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Universal Appeal
A smorgasbord of space-themed giveaways and an engaging in-booth experience transport attendees at the HR Technology Conference and Exposition to another world, generating half a million Twitter impressions and otherworldly brand awareness for Icims Inc. By Lena Valenty
Humans have an undeniable fascination with space. Call it what you want – the final frontier, the great beyond, the unknown – the galaxy has been a creative muse for musicians, filmmakers, writers, and even talent-acquisition firms.

That's right. Icims Inc., a talent-acquisition firm based in Matawan, NJ, followed in the footsteps of David Bowie, Gene Roddenberry, and Arthur C. Clarke when planning its exhibit experience for the 2016 HR Technology Conference and Exposition (HR Tech) at McCormick Place in Chicago: It looked to the stars for a creative spark. To understand why space appealed to the Icims marketing team, let's moonwalk back to where it all began: The development of a revolutionary platform and app.

Icims wanted to promote its new Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) framework, Unifi, and its new Hiring Manager App. "Unifi provides our customers with access to the largest ecosystem of proven talent-acquisition solutions that help solve recruiting challenges," says Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at Icims. "And the Hiring Manager App enables users to take immediate action on job candidates from virtually anywhere, alleviating 'log jams' in the hiring process and reducing the time it takes to fill a position."

In other words, the two products simplify the lives of human-resources managers, making it easier for them to not only do their jobs, but also find qualified candidates for open positions quickly and efficiently. "Icims research found that the average résumé spends 37 percent of its time with the hiring manager alone," Vitale says. "Timely feedback from hiring managers is essential to recruiting teams in order to hire the best talent for their organizations, and we are hoping to bridge that gap with this app." The app offers HR managers 24/7 access to all of the online programs and information necessary to vet and approve job applicants from their mobile devices or tablets by leveraging data available on the Unifi platform.

The mobility and accessibility offered by the unified platform effectively launches current HR technology into warp speed, culminating in a product portfolio with the power to propel the fields of recruitment, job placement, and talent acquisition to a place that no man – or company – had ever been before. It's the difference between driving cross-country over the course of a week and teleporting from Boston to Los Angeles in a matter of seconds a la "Star Trek." Up to this point, that sort of technical innovation seemed relegated to science fiction. In other words, Unifi might have been one small step for Icims, but it represented a giant leap forward for multitasking professionals in the multifaceted HR industry.

The functionality of PaaS is somewhat difficult to explain in an elevator speech on the trade show floor. Turns out, we can put a man on the moon, but we can't figure out the best way to communicate complicated software platforms. And PaaS is also a rather dry topic on its own, as very few people in the HR industry can muster excitement over words such as "platform," "cloud," and "software."

Icims Inc.'s space-themed integrated marketing program, which featured pre-show emails, room drops, and a playful photo op, didn't overwhelm its exhibit at the 2016 HR Technology Conference and Exposition.
They're more interested in shrinking the amount of time it takes to place talent in open positions. Icims was positive that the sheer capabilities of the new tools had the potential to digitally disrupt the industry at large and wanted to communicate that to attendees. It also wanted to play up the "cool" factor – it was changing the way business was done, after all.

So to create enough buzz to stand out among the competition at HR Tech without getting too far into the weeds regarding PaaS, Icims' marketing team enlisted the brainstorming ingenuity of its creative advertising agency, Red Bank, NJ-based Spitball LLC.

Launch Pad
In the months leading up to the show, Icims' event and brand teams met with Spitball to map out an experience that aligned with the Icims products and services, generated excitement among HR Tech attendees, and broke through the clutter and social noise created by the other exhibitors at the show. "At large events like HR Tech, attendees are looking for booths that offer interactive experiences," Vitale says. "We built off the name of our new platform, Unifi, and developed a tagline that soon became the exhibit theme." That tagline was "Unifi Your Talent Acquisition Universe," a phrase that also reinforced the capabilities of the Unifi platform and its ability to streamline the entire recruitment and talent-acquisition process from start to finish. The universe idea encapsulated the reach of the platform and app and conveyed the wide expanse of information and processes reined in by the tools. What's more, Icims suspected that an outer-space theme would resonate with the show's tech-minded audience. Yes, it's true: Despite a number of "dry as toast" negative stereotypes that peg them as the bttoned-up sort, even HR managers like to let loose and have a little fun once in a while.

