CIA Looks to Adland for Help With Talent Recruitment

Puts Out Feelers for Shop to 'Optimize Its Marketability' and Interest Multicultural Candidates Through Social Media

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The Central Intelligence Agency is looking for a few good men and women, and what's more, it wants the next generation of spies to be more diverse.

The highly secretive organization has reached out to big shops on Madison Avenue to evaluate whether they may be suited for working with the CIA down the road on its recruitment advertising campaigns. According to an unclassified document obtained by Ad Age : "The Central Intelligence Agency seeks to build on its existing brand identity and be positioned as the No. 1 employer of choice for a variety of career paths by reaching and engaging with prospective employees." The document added, the CIA "seeks to optimize its marketability to this audience by focusing on creative and innovative advertising."

Responses to what the CIA is calling a "market survey" are due back this week. Depending on the answers the agencies provide, it could lead to an official request for proposal.

One key goal of the CIA's recruiting messages seems to be attempting to attract a more diverse workforce. The document sent to agencies said the CIA is focused on "increasing the percentage of officers from ethic and minority backgrounds, as well as those with relevant foreign languages."

That means interested agencies will likely need mulitcultural marketing abilities. Other survey questions include "describe how your organization stays up-to-date on social media and new technology trends and uses that knowledge for creative purposes"; whether the agency has team members located in Washington D.C. for meetings; and the most interesting one: "Does your organization have in house and/or resources to subcontract personnel with clearances at the Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information Level that could be in place within 6 to 10 months after the award of the contract?"

The CIA's moves come just over a year after the CIA got a new leader at the top. A shakeup last April led to Leon Panetta leaving the CIA to replace Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, and General David Petraeus leaving command of the Afghanistan war to replace Mr. Panetta as CIA director. It isn't the first time the organization has turned to mainstream media to drum up interest among prospective employees, however. In 2009, it ran radio recruitment spots for its National Clandestine Service unit.

It remains to be seen whether that means the CIA is willing to divulge much from its current strategy for recruiting new talent. "The overall objective of our advertising campaigns has been to appeal to an individual's patriotism, promote the high level of career challenges available," noted the document circulated to agencies last week. "Additionally the introduction of digital media has changed how today's prospective employees are identified, reached, engaged and influenced. The recruitment center is looking to balance traditional models as new perspectives in marketing along with finding new ways to measure the effectiveness of its strategies."

That desire to get more digital seems to be a good and necessary thing, given the organization's decidedly old-school approach to public relations. Two CIA employees told Ad Age they were unable to comment on the reasons for sending out the document, nor were they able to comment on the CIA's current roster of agencies. Moreover, we were told that no email addresses were available to write to the CIA -- that only a request put in writing via facsimile might be answered.

However, Ad Age was later contacted by Preston Golson, spokesman for the CIA Office of Public Affairs via email, who said, "It is standard practice to recompete contracts to ensure we're getting the greatest value for taxpayer dollars." He added: "When we announce recompetes, we typically don't provide the incumbent contract holder information."

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