Published: 07/04/2005, Volume II5, No. 5949 Page 35

Champagne was flowing in the NHS Careers office in Bristol last month as Alan Simmons, senior careers consultant to the NHS, rounded-up staff to help celebrate hitting its millionth contact.

Alan joined the organisation late in 1999, so has played an essential part in the growth of the careers service since its conception one year earlier. He has helped to implement some of the most high-profile and successful recruitment campaigns in the British health service.

This includes the impressive national campaign referred to as 'Jack' (pictured, right, in which a man has an epilepsy drop attack on a flight of steps and is helped back to his feet by his NHS healthcare team), which now generates 40 per cent of its annual enquiries - equal to one every minute.

Here Alan gives his advice on using the national careers service and running local campaign.

Develop a good source

'Operating a service where the public get to speak with real people, rather than an automated response machine, is a major selling point. Our main contact centre, in Bristol, is open 24/7 and this has helped our credibility. The service started as a telephone response line offering information to people considering a career in nursing. Now, we provide a range of free information on over 300 different careers and our website contains 2,000 pages of online information. It is very important to develop sources that make it easy for people to get in contact with you, which is why we have one national telephone number that can be used in all our ad campaigns and on our literature.'

Aim high-profile

'A lot of hard work goes into creating an advertising campaign that successfully captures the image of your brand. Both the Department of Health and the Central Office of Information have played a part in helping us determine the image we want to present and discussing strategies to help us do this. Luckily, our national campaign has proven successful and by working with cutting-edge technologies like interactive digital TV, we have had 45,000 potential new staff contact us so far this year.'

Go local

'A national campaign is effective at raising awareness, but there needs to be a local element to it, too. You could have a fantastic national campaign but if the local communications do not gel, it will fall apart. We hold job shops once a year and encourage the NHS to hold events in their local communities, which helps make the link between regional press advertising and our national initiatives. Similarly, by encouraging people to contact our phone line, we can help to put them in touch with their local representative.'

Define a brand message

'It helps to look at other work in the past and whether it has been effective, so you can learn your lesson this way. Before the NHS careers service was around and people wanted to work for the NHS they may have contacted the relevant professional body, but now we have started to become the authoritative source, which is a fantastic result.'

Embrace challenges

'One of our biggest challenges has been to show that there are many different people working for the NHS in a huge variety of careers. TV soaps and documentaries help to increase this awareness, but still many people do not think about becoming a healthcare scientist for instance. Similarly there are around 20 different managerial carers to choose from in the NHS, so we have developed our website, which will help to raise awareness. There is the misconception that you have to do a graduate management training programme, but this is not always the case. There are many ways for potential managers to progress through the service. The primary goal is making people aware of the skills and knowledge they have that are transferable - so then half the job is done.' Monitor success 'Market research has been done to see how effective our marketing has been.

This is invaluable as is the anonymous feedback facility on our website that helps us gauge opinions on how we are approaching things - hopefully the result will be that we are doing it the right way.

Once enough information is gathered, it helps us to build the brand focus.'