Lights, Camera, Consulting

Booz-Allen Woos Recruits With Real-Life Videos

Matt Calderone

When Matt Calderone accepted a job with McLean, Va., consulting firm Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., he didn't expect his first assignment to be captured on film.

Yet Calderone ended up a central player in a Web-based video series as Booz-Allen filmed its employees in action on a pro bono engagement with Special Olympics Inc. of Washington.

As the consultants helped Special Olympics reorganize its operations, they also showed Booz-Allen recruits what consulting is all about.

"It's cinema verité, pretty much. For it to be credible, it had to be real," said Calderone, a former summer associate who joined Booz-Allen last fall after earning a master's degree in business administration at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

The novel recruiting campaign was conceived last spring to attract graduate business students and answer their two most pressing questions: "What is consulting work like?" and "What is the consultant's life like?"

The videos showcase Booz-Allen's strategic planning and technical consulting expertise as its associates and executives work with Special Olympics staff members. The videos also capture employees' thoughts about the consulting life ? traveling, moving between assignments and learning from superiors.

"It's really hard to understand what a consultant's life is like on a daily basis," Calderone said. "The relationships they have, how much access they have to senior staff. Consulting is sort of amorphous and hard to describe, so having that picture is helpful."

The first segments went online in October 2000; the last will be posted later this month. Later, the videos will be edited into an hour-long CD-ROM documentary, according to Chuck Lucier, chief marketing officer and senior vice president.

Some firms walk recruits through hypothetical assignments. Only Booz-Allen has opened a long-term Web-window into a real job, company executives and recruits said.

While Booz-Allen executives thought the videos might give them a leg up on their rivals in the competition for MBA grads from top-tier schools, they didn't know if the approach would work.

Steve Delfin, director of community relations, said he was skeptical.

"I wasn't sure how the target audience ? MBA students ? would react," he said. "But it has been extremely positive."

The project presented a marketing opportunity for Special Olympics as well. With the reorganization, officials hope they can serve 1 million more mentally disabled athletes worldwide by 2005.

"It's a rare opportunity to have consultants talk about the time and energy they've put into our project," said Special Olympics spokeswoman Kirsten Suto. "Hopefully, it generated some interest for people to want to help Special Olympics either by working for us or through an organization that they end up working for."

Several hundred Booz-Allen recruits have responded favorably to the series, Lucier said. Visitors to the firm's Web site have logged 130,000 hits on the Special Olympics project in about 100 days, and the average visit lasted a strong six minutes.

Still, Lucier said, the firm needs to expand its reach with next year's campaign.

"We thought this [campaign] was going to be something where anybody thinking about consulting would find this interesting, but this came across to people as a Special Olympics thing," he said. "That was only one part of our total audience. We've got to find a way to make it relevant to more prospective recruits."

The videos were relevant to Yale MBA student Lance DeSpain, who used them to gauge his experience as a Booz-Allen summer associate last year. He has accepted an offer of employment with the firm.

"It was great to have a benchmark of people who were in the field, and find out their experiences were very similar to mine and that there are certain things about the work that run through all the projects," he said.

While DeSpain didn't need to be sold on Booz-Allen, he also didn't want to see the consulting life portrayed as glamorous or easy.

"What I found really gratifying is that the experiences they talk about echo the yin and the yang of the consulting experience, the good and the bad," he said. "They were real folks who were kind of struggling to pick up this craft in real time."

The consulting life isn't for everyone, Calderone said. Presenting an accurate picture of Booz-Allen's work and its employees encourages recruits to examine the consulting field for a personal and professional fit, he said.

"A lot of what Booz-Allen has to sell is the strength and the quality of its people," he said. "You realize you are going to be spending a lot of time with your team members, and you want to know the firm employs the kind of people you want to spend four days and three nights on the road with."

"A lot of people leave because of the travel requirements, quite frankly," Calderone said. "It's in Booz-Allen's best interest to have everybody know that ahead of time. It shows that Booz-Allen is committed to helping you manage your career as best as possible."

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