CIA's Ad Agencies: College Classes

Students Create Marketing Programs to Juice Recruitment for Spy Agency

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NEW YORK ( -- The CIA isn't just advertising for recruits for its National Clandestine Service unit. It's also working with college students to create on-campus marketing programs.

The little-known effort, called the CIA Collegiate Marketing Program, funds three university business classes each semester. This semester, its the University of Southern California, the University of New Mexico and Michigan State University. The CIA gives each school a $2,500 budget.

"One of the main goals of the program, which has been very successful, is to elicit ideas from very talented marketing students," said CIA spokesman George Little. "Those ideas are routinely and seriously considered."

Publicizing employment opportunities
Mr. Little said the Collegiate Marketing Program is "one of the ways we receive feedback on how we make known employment opportunities with the agency." The other is mainstream media. In one two-week period in January, Mr. Little said, the CIA aired recruitment ads on about 30 TV and radio stations across the country and placed more than 100 print and online ads nationally. The agency behind them couldn't be determined at press time -- perhaps not surprising for a secret organization.

The CIA teams with California-based EdVenture Partners, a marketing consultancy that manages partnerships between education and industry, to implement the Collegiate Marketing Program. EdVenture's clients include the FBI, the State Department, Chevrolet, Nissan and Honda, among others.

Jennifer Hershiser, the CIA account manager for EdVenture, said the program benefits both entities. "The end result is the client receives creative marketing strategies that focus on difficult-to-reach market segments through customized marketing and recruiting solutions that are developed by the students," she said. The students "receive educational value in that they get a real-world experience in working with a real-world client that they can put on their resume."

From ad class to ad agency
At USC, 27 students are no longer in the Practicum in Advertising and Promotion Design class of Therese Wilbur, assistant professor of clinical marketing. Instead, for the 15-week semester that ends in May, they are the Imprint Advertising Agency. Ms. Wilbur is the CEO.

"We do everything you would normally expect with the agency-client relationship," Ms. Wilbur said, including client briefings and submitting the work for client approval. Each twice-weekly, two-hour class is basically an agency meeting.

Two of the students act as Ms. Wilbur's account coordinators; the other 25 students are divided into the creative, research, media, traditional-public-relations and nontraditional (event-planning) departments.

"Our budget is $2,500, so you can imagine how much we can place for that," Ms. Wilbur said with a laugh. "But it makes us be creative and nontraditional. We're mostly focused on the campus, but we are doing outreach" to other local colleges.

Creating a campaign
The "agency" is in week nine of creating a campaign with the tagline "Discover the CIA. Be part of something bigger." Graduating senior Allison Kosty runs PR and has already helped coordinate an on-campus recruiting event for April 7. A website,, will be up and running by April 1.

"I've had the opportunity to help form a fully functioning agency and work on a real campaign with an actual client," Ms. Kosty said. "Like many of my peers, I had my own preconceived notions about the CIA. I had no idea of the tremendous career opportunity made available to me as a graduating senior. I don't think many people realize this, but in a time where almost no company is hiring, the CIA is seeking new officers. "

Mr. Little said all the advertising outreach is not in response to dwindling recruiting numbers. "Recruitment numbers are actually rising," he said. "Last year we received over 120,000 job applications. Over the past several months of fiscal year 2009, we've seen a pattern that, if it holds, would result in at least a 40% to 50% increase in applications over last year."

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