Attracting the best applicants to a post is skilful work in itself. Stuart Shepherd talks to some top recruitment agencies

In the world of recruitment advertising, some things are best left unsaid. 'We are looking for an enthusiastic and motivated person' is one. 'We want somebody who can make a difference' would be another.

Empty phrases and cliches will not attract the right person for the job. Making the position you want to fill and the healthcare organisation it sits in appear the best offer in town calls for some creative thinking.

Emma Fuller is account director at Tribal Resourcing, winner this year of the Healthcare People Management Association's effective recruitment advertising award. She says: 'There is more to the expertise within an agency like ours than good design skills and copywriting. We also have to know how the different facets of the media interact, where and how an advertisement can be best placed and how to draw every last bit of valuable information out of the client.'

What you end up with, when that all pulls together, is a strongly positioned combination of eye-catching graphics and compelling text. Take, for example, the prize-winning ad that Tribal Resourcing created for Swindon primary care trust when they were after a new associate director of human resources.

'What helped to make this advertisement so distinct, and why the judges praised it for the depth of research, was the strength of the brief,' says Emma. 'Swindon were very clear about the job's unique selling point - that this was a groundbreaking appointment that offered new opportunities to work much closer than before in a meaningful partnership with colleagues at the borough council. Everything about the imagery, the design and the text flows from that, which is very refreshing.'

Recruitment communications - the business that Tribal Resourcing and its competitors position themselves in - work best when agency and client develop a close relationship. True to the maxim that you only get out what you put in, it is when the key decision makers and influencers come to the table that the creatives can get people to think differently and really start adding value.

'Face-to-face meetings and site visits help us to bring out the personality and culture of an organisation or the attractions of a role,' says Emma.

'It's the best way to get hold of those nuggets from which ideas and great advertisements flow, the ones that make people think: "That's where I am going to work and that's the job I want."'

With the boundaries between health and social care becoming increasingly indistinct and the nature of public sector economics in a state of transformation, the hunt for the ideal candidate who can bring new skills and perspectives to an emerging arena becomes ever more pressing. What can complicate that recruitment picture further is that this new blood is often being asked to walk into a joint appointment.

'Any organisation needs to be certain that its agency knows where these talented, ambitious and forward-thinking people are and how to direct advertising towards them,' says Simon Potts, business director at Hays Executive. 'Equally an agency like ours will want to spend time talking with clients - and sometimes their governance partners at PCT and strategic level - to develop a fully rounded brief that describes what the job looks and feels like in the context of the organisation or partnership.'

Sounds straightforward and often it is. But sometimes while a new role can appear finalised on paper what's missing are the bits that tell the post holder - and their employers - how they can be sure they are doing a good job.

'Good recruitment consultants will challenge you to bring the job to life and identify how it helps the trust get where it wants to be,' says Simon, 'especially so when the brief is for a new position looking for candidates from the commercial marketplace. They will also suggest methods for tackling negative attitudes to public sector posts - such as making the job title broader or placing a confidential ad describing the vacancy and organisation in business terms.'

'What the agency does next,' Simon continues, 'is write an engaging ad that says how this job will be done and that attracts the interest of your target group.'

These approaches get people responding to the nature of the role rather than to stereotypes about the NHS - and once they understand that there is a genuine transition towards business models in progress the response is positive. There is an extra dividend from advertising like this: it strikes a chord with people who have already made the switch from commercial to public sectors, increasing the potential talent pool.

As the challenges and complexities of managing health shift, if not grow, the processes that underpin a good recruitment advertisement are starting to branch out into new territory of their own.

Veredus head of healthcare Melanie Shearer says: 'Where organisations want to advertise a joint appointment you have to be sure of full partnership buy-in and know that everybody is clear about what the deliverables are and what they look like in final candidate.'

'Almost inevitably, at the point where we are called in, lots of that thinking still needs to be done and we find ourselves increasingly facilitating those kinds of discussion between partners.'

The benefits of this kind of interaction come from the opportunities it creates to think through the unique selling points of such a venture and why those would attract the out-of-the-ordinary candidate.

While there will always be those organisations that prefer a more traditional arrangement - supplying their agency with a set of instructions to be used as the basis from which to develop this year's must-have shortlist - the most successful assignments, the ones that get the right person for a key position are always born of genuine partnership working.

If that's not enough, there's the added value element that any senior advertising campaign avails itself of, as Chris Stanford, head of healthcare at Odgers explains; 'Advertising is about much more than getting people to apply for a job. It's a chance to update your corporate story, let people know about how your business and you have moved on, your achievements and the challenges you have overcome.'