When you want the absolute best, you need more cowbell

Red 5 - Wednesday, 28 March 2007 01:28

In the summer of 2006, Mark Kern, Bill Petras, and Taewon Yun met with advisor Jeff Loomans to discuss how to grow the Red 5 family. They all knew that recruiting in the game industry was crazy: people are constantly spammed by recruiters, and competition for quality talent is fierce. Still, the three Red 5ers were determined to hire the best and brightest minds in the industry, while communicating just how damned cool it is to work at Red 5 Studios.

A tall order? Maybe. But you’d be surprised what a few glasses of really good beer can do for your resolve.

An early mockup of the package. Note the Corinthian Leather treatment.

Customized iPods, everywhere! Everywhere!

The puzzle pieces start coming together.

All packed away and tucked into foam and ready to travel.

Current members of the Red 5 Tribe were surprised with their own iPods.

It’s a personalized job offer that you can wear on your shirt!

Laying the Foundation

The more the group thought about it, they knew that just more of the same wasn’t going to work. Form emails and phone calls were overdone, passé: the gogo boots of the recruiting industry. They needed something that would be uniquely Red 5, something that would immediately grab a prospective applicant’s imagination.

Mark remembered that Steve Jobs took a uniquely active role when he started running Pixar. Jobs personally called the top fifty animators in the world, and extended an invitation to come and work for his new company. It’s that kind of rapport that the team most wanted to replicate, but they still needed a way to cut through the hype of traditional recruiting campaigns. So it was decided that instead of recruiting openly, the company would focus on personally meeting one hundred of the top people in the game industry. Red 5 would extend a singular, unique invitation to each of those one hundred people, and let them know that they were part of an event that happens once in a lifetime.

The project began by drafting a list of Red 5’s dream team, people whose work the studio admired. After the list was compiled, Red 5 researched each individual: they wanted to learn more about the type of work they liked doing, the game titles they had worked on, and what kept them inspired once they clocked off for the day. There was a lot of online research, as the studio read blog posts, played games, crawled through forum posts, even Amazon wish lists—all in order to get to know each person a little better.

Eventually, the list of a hundred names was complete. It was time to start work on the invitation, like the kind people who get to attend the Academy Awards. But, you know, without the swag bag. Or Joan Rivers.

It Takes a Village

With the list in hand, Red 5 started thinking about the best way to grab each recipient’s attention, to show them that they were being asked to be part of something unique, something exciting. Over the next few months, Red 5 interviewed countless studios until settling on Pool, a San Francisco-based design firm. Pool just got Red 5, and had some really fantastic ideas on how to turn Red 5’s work into a memorable campaign.

After testing a few versions, the idea quickly evolved from a mailing piece into a multimedia event. The packaging took on a more important role that would reveal a story as the recipient stripped away each layer. And once the recipient got to the center of the packaging, they’d find a brand new stamp-sized iPod Shuffle, which hadn’t yet been released in the US.

Custom-engraved with each recipient’s name and a unique code, each iPod was more than a special gift: it was the key to accessing the Red 5 website, where they could learn more about the company, as well as the job that Red 5 had cherry-picked them for.

While Pool continued work on the print design, Red 5 hired Airbag Industries to design a website that would match the ass-kickery of the invitation. Airbag had found a dream client in Red 5 Studios, and had a great time wrapping a compelling design around Red 5’s concept artwork and staff.

Under the hood, Airbag created a souped-up Ruby on Rails content management system that allowed Red 5 to manage all aspects of the site, from tracking new users to updating homepage copy. The CMS also presented a custom homepage to each prospective hire after they logged in, welcoming them to this one-of-a-kind opportunity. Users could also read individual team bios, see who else had joined the Red 5 family, and send website login codes to their friends so they could learn more about the company and their unique job opportunities.

Of course, Red 5’s employees were intimately involved in every step of the process: they helped test the campaign, continued researching invitees, wrote personalized greetings, wrote website copy, and recorded the personalized audio greetings for each iPod. And throughout the entire process, the team worked day (and sometimes night) to meet major milestones. Who needs sleep?

After a few months of work, the campaign was finally ready to ship: the site was up and running, and the iPods were wrapped oh-so-beautifully. From a brainstorming session to a beautifully designed campaign that spanned on- and off-line media, the recruiting project was finally ready to be unleashed upon one hundred very lucky folks.

But it would all be for naught unless the packages actually got to the intended recipient. Kind of a key step, that.

Off the Grid

When it came to shipping, the best approach was to send the invitations to the recipients’ places of work, as those addresses were easiest to find with a little online search. But Red 5 was enticing folks away from competing companies, and didn’t want prying corporate mail rooms to intercept their carefully designed invitations. After months of work, having a mail clerk net himself a free iPod Shuffle wasn’t the most appealing idea.

To add an extra layer of sneaky, the print invitation was specifically designed to fit inside plain FedEx boxes, which had a higher chance of slipping by the mail monitors. Furthermore, the shipping company could help ensure that the packages arrived to everyone nearly on the same day.

Whirlwind: Reaped

And it worked better than anyone could have predicted. The response rate was overwhelming. Red 5 had a nearly 100% response rate on their campaign; by comparison, most direct mail initiatives are considered “successful” if they hear back from two percent of their recipients. Furthermore, Red 5 got supremely viral: almost every person used the website to send invitations to their friends, spreading the word even more.

Since the campaign, the Red 5 offices have been busier than ever: the team in Orange County has been meeting new friends and showing them around the corporate offices. And the campaign has gotten ridiculous amounts of buzz, with many saying that Red 5 really raised the bar to new levels in recruiting, while making an impact on the game industry itself.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 28th, 2007 at 1:28 am and is filed under News.
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