Image Campaigns Aim to Counter Career Stereotypes


Teaching, nursing and a handful of other occupations are betting that warm and fuzzy advertising will help counter hard realities and common stereotypes that dissuade many people from considering important but often overlooked careers.

As they struggle to polish their image and lure potential candidates, nurses, teachers and police agencies are turning to high-powered advertising agencies and public relations firms that more typically pitch consumer goods or help to shape public policy debates.

The campaigns are designed to promote occupations that typically slip in stature when the economy is strong, or that lose candidates to careers that seem to offer better pay or working conditions. The ads also try to build support among often-skeptical family members and friends who exert a strong influence on career choices.

The American Institute of Architects is using advertising to counter what it refers to as the Frank Lloyd Wright syndrome--the perception that architects are haughty individuals who don't really care what clients want. Engineers want to change their image as geeks with pocket protectors. And physicists simply want to let the world know what they do.

Professional associations representing other careers are using advertising to counter what they view as stereotypes. And, in a related move, such professions as engineering and architecture are using brand or image advertising to educate Americans on what they do and attempt to correct damaging stereotypes. Professional associations and government agencies funding the marketing gambits acknowledge that they are spending far less than a consumer goods manufacturer will spend to market a popular toothpaste brand.

And, despite market research underscoring the fact that stereotypes exist, many nurses, teachers and police officers aren't comfortable with the Madison Avenue approach. "This has always been a 'hide your light under a bushel basket' field," said Kathy Bennison, spokeswoman for a nursing coalition that in July will unveil an image advertising campaign. "But nursing just isn't on many people's radar screens anymore. It's a good profession that's been getting a bad rap."

The attempt at selling career options the way cars and compact discs are pitched could confuse consumers who are being hit with multiple messages with similar tag lines. "We have to break through the clutter," acknowledged Beverley Kennedy, a vice president with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, which is directing a $6-million campaign in support of teaching for the California State University system.

The campaigns are necessary. California, for example, will need 10,000 teachers a year during the next decade. One in 10 nursing jobs is now unfilled, according to the health-care industry, and, by 2020, the U.S. will have 500,000 fewer nurses than needed.

Those predicted shortfalls are forcing groups within occupations to temporarily set aside differences. Highly specialized nurses, for example, often view less-educated nurses as a threat because health-care industry executives are trying to cut costs by eliminating some highly skilled nurses.

The advertisements and 30-second television spots contain a familiar refrain--these are jobs for people who want to make a difference. A sampling of tag lines associated with ongoing or upcoming campaigns hits hard on what candidates can do for their country.

* Nursing. It's Real. It's Life.

* The Future Begins With Engineers.

* Teachers Make the Difference of a Lifetime.

* Do Good. Join the LAPD.

Marketing industry experts say the campaigns are more akin to corporate branding than the traditional hard sell.

"The ads encourage you to think about nursing as a brand," said Jerry Swerling, a consultant and public relations sequence coordinator at the USC Annenberg School for Communications. "And what's a brand? Most people would say it's a series of promises. But to succeed, these brands have to deliver on the promise. It's not enough to simply say that nursing is a wonderful profession."

The campaigns mirror branding ads from corporations that are trying to polish their images among job seekers.

"The classified element in overall employment advertising continues to be very strong, but there's been tremendous growth in corporate image advertising," said Lynne Meena, a New York-based recruitment consultant. Eli Lilly & Co., for example, has been running ads with the tag line "Cure for the Common Career."

Whereas Lilly hopes to lure candidates who've already settled upon a career, the career-oriented ads promote occupations saddled with stereotypes that scare away prospects.

"We're trying to move the needle from negative to positive," said Bill Wilson, assistant vice chancellor at the Long Beach-based California State University system. "That was difficult when the pay was very low, but pay for teachers has increased. You're not going to make $100,000 a year in teaching, but you can make a living and support a family."

Image advertising that's designed to draw interest in a career "is going to have the strongest appeal to people who are already considering that kind of a profession in the first place," said Stuart Fischoff, a professor of psychology at Cal State Los Angeles. And, because interests often differ, advertising must be carefully crafted to appeal to both men and women.

"The JFK approach of doing something for your country" likely will resonate more with women who "typically are more nurturing than men," Fischoff said. "There's some research involving the military, for example, that commercials aimed at men don't usually talk about making a difference. . . the appeal is to the adventure, the excitement and maybe the fact that you can also get an education."

