|The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and local Department of Veterans Affairs teamed up in May 2010 to host Operation Troop Employment, a job fair for America's veterans and their families. The job fair also had a companion 12-page special section that was distributed through the newspaper and at the event. Image supplied|
By Michelle Finkler | Associate Editor
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has held job fairs in the past. So has the Allegheny County Department of Veterans Affairs. But when the two joined forces to host a job fair for America's servicemen and women in 2010, the event yielded the largest turnout the VA had ever seen and $46,000 in new revenue for the newspaper.
Tim Wirth, classified operations manager for the 188,243-circulation daily, said the veterans and job fair exhibitors were happy with the event.
"I talked to about a half dozen employers as they were packing up after the fair, and I got very good feedback," he said. "A few job-seekers stopped in said they had been to other job fairs and liked how we ran the event."
About 400 job-seekers and 29 exhibitors attended the Operation Troop Employment job fair, which was open to the public but marketed toward veterans and their families, Wirth said. The event was held May 11, 2010, at the county-run Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum at no cost to the newspaper through its partnership with the VA, he said. Another Operation Troop Employment job fair is planned for 2011, but if the event increases in popularity, Wirth said the organizations would need to find a larger facility.
Operation Troop Employment also had an official guide that ran as a special section in the Post-Gazette on the Sunday before the job fair.
The Post-Gazette initially contacted the VA with the idea in November 2009, Wirth said. The VA had hosted job fairs previously through partnerships with other organizations, but Wirth said working with the newspaper meant greater marketing impact for the event, and the VA was quickly on board. Additionally, the partnership included five booths for the VA to give to service organizations, such as the VA hospital, he said.
Operation Troop Employment is the first job fair that the Post-Gazette organized without the help of an outside job fair vendor, such as Minneapolis-based Personnel Strategies Inc., which Wirth said the newspaper had worked with before. The newspaper was able to minimize expenses by utilizing its marketing department to handle the logistics for the fair, such as arrangements with the hall for booth space, he said.
"Early on, the partnership [with the VA] was working out the details and sharing contacts," Wirth said. "We told them they wouldn't have to do a whole lot for us—it was turn-key. They assisted us in running the event. For the registration desk, they had some volunteer veterans who helped register everyone. But after the initial setup, we ran things."
Wirth said the VA also helped with promotion by spreading word about the fair to its database of veterans.
To find companies to participate in the job fair, Wirth said the Post-Gazette tapped its database of recruitment advertisers. The VA also shared with the newspaper a list of companies it had worked with during previous job fairs, he said.
Part of Wirth's strategy was to reach out to companies with a "predisposition to hiring veterans" through the use of fliers, newspaper promotions and phone calls. The paper used its database for an e-mail marketing campaign targeting recruitment advertisers, such as banks and auto dealers, he said.
"I had been the recruitment manager in the '90s, and when we had done job fairs in the past, ads in the paper had been good at getting people in the door but not at attracting vendors," Wirth said. "I was surprised that ads for Operation Troop Employment did so well at attracting vendors. I suspect a number of the vendors were very interested in helping veterans—maybe they were former veterans themselves or they were just very much in support of veterans."
Vendors were able to choose from three different sponsorship packages, which included a booth at the job fair, an ad in the guide, a classified ad on Post-Gazette.com/Monster and inclusion in promotional materials, he said. Platinum, Gold and Silver packages varied in value and price, with Silver being the most popular, Wirth said. The Post-Gazette based the pricing structure off of other job fairs and from the newspaper's annual home show, which also is an event with booth space, he said.
"Essentially, we tried to figure out where our price points needed to be to have an expectable margin," Wirth said. "It was a little difficult. We didn't want to get too expensive and be the most expensive job fair. I'm not sure we hit exactly the right price points. We'll probably revisit that a little bit this year. I think we're going to have an entry point that's a little lower. We had some resistance from companies. They wanted to be involved with veterans, but we need to find a better spread for them—a little lower entry point."
According to the 2010 Operation Troop Employment rate sheet, the packages started at $1,195 and went up to $2,595 for the Platinum sponsorship opportunity.
"The real key to this was an overriding sponsorship concept, and that came from a local bank," Wirth said. "The sponsorship came in at a high enough level that it pretty much covered our inside costs. Dollar Bank had some job openings, but that wasn't necessarily their main focus. They wanted to talk about VA loans and other types of services."
Because of the sluggish economy and many companies' inability to hire, Wirth said getting businesses on board with a sponsorship was a tougher sell for reps.
"We wanted to make certain that there were enough direct-hiring companies and a variety of companies," he said. "We didn't want just schools; we wanted companies looking to hire people."
Companies that participated included a social services organization, a hotel, a research and development laboratory and banks, to name a few. Wirth said selling sponsorships for Operation Troop Employment was open to inside sales staff, the dedicated recruitment advertising rep and the retail sales department.
"This was an all-hands-on-board effort," Wirth said. "Whoever had a contact that was viable, we encouraged them to go after it."
The Operation Troop Employment guide ran as a tabloid in the Post-Gazette on May 9, 2010. The newspaper printed 300,000 copies of the 12-page special section to accommodate its Sunday circulation and an additional 1,000 copies for attendees to pick up at the job fair, Wirth said. The guide was also available on Post-Gazette.com, he added.
The advertorial content for the section was written by one of the Post-Gazette's stringers and covered topics such as resources available to veterans, helping veterans with service-related disabilities re-enter the work force and education benefits available through the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
"We decided early on that the advertorial content would be focused on veterans, not advertisers," Wirth said. "Essentially, we wanted the section to look as editorial as possible without upsetting the editorial department."
Wirth said newspapers wanting to host a job fair for veterans in their markets should start the planning process at least three or four months ahead of time.
"The big key is advanced planning," he said. "Get out there in advance. Make sure you have a good combined effort between departments at your newspaper. Really, without the three departments—classified, retail and marketing—I don't think Operation Troop Employment would have been the success that it was."
Contact: Tim Wirth, firstname.lastname@example.org
To view the Operation Troop Employment guide as a PDF, click here.
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