As the British Army looks to recruit more soldiers, its retention rates are a cause for concern. Last week, it introduced the latest chapter of its ‘This is Belonging‘ recruitment drive, but is it enough of a step change to pull it out of its retention crisis?
Under the ‘This is Belonging‘ platform, the British Army has spent five years appealing to punters it deems soldier material, with the aim of getting more would-be recruits through its application process.
Focused on how the army looks “beyond stereotypes” in its search for the next generation of forces the army has welcomed Gen Z ‘snowflakes’, ‘me me millenials’ and ‘phone zombies‘. Set on changing perceptions around the army, these figures don‘t naturally come to mind when you consider armed combat.
And it’s been effective. Last year was the Army’s most successful year since Capita took over recruitment efforts. After a month, it had reached 141% of the army’s application target and by March, it had surpassed 100% of its annual recruiting target.
“We‘ve seen results across the board,“ shares Nick Terry, chief marketing officer of recruiting group Capita on the success of the campaign to date. “There has been a shift in the perception of the Army, and we‘ve increased recruitment, getting people through the application process into basic training. It‘s something we‘re never complacent with.“
However, although it attracted record recruits last year, its retainment rate tells a different tale. By September, 30,000 applications had been withdrawn, prompting Stephen Morgan MP, shadow armed forces minister, to comment: “The worrying increase of over 7,000 application withdrawals this year from the Armed Forces continues this government’s decade of decline in failing to support our country’s armed forces and its recruits.
“While the minister claims to be looking to improve the armed forces ‘offer’, its failing recruitment contract is clearly not working,” he warned.
In 2019, personnel numbers in some frontline army units were down by as much as a third, prompting serious concern about readiness for action. These shortfalls have led people to criticise the British Army’s recruitment campaign, suggesting it is appealing to the wrong audience. Is the Army wasting time chasing a clientele of simply not cut out for life out on campaign?
Launched last week, ‘Fail. Learn. Win.‘ is the fifth chapter devised by the army’s long-term ad agency Karmarama, under the ‘This is Belonging’ banner. Billed as the next step in its long-term recruitment strategy, after conducting extensive research it promises a step change, taking a more serious approach to recruitment.
With the message that failure can be a positive experience, it looks to Army training, which it deems a safe place and an opportunity to learn. While suggesting that wider society may deem failure as a weakness, the campaign shows that the Army sees it as a strength and an educational method.
“It’s the next step in our long-term mission and vision,” Terry explains. “Our systematic approach is to increase consideration and to get more people to apply. Ultimately we need to make sure we have the right quantity and the right quality of soldiers”.
To freshen up its recruitment push, Rhonwen Lally, senior planner at Karmarama, says that from January, the team did extensive research. “Each year we aim to give a new spin to the campaign, and it gets more of a challenge each year. Firstly, we research the target audience to understand their lives right now, and then we conduct research with the army, with soldiers of various levels.
“We want to uncover different sides of life that we haven’t talked about before, that are rooted in this central theme of belonging.”
The target audience is noticeably different this year. While previous iterations have fine-tuned who it wants on board, this year Terry says they’ve gone broader on its messaging, to a general audience of young people hoping to “broaden the audience and increasing consideration, so we can shift perceptions and challenging stereotypes.“
While the campaigns have been criticised for appealing to a wrong audience, Terry says that “a big insight from 2016 was to stop prioritising those that were going to join anyway.“ Though he admits, “we don’t want to put them off... we want to make sure we’re still talking to them by nudging them into doing something about it.”
Unlikely to provoke criticism, while ‘Fail. Learn. Win.‘ still sits broadly in the same sphere as previous chapters, it offers a more serious and open approach to recruitment this year. However, if retention figures don‘t improve, it will be difficult for the Army to keep insisting this is the right approach.