and authentic channel for communication, we have helped to educate and engage an audience. The impact of this is two-fold: it has helped unsuitable applicants to self-select out of the process but has at the same time, captured the attention and imagination of people who might never have considered a role within NOMS.

For many it also surprised them that it could be the ideal job for someone with their unique skill set. The depth of guidance throughout the communication has also worked to position NOMS as a responsible.

Interested, and helpful employer. Building the employer brand and reputation by the quality of the communications and advice given.

Beyond that, the work has created a meaningful impact for those already within NOMS. It has identified and brought to life a sense of purpose and meaning giving people a sense of pride in being a Prison Officer.

Key learnings

Essential to the success of this project was the detailed research and analysis that went into planning all elements of the strategy, from creative, to media, to digital. All strategic choices made were based on an in-depth understanding of NOMS as an organisation, the role of a Prison Officer, our target audiences, and the most effective methods to reach them.

The investment made up front in the development of creative, digital/social and print assets, not only set this project up for success, but has provided a suite of highly effective materials to serve NOMS for years to come.

Throughout the prison officer campaign, it was essential that the significant amount of management information collected be continually scrutinised in order to refine recommendations, optimise the media spend and create further cost efficiencies.

Whilst the campaign successfully achieved its aims, there is more work to do.

Recruitment challenges still remain in a small number of key sites, due in part to their geographical location and market saturation. The challenge for future campaigns is to develop the brand and messaging for these specific sites, to position the prison establishments as an employer of choice within the local area; leveraging the brand to market all opportunities available not just the role of Prison Officer.

“EMPLOYER BRAND EXCELLENCE - A CASE STUDY APPROACH" and other publications by Brett Minchington are available at

Study with Brett and become a certified employer brand leader.

Brett coaches and mentors leaders undertaking the global online Level 1 Certificate in Employer Brand Leadership program, the global standard in employer brand leadership certification. For details about the next global online course visit

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