Campaign title: Prison Officer Recruitment

Client/Entering Company: Ministry of Justice (UK)

Company Name: Ministry of Justice (UK)


The Ministry of Justice published a white paper to tackle challenges facing prisoners. A key commitment in creating a safe prison environment was to recruit an additional 2,500 prison officers by 2018. Since 2017, the MOJ has put in place a new campaign evaluation process.

Highlights included:
Local targeting – tracking the performance of priority prisons to ensure targets are met
Low cost – using low cost PR to improve perceptions of the role and supplement paid for activity in driving applications.


The Ministry of Justice published a white paper in November 2016, Prison safety and reform, to tackle challenges facing prisons. A key commitment in the paper was to recruit an additional 2,500 prison officers by 2018. This measure will make prisons safer and reduce re-offending rates.
A critical component of this commitment was the development and deployment of an effective recruitment campaign. In April 2017, the Ministry of Justice and its agency, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), launched a new campaign. The challenge of the recruitment campaign was to attract quality candidates to a role that is perceived by the public as dangerous and unrewarding.

The campaign aimed to demystify the role of the prison officer as a turn key and to position it instead as a rewarding career where individuals can make a difference. Its overall objective was to build a cross-government campaign to facilitate greater application and conversion rates
to meet this target by 2018. A further objective was to establish an effective value for money recruitment service for MoJ, capable of delivering ongoing bulk recruitment. The MoJ adopted a tightly geo-targeted approach to get the right number of number of prison officers per establishment.

The campaign aimed to meet the following deliverables by the end of 2018:


  • Recruit 2,500 prison officers by end 2018 (the gross figure is far higher due to attrition)
  • Recruit according to specific cluster and establishment need


  • Achieve a high applicant conversion rate
  • Deliver applicant mix in-line with the diversity profile of the local population
  • Achieve high retention rates as an index of prison officer quality and performance in role.

Cost efficiency

  • Low acquisition cost per applicant
  • No TV Budget

Public Awareness

  • Change perceptions of the role of prison officer to that of trained professional working with pride and purpose


MoJ inherited a campaign based on cost per click on apply. This was not weighted by specific vacancies or difficulty to recruit to prisons. This provided an opportunity to improve our measurement approach. Our strategy was to work with the business to understand demand.

Using PowerBi, a data visualisation tool, the team ensured accuracy in setting targets for each prison, not undershooting or overshooting, and adjusting for effectiveness (see figure 1).
Each prison has a target staffing level required for safe operation (see figure 2). This target staffing level is calculated using PowerBi.

Data from past applications offer information about conversion rates. From these figures, the data team advise on the level of targeted advertising needed per establishment, particularly those which have historically struggled to attract candidates (see figure 3). This data informs our communications media plan, which is refined with our external agencies (see figure 7). For the campaign to drive applications to the priority sites it was imperative to use the right channels to reach our target audience.

Our strategy to achieve this was to:

  1. use insight to target people who are looking to switch jobs, and who are within approximately a one-hour commute of the priority prisons. They must be over 18 and at non-managerial level. Use job boards that fit the audience profile to serve display advertising and send emails to elicit visits [to] (
  2. use local PR to support high-demand prisons. YouGov polling showed the public don’t know about the service so there is the opportunity to share powerful stories from prison officers doing the role
  3. use social media to drive engagement and measure impressions to sharpen messaging
  4. optimise our Customer Relationship Marketing (CRM) strategy to keep motivated candidates in the pipeline
  5. YouGov surveys demonstrated that applicants were influenced by family and friends when applying (see figure 4). Our strategy was to develop creative collateral showing trained professionals working with pride.
  6. Work with stakeholders, including Butler Trust, to deliver messaging effectively
  7. Meet other recruitment campaigns to share best practice across government

Our strategy for refining our measurement framework was to:

Implement floodlight tags. We developed a solution to trace media source via ATS, something that had not been possible before and unlocked a wealth of data.

Work with the business to understand application process. We surveyed 1,000 applicants which highlighted problems and helped us support the business in piloting new processes, resulting in a conversion rate that was twice as effective as BAU.

Use data regularly to optimise media and adjust media planning. Integration with the data team helps us understand the changing demands of establishments, adjust our media spend in terms of where it is needed and what channels we use (see figure 7).

Implement an integrated measurement approach. This would be used for hard-to-recruit for sites to create a bespoke media package, from PR to social. All activity, whether paid or low cost, can be tracked back and enabled us to understand channel effectiveness.


Insight gained through Mosaic data, interviews and surveys showed that the public had a negative perception of prison officers. Surveys such as YouGov showed that the perceptions of the role as a positive and rewarding career were declining sharply and that people were less likely to support family or friends doing the job in the future (see figure 4). This insight provided data that enabled us to get support from the business to help us refresh the campaign, with a greater focus on the role of prison officer as a professional career with purpose and pride.

Unlike the previous campaign, we wanted to focus on showcasing the benefits of the role, something of which people were less aware, rather than the daunting elements, which was relentlessly covered by the press. The role was positioned as valuable, with the aim of changing public perceptions and making more people aware of the work that prison officers do, celebrating this hidden service.

The copy in our creative set out the challenge and how the prison officer, a trained professional, deals with it. The visuals use prison officers from a range of backgrounds engaging in their work in a social setting. To reinforce this messaging, the campaign also developed creative collateral recruitment toolkits for prison HR Business Partners. The toolkit, which includes posters, banners and leaflets showing trained professionals working as a team with purpose and
pride, have also been used for external careers events specific to different campaigns.

