Unlocking a more diverse workforce


How insight opened the door to thousands of careers in the prison industry

Real change needs real ambition

Unlocked know all too well how essential a diverse and inclusive workforce is to a fairer prison system. As it stands, the disproportionate representation of certain groups in the criminal justice system is a major issue. Compared to the general population, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people are over-represented in the prison population (more than 25% of the adult male prison population and over 50% of young people).

With only 10% of prison officers self-identifying as being from these backgrounds, Unlocked knew something needed to change. So, they challenged us to reach beyond their traditional, socially aware candidates and achieve some pretty ambitious targets.

We needed to attract:

  • More males — aiming to go from 29% to 35% of applications
  • More BAME candidates — aiming to go from 18% to 25%
  • More applicants from different courses – aiming for 50% of applications from courses other than social sciences which tend to dominate current applicants

Meet the client

Unlocked is tackling one of society’s toughest challenges. They’re fighting to break the cycle of reoffending in the nation’s prison population. This means they need to attract a diverse mix of people with potential to influence and change society for years to come in the prison industry.

This means they’re in the market for top grads. Going into direct competition with more obvious industries like banking, technology, finance, teaching… the list goes on. A big ask for a less conventional career choice. But we’ve been in this position before. We know how it works. And we know that the right insight can turn the odds in your favour.

Understanding Unlocked

To do work that makes a measurable difference, we need to really get to know our client. This means looking beyond the brief, digging deeper than their website and combining our employer and youth marketing expertise to build a picture of their market position.

Who are they? What do they believe in? What do they want to achieve? What’s standing in their way?

Getting these answers allows us to answer the most important question of all: How can we help?

So, what do we know?

  • They’re ambitious about prison reform.
  • They’re genuinely proud of the work they do.
  • They’re seen as a less obvious career choice – therefore a bit of an underdog in the market.
  • They can have trouble with new employees not prepared for the reality of the role.
  • They want to increase the quantity of applicants.
  • They want to attract more men and more BAME candidates.
  • They want to attract applicants from courses from outside social sciences.

What does this mean?

  • Their ambition and pride meant that they could benefit from an honest approach.
  • They were going to need to take a few risks if they wanted to beat the competition.
  • They’ve got a lot to be positive about and a real cause to promote.
  • They’re committed to diversity and our work should reflect this.

Meet the audience

Understanding the client is only one piece of the puzzle. Knowing the audience is even more important. And future talent audiences are something we’re uniquely equipped for. Combine our expertise across employer and education markets with our industry leading data visualisation tool (YWare) and you’ve got a force to be reckoned with.

We took a closer look at all the different kinds of graduates that Unlocked were looking to attract. We found out where their ‘ideal candidates’ were. We put ourselves in their shoes. We looked at what was trending. We looked at what candidates were looking for and we used all this to our advantage.

Analysing the audience

We learnt a lot about the people Unlocked were looking to attract. We built a strong collection of insight that would help us make smarter choices for our client. From creative to media-buying to content creation, we kept our audience insight at the heart of absolutely everything we delivered.

So, what do we know?

  • They’re unlikely to have considered becoming a prison officer.
  • They’re likely to be scared or intimidated by the prospect at first.
  • They’re more open to unexpected opportunities than their parents, grandparents and friends.
  • They like the idea of doing something meaningful and positive.
  • They’re more likely to engage with video and audio content.
  • They’re quite a passive audience in regard to career in the prison service.
  • The universities where ‘ideal candidates’ are currently studying.

What does this mean?

  • We were going to have to fight for their attention.
  • They would need reassurance about the demands of the role.
  • We’d need to address the barrier that influencers could pose.
  • The opportunity to make a difference and do something meaningful would resonate.
  • We were going to need to create dynamic content that stood out.
  • We could target candidates specifically.

Identifying the problem

Our deep understanding of both clients and audiences is what makes us unique in this market. We then use our creativity to connect the two and deliver campaigns that benefit businesses, candidates and society as a whole.

For Unlocked this meant taking a good hard look at the elephant in the room. Working in prison can be a very scary prospect. It can be daunting, it can be intimidating and it’s a lot more of an unknown than other career choices. But, we know candidates can and do look past this.