The ads could resonate even stronger if the economy continues to cool and the supply of competing career options shrinks. "Whenever there's a good economy people have choices," Wilson said. "That's not just an issue for teaching, but for most human service professions."

Professional societies that represent teachers, nurses and engineers have conducted market research to determine how tarnished their images are. Nurses were frustrated to learn that many high school guidance counselors no longer promote nursing. Promising students who express an interest in nursing "instead are being steered to medical school," Bennison said.

Garry Olney, the 39-year-old chief executive of San Dimas Community Hospital, has a personal reason for appearing in an upcoming print ad that counters the stereotype that nursing isn't a man's job.

"When I told my father I wanted to be a nurse he said my grades were good enough to become a doctor, that I was short-changing myself," Olney said. "I want to eliminate the stereotype that males who enter nursing are either gay or in some way not masculine."

Edelman Worldwide won a contract to help the National Society of Professional Engineers create a marketing campaign by videotaping man-on-the-street interviews that were screened by about 100 engineers. "It knocked them over," said Rob Rehg, general manager of the firm's Washington office. "Most of them were clueless as to what people thought about engineers."

Respondents also described engineers as "older white males with pocket protectors," said Patrick Natale, the society's executive director. "There's this negative stereotype of engineers being geeks or nerds."

The market research baffled many engineers. "They think that the public should just recognize the good things that we do," Natale said. "But engineers aren't natural self-promoters."

Architects also got an earful in the mid-1990s when the American Institute of Architects presented results of in-depth market research. "I was quite nervous that [architects] would feel highly offended and be highly critical of our effort," said AIA Managing Director Charles Hamlin. "This was not necessarily flattering information, but to their credit, they understood."

The AIA has spent millions of dollars in a multiyear campaign designed to counter the stereotype of architects as "overbearing, pushy and disinterested in what the client wants," Hamlin said. "We want to paint a more accurate picture of architects working in a partnership with their clients."

Edelman also has worked with the American Physical Society's 40,000 members to help educate Americans about the importance of physics. Edelman has crafted such programs as "The Physics of Cooking the Holiday Turkey" and "The Physics Behind the Home Run" to help relate the everyday effect of physics.

Marketers say noticeable shifts in attitude can be seen in as little as three years. "We know we can expect to see a change in perception and attitude . . . but behavior modification may take as long as 10 years," Kennedy said. "It's going to take time, getting the word out in repetitive fashion."

But advertising won't reshape personal experience. "If mom comes home every day from her nursing job and says what hell it was, all of the advertising in the world won't get her daughter into the profession," Olney said.

"Given the prevailing perception, there's no attempt to spin or build the image of the LAPD," said Eric Hirshberg, co-manager of advertising agency Deutsch L.A., which created pro bono advertisements that encourage Southern Californians to consider joining the LAPD.

Instead of creating a new image for the embattled LAPD, Deutsch L.A.'s creative staff focused on individuals within the department in recruiting advertising unveiled early in May. "This is much more about getting people to consider a particular job than to erase any negative feelings," Hirshberg said.

LAPD's new ads differ noticeably from traditional police recruiting campaigns that emphasized screaming sirens and flashing lights.

The focus has shifted to vignettes culled from real officers' daily routines--an officer who held an accident victim's hand until the ambulance arrived and the policeman who delivered a baby in the back seat of a car. Each ad includes the tag line: "Do good. Join the LAPD."

The bare-bones advertising--nurses, for example, will spend less than $1 million nationwide on their campaign, including donated air time--is augmented by grass-roots efforts.

"You've got to have outreach programs to reach high school counselors, you've got to have people out on speaking engagements and other grass-roots activities," Swerling said. "Billboards and ads don't exist in isolation."

CSU's Wilson doubts that campaigns will enjoy long-term success unless they reach into classrooms. "By the fourth grade, most kids don't know what they want to do in a career," Wilson said. "But they do know what they don't want to do."

Natale is only half-joking when he says the best thing that could happen to the engineer's image is for Hollywood to produce an action-filled show, say, "L.A. Engineer." But marketers agree that fulfilled nurses, engineers and teachers are the most effective form of advertising.

"The best campaigns are those that work with internal champions," Swerling said. "Those happy teachers and engineers are your best ambassadors . . . and they're often your most cost-effective option because they're out there in the community."

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