QUESTION: Why is Burlington’s police department using interstate billboards to recruit new officers? How much has the police department spent on this form of advertising?
ANSWER: Billboards may be a great way to let people know that there’s gas available at the next exit. But it remains to be seen how effective they are as a recruitment tool for local law enforcement agencies like Burlington’s police force.
The city’s police department has nevertheless decided to give billboards a go as part of a broader recruitment strategy that also includes other, more targeted forms of advertising.
Alan Balog, a lieutenant with the department, notes that this “modern, blended advertising strategy” uses various methods intended to catch the attention of the sort of high-quality candidates that the department hopes to attract.
“This means reaching people through advertisements on their phones (social media and streaming radio) and while they travel (radio & billboard),” Balog goes on to explain. “We intentionally focus our recruitment on Alamance and contiguous counties because we want to hire people from our city and area.”
During the current calendar year, the department has spent just over $20,000 on recruitment ads that include two interstate billboards near Jimmie Kerr and Huffman Mill roads.
According to the agency’s figures, the sign at Jimmie Kerr Road cost $575 to produce and another $3,600 to display for a period of two months. The department estimates that this particular sign will receive 3,273,000 views from drivers in the westbound lanes of I-85/40.
In the meantime, the department incurred no production expenses for the digital billboard it leases near Huffman Mill Road. With an overall cost of $3,200 for the two-month term, this ad is expected to be seen 4,022,000 times by eastbound drivers along the interstate.
In addition to these two billboards, much of the police department’s ad budget has gone into a series of 30-second radio spots that aired on four FM stations in January and February of this year. The department acknowledges it spent $4,000 to have its spot play 200 times on 101.1 La Ley; $2,800 for 128 repetitions on 107.5 WKZL; $2,400 to air the ad 132 times on 102.1 JAMZ; and another $3,952 for 112 iterations on 104.1 WQTR. The department has also obtained listenership figures for WQTR and JAMZ, where its radio spots were reportedly heard 484,800 and 209,600 times respectively.
Aside from these more traditional advertising venues, the department has also run numerous ads on social media. In the past calendar year, the agency spent $2,400 on 95.5 days worth of social media advertising that reportedly received 265,026 views.
Although the department hasn’t done a follow-up study about the efficacy of its billboards, it has examined the impact that its social media ads have had on job applications. The department ultimately compared its applications from 2019, when it didn’t run social media ads, with the intake for 2020 when it did and determined that “social media advertising was effective at increasing applications for police officers.”
The agency has also been able to monitor the impact of particular ads on the number of job applications it gets from would-be police officers. In the case of one especially effective social media ad, the department’s two-week intake jumped from 15 to 37 applications after the ad had debuted. The department went on to receive another 31 applications during the second half of the ad’s four-week term and saw its intake plummet to 13 applications once the ad ran its course.
Another metric for the effectiveness of recruitment ads has been the feedback that the police department solicits from its job applicants. Of the 113 people who’ve applied so far this year, some 31.0 percent had learned that the agency was hiring through GovernmentJobs.com, while another 30.1 percent were drawn in through the city’s own website. Another 9.7 percent were referred by a current employee of the police department, while Facebook and general web searches accounted for another 4.4 and 2.7 percent of this year’s job applicants.
The department has also found that 7.1 percent of this year’s applications had responded to the recruitment ads that aired on the radio, while just .9 percent – or a single individual – cited one of the agency’s billboards as their impetus to apply.
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