The real difficulty comes when a candidate gets past all these hurdles. Just when they start to imagine the possibility of an exciting and rewarding career in the prison industry, they tell their parents, friends and grandparents about their plans only to be met with a reaction that stops them in their tracks.

If we could find a way to remove this barrier, we could completely transform to the way audiences see Unlocked for years to come.

Good honest creative

We knew our audience could handle the truth. So, we didn’t shy away from it. We embraced it. We made a whole campaign out of it. We took our biggest problem, turned it on its head and used it to our advantage.

We took the fact that whenever you tell anyone you’re going to become a prison officer, you’re going to get a reaction. And there’s a good chance it won’t be positive. For every impressed future employer, there’ll be a baffled friend. For every understanding sibling, there’ll be a gobsmacked grandparent.

We took all of these reactions and created a brave, bold video that positioned Unlocked as “A career that gets a reaction”. This flagship video would then become the catalyst for a digitally led campaign to simultaneously create mass interest and engagement and reaching a highly targeted audience.

Press play

As we said earlier, the catalyst for the campaign was our video. As we were aiming for mass exposure, we knew this would be an ideal opportunity to position Unlocked as a diverse and inclusive organisation. This meant we needed to ensure that our cast truly reflected each of the audiences we were looking to attract. The final video included actors from a variety of genders, ages, races and backgrounds. And for extra authenticity, we even managed to get someone from an Unlocked assessment centre to star in the ad.

But it doesn’t matter who’s telling the story if you don’t have anything interesting to say. And boy did we have something interesting to say. Through compelling creative, clever scripting and some fantastic performances, we created a shareable video that grabbed attention and became almost impossible to ignore.

Hitting the target

We also got very, very targeted. Using YWare (our ingenious, market-leading data visualisation tool), we found exactly which degree courses Unlocked’s ‘ideal’ candidates were. It also showed us which universities to target.

This allowed us to go after the hard-to-reach audiences with determination and bags of curated content. Digital radio in particular gave us a great opportunity to reach our audience. It’s a relatively unused platform in this sector, and we saw an opportunity that we had to grab. Together, it created a campaign that got a lot of people talking.

See think do

Our campaigns do much more than deliver one message. We take our audience on a journey. We tell them a story. And we guide them all the way. Here’s how we put this technique to work for Unlocked.


Our flagship video formed the ‘See’ stage of our strategy. This is the part of the campaign where we focus on grabbing attention and getting all kinds of people thinking about Unlocked for the very first time. We promoted our video out on YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and programmatic. We even used the audio to deliver targeted adverts on Spotify.

Digital radio gave us a great way to reach our audience. It’s a relatively unused platform in this sector, but we saw an opportunity and grabbed it. It all came together and delivered a campaign that got people talking.


The next phase takes our audience from intrigue to info – turning passive interest into active consideration.

We engaged with current graduates from different backgrounds to collect real stories that would really bring the opportunity to life. We then shared this informative, reassuring and intriguing content across carefully chosen social platforms, like JoeMedia to target our male demographic. Added to our video we began to piece together a captivating story about social change and purpose.

We also took our message directly to students by visiting campuses in person. Our campaign was about getting a reaction, so we created a fast-paced buzzer game that put potential candidates’ reactions to the test. It also gave us the perfect opportunity to speak to students and tell our story in full.


The final push. Where we drive action and get candidates over the line. Using digital insight, we can identify the candidates who engaged with our ads and target them with messages that strive to give them that final reason to apply.

Of course, it’s no use convincing people to apply, if they can’t find us on graduate job boards. So, we made sure we had a strong presence on these platforms. Then, if anyone wanted to apply later on, we’d be there. Ready and waiting.

A campaign that got a reaction

Impressions, views, clicks, page views, applications – when this campaign launched, everything went up. We hit all our targets, got people talking and made a real difference to our client. So far, we’ve achieved:

  • 409,000 views on YouTube
  • 152% increase in adverts seen from digital activity
  • 79,571 clicks on adverts – up 290% from last year
  • 91% increase in website traffic
  • 242% increase in ‘apply now’ clicks
  • 36% increase in applications from males
  • 26% increase in applications from BAME candidates
  • 4,200 application starts, resulting in almost 1,700 completed applications

These numbers are even more impressive when you think about the stories behind them. The fulfilling careers that this campaign has created and the thousands of lives it could have changed.