The repositioning of the role and the messaging used in our creative was further implemented through:

  • Press Coverage: PR is good for reaching a wider audience and building advocacy. By bringing the role of prison office to life through interviews and features, our low cost/no cost PR team secured consumer and local media coverage in a variety of publications relevant to an audience near priority prisons, including Fabulous Magazine, Buckinghamshire Life, Woman’s Weekly, The Sun and Stylist Magazine.
  • Communications planning. The communications plan is given geographic weighting according to establishment need and amended depending on demand.
  • Channels: Local native content has been used where available at low cost. Social media assets have been developed including five recruitment videos. The campaign has also had success in collaborating across disciplines and departments, including HR and internal communications.
  • Website : Creative refresh used to drive interested, relevant traffic to the website. This should elicit consideration and applications supported by relationship marketing to ensure applicants stay in the funnel.
  • Search engine optimisation : Data shows that search has the best return on cost. We have looked to leverage this by expanding search terms and creating new content on the site to make search more relevant.
  • Job boards: Data shows this has been successful in driving quality applications, particularly Indeed and Total Jobs.
  • Radio: Campaigns including the KISS FM prison officer campaign in October 2017 reached almost 20 percent of Greater London. During the radio campaign there was a 37 percent increase in baseline applications.
  • Local Activity: Events such as National Recruitment Week, which included the prison officer jobs fair and Department for Work and Pensions Twitter takeover, were successful in engaging approximately 900 visitors and resulted in more than 100 applications. Although this can be used as a measure of the campaign’s success with regard to perceptual change, it is difficult to measure recruitment outcomes. The team are working to improve our floodlight tagging to better track application source. The campaign also works at a no-cost hyper local level, by engaging with local partners including universities, local recruitment agencies and community groups.

Effectiveness of Assignment

Since the launch of the campaign in April 2017, the MoJ is on track to deliver net 2,500 prison officers at a reduced cost. Using PowerBi, the MoJ can determine a list of priority prisons, reviewed monthly, and can upweight campaigns to provide additional support in paid-for advertising. The priority site list was approximately 60 sites in April, and reduced to 17 for the months of February/ March 2018.


  • MoJ is on track to meet its 2,500-net target early. Almost 2,000 prison officers have been recruited since the launch of the campaign and a further 1,582 new recruits are booked onto Prison Officer Training (POELT) courses. As of December 2017, there had been a net increase of 1,970 officers from October 2016 to December last year, up from 17,955 to 19,925.
  • The boost in staffing numbers will help deliver our new Offender Management in Custody model which will provide prisoners with a key worker to support them in custody.
  • The campaign is delivering reduced cost per acquisition.
  • The number of staff recruited are monitored via SSCL as they join.


  • Paid activity is over-indexing in terms of ethnic diversity vs local working population
  • Overall our candidates are in line with population. Paid brings in a higher percentage of BME candidates than direct, but this could be to do with geography as our paid activity is concentrated in London and the South East.
  • Using floodlight tags has enabled us to look at the diversity profile of each media. Job boards are most successful across media in BAME recruitment.


  • Direct advertising click through contributes approximately 41 percent of applicants submitted and roughly the same ratio of applicants who passed the online test.
  • MoJ is attracting high quality candidates demonstrated via conversion success and high retention rates. The conversion rate has reduced as a result of improved targeting.
  • Conversion ratios are recovering, following time to hire improvements. We are working with teams across the department to better improve our CRM strategy. The candidate recruitment journey is extensive with high dropout rates in the pipeline around the online test and vetting stage. The focus is moving to improving CRM to ensure the candidate feels informed as they progress through the recruitment journey.

We have developed a wireframe that tracks the applicant journey and shows drop-out rates at each stage. We also worked with the data team to establish why candidates drop-out at each stage so as to better tailor our messaging.

Public Awareness
Local and national media features have been critical in building a new narrative of what the role can offer candidates. The team supplemented paid for with wider PR activity to drive applications and help build support of close friends and family which, as the YouGov survey shows, can impact applications (see figure 4 ). Although data for PR activity is sporadic and hard to measure, press coverage in local publications, such as Hull Daily Mail,
demonstrate the benefits PR can have in driving applications (see figure 6). Events such as Prison Officer Of the Year have also helped raise awareness of the positive impact prison officers can have.

The innovative approach of this campaign has led to changes in the way MoJ approaches campaign planning and how it approaches evaluation. The success of the campaign has led to greater trust with the business and the same model is going to be used for departmental-wide recruitment, so achieving further cost savings. Learnings from this campaign have led to regular adjustments to ongoing campaigns in the department according to: site/cluster needs; media cost per application submitted; and volume the candidate management system can process.


The campaign has been recognised by the Cabinet Office as one of the highest-performing government recruitment campaigns. Alex Aiken, Executive Director of the Government Communications Service, has praised the department’s overall approach to strategic communications and has described the campaign as a model across government.

Since mid 2017 to date, more than 22 national and local media features have been secured in highly-trusted titles at no-cost (see figure 5). These features are crucial in telling the real story of prison officers to change perceptions of the hidden service externally, as well as showcasing the role to staff when repurposed internally. When we secure coverage
in local media, we see substantial increases in the number of applications (see figure 6). In 2018 we have also started to deploy floodlight tags on PR activity.