But a single tagline does not an integrated marketing program make. It was simply the ignition point for a space-centric campaign that started with a pre-show pitch to registered attendees weeks before the show opened. The Icims marketing team launched a series of emails to introduce the universe theme and tagline and invite attendees to "moon walk" to the Icims exhibit and learn about the Unifi platform. Tweets also alluded to an in-booth activity: a stellar green-screen photo op featuring an outer-space background and a cameo by Ike, Icims' much beloved red bird mascot.

News of the out-of-this-world theme also hit social media with tweets such as, "It's finally time for #HRTechConf! If you're attending, then visit us at booth 1505 at 5 p.m. CT today for a chance to win $500." The social posts also promoted a panel discussion featuring Colin Day, chairman and CEO of Icims, that covered an apropos topic: "Two Decades, Four Tech Revolutions, and Billions of Dollar Later – Why Is Hiring Still So Hard?"

The emails and social-media campaign were just the beginning. Vitale and her team planned a hotel room drop that contained all the necessities for faux-space travel: a plush Ike dressed as an astronaut, "moon putty" stress relievers, astronaut ice cream, moon-shaped lollipops, and a postcard featuring the Icims booth number and information about the intergalactic green-screen photo op. What more could intrepid deep-space travelers ask for?

All Systems Go
Attendees arriving in Chicago for HR Tech didn't have to wait to get to the show floor at McCormick Place to see plenty of evidence of Icims life – taxi toppers bearing the company logo, Unifi tagline, and booth number zipped around the Windy City, spreading word of the company's initiative far and wide. And when attendees checked into their hotels, they received the branded swag bag filled with enough treats and toys to satisfy them on a trip to the moon and back (or at least to the Icims booth and back).

When HR Tech opened its doors, attendees and aspirational space explorers made their way to booth 1505. Once there, Icims staffers invited them to hang out, and after a short spiel and hands-on demo of the Unifi platform, ushered them to the green-screen activity. Attendees could opt for a solo mission or pose with their friends or colleagues in front of the backdrop, onto which a star-spotted, dark-blue space scene was superimposed. Would-be space explorers could also choose from a selection of accessories (i.e., digital "stickers" added to the images after they were captured). Even Ike made a special appearance – both as a digital accessory in the photos and as a real-life roving mascot-slash-crowd gatherer. "Attendees got very into the space theme and were excited to add virtual accessories to their photos," Vitale says.

Once the pictures were snapped, attendees could share them on their social networks using the hashtag #HRTechConf for a chance to win a $500 American Express gift card. "The activity not only allowed attendees to have a little fun at the show, but also helped insert Icims into the social conversation happening throughout the event," Vitale says. Icims' social media team liked and retweeted all green-screen posts, further expanding the company's social reach to the outer limits of the show.

"From the amount of engagement and positive reactions on Twitter, it was crystal clear that the HR Tech attendees loved our booth theme," Vitale says. "Attendees liked being able to learn about our software through hands-on product demos while also getting a fun photo experience and some unexpected swag that was well outside of the norm – and out of this world."

In addition to share-worthy images, the green-screen activity provided another output: Valuable face-to-face time with Icims' target audience. As attendees queued up for their turn in front of the camera, booth staffers provided additional details about the Unifi platform and Hiring Manager App, answered questions, and provided tutorials. And the more time HR managers spent with Icims, the less time they had to give to the competition.

World Domination
Astronaut ice cream, stellar photo ops, and moon-shaped lollipops are the stuff of intergalactic dreams, to be sure, but they don't do much for a company's exhibiting goals. Fortunately for Icims, the campaign created real-world results as well, generating more than 150 mentions on social media and 500,000 impressions on Twitter alone. The photo activity also helped Icims increase its Twitter engagement by 10 percent over the previous year, and the in-booth product demo contributed to a 20-percent increase in new business leads compared to 2015.

By using an easy-to-understand cosmic theme to launch a complicated product and pairing it with a fun, sharable green-screen activity, Icims proved that you don't have to be a rocket scientist to calculate great results. E

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