We’re reacting to the results too

Just like the thousands of candidates who are beginning a new career with Unlocked, our story is only just beginning. We’re already developing our strategy for year 2, informed by the audience insight we gained from tracking every part of the campaign from first view to completed application.

As well as showing the impressive impact of the campaign (driving initial awareness, improving diversity targets and generating more applications), it’s also highlighted some real opportunities for improvements in the consideration and care phases. Focusing on these areas will help us build stronger relationships with candidates and ultimately, reduce the number of drop-outs.

Making every reaction count

Moving to a more content led approach allows us to give candidates the information they want to see right after we’ve engaged with them. This includes…

A full understanding of the role itself:

  • The day-to-day experiences and responsibilities
  • The management level of the role and how there’s more to it than you think

Why they should do it:

  • Practical reasons like benefits, training, Master’s degree and a competitive salary
  • Cause-driven reasons, like the chance to make an impact and drive reform
  • Examples of the impact they can make
  • Who can do it, including skills, experience, qualifications, and personality
  • A more rounded and authentic picture of the working environment

Evolving with our audiences

As Unlocked were able to provide us with specific audience personas, we used these as a foundation to build our second phase messaging framework — using them to craft specific messaging and content ideas that resonate with each individual audience.

Since last year, the landscape has changed. So, our targeting has changed to reflect this and focus on different groups. BAME and men were the priority focus last year, but this year we need to focus more on ensuring that we reach our core group of women studying social-science related degrees — an audience that’s previously delivered strong candidates for Unlocked.

Making more of social

Whilst Unlocked are incredibly active on social media their organic audience is relatively small. This means some of the great content they share gets low levels of exposure. So, we’re working with them on a paid promotion plan to grow their following and make sure this content gets the attention it deserves.

We’ve created a variety of content ideas for the upcoming cycle, which include more blogs, profile videos and interactive elements. We’ve also proposed adding more email communications through the recruitment process — before and after each stage to help to keep candidates engaged.

The influence of influencers

One idea we’ve already delivered, is an influencer promotion partnership with 4 BAME students and student societies across the country. Using YWare allowed us to be very clever about the people and institutions we worked with to ensure that we were reaching a highly specific and highly engaged audience.

This involved sending each influencer an invite to an event all about racial inequality and the justice system. A huge topic that unites Unlocked with a very passionate audience. We supported this by supplying each influencer with a series of posts to share on their Instagram and story feeds.

The results

Engagement was really high on this campaign. We usually expect to see circa 8-10% on consumer campaigns. Our analysis is because the content is “more important” than usual influencer activity (we aren’t pushing beauty products or toothpaste here) it stopped the audience scrolling.

  • 15,650 reach
  • 1,349 engagements
  • 23% engagement rate

Societies posted across Facebook and Instagram. They also reached out to students they think would be particularly interested in this event and extended the invitation to them as well. Many had great success with bringing people along, Royal Holloway ACS in particular. The rest believe with more time they would have been able to bring even more.

  • 7 society group
  • 69 posts and messages
  • 291 clicks

Our brand ambassadors sent out a total of 298 emails to departments and lecturers at the target universities. The event invite was received well, it was shared with 14 departments that shared the details with their students ahead of the event. Due to time restrictions there were a further 19 departments that showed interest in sharing the invite, but did not make it in time before the event.

  • 298 departments contacted
  • 14 departments shared
  • 26 clicks

Where the f*** next?

We’re keen to help Unlocked move away from having to engage with a new year of grads every year to a position of much greater brand recognition. An ‘always on’ approach like this, not only targets final years, but also those just starting at university. Then when they graduate, they’ll already be well aware of the great opportunities Unlocked have to offer. We’re excited to improve on these results and continue encouraging a variety of candidates to consider a career in the prison sector.