Monday, January 07, 2008

Army advertising

Is accountancy fun? The Chairman of KPMG UK certainly makes it sound that way:

"I’ve been at KPMG for over 30 years and, broadly speaking, I’ve loved every, every minute of it. I think my experience, if I was to summarise it, is the sheer variety of experiences. I’ve had some wonderful clients, big clients, small clients, entrepreneurs, clients in trouble, clients doing extremely well. Every single size and shape, and in lots of different industries. I’ve had some wonderful people experiences. We’re a people organisation so there’s the sort of leadership and management challenges as you move up through the organisation, and I’ve had those challenges very early in my career and I’ve still got those challenges today."

On the other hand, this suggests it might be rather dull:

Neither account is exclusively accurate. It depends on who you are, the company or other organisation you join, when you join and innumerable other factors. You'll only really find out if it is for you after you've started - though you can get a pretty good idea before hand if you ask around. Is it some kind of unconscionable fraud that KPMG's chairman focusses on the positive? Of course not. It's staff advertising.

Yet, somehow when the Army - whose ability to recruit staff is a very public good - does the same, makes the positive case for a life in the Forces, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust decides (PDF) that is a great injustice. As Lawrence James points out, there is no shortage of voices telling a young person that life in the army will have its hard side. Movies about the horrors of war and a strong folk memory of the trenches that they are likely to have had reinforced in school, for example. There is no reason the Army should be expected to forgo advertising and suffer resulting shortages of personnel.

Being in the Forces can do wonderful things for a person. Had my grandfather not joined the Army - as a boy soldier no less - he would have been far worse off. I would probably be worse off. He had few skills having finished a misspent education at just fourteen. He could still have reached a respectable position but would probably not have had the opportunity that allowed him to progress to become an officer. Also, he would have missed out on the intangible benefits of a career that inculcated discipline and would not have had a quality, specially provided, education for his children. Without all those things it is quite possible my family would not have done nearly as well for themselves as they all have. There is nothing wrong with joining the Army and its recruiters should not feel guilty for trying to recruit the soldiers that do such an important service for their country.

It is necessarily harder to leave the Army than it is to leave many other careers after a certain point but the process is not instantaneous and a term of a few years is not forever. Of course, there are particular dangers but everyone knows that.

Some people may find that they do not enjoy the Army life, just as some people may discover that they hate accountancy. This isn't due to misleading recruitment ads but the fact that it is impossible to know what being a part of the Army is really like before you start. No matter how balanced the advertising that will always be the case.

The conclusion to Lawrence James' article sums up the study well:

"The trust’s report is as predictable as it is misjudged. An understanding of the values of the military world are absent, just as we would expect from a Quaker institution. One might as well ask a vegan to review the charcuteries of Paris."


M said...

Excellent points raised, it also has to be remembered that there is a difference between glamorising life in the army and glamorising war. The two are not one and the same, at least not all the time.

Anonymous said...


While I agree that the army has every right to attempt to paint a rosy picture of itself, your comparison with accountancy is rather flawed.

You cannot just quit the army as you could at KPMG. Particularly if you were undergoing basic military training. Moreover, there are strong social sanctions to quitting the army once you are in compared to deciding to move into another industry. Comparing the two is rather simplistic.

I am not saying that the army should not make it difficult for people to quit. When you're in a combat situation, heavily inculcated notions of dishonour serve a central role in keeping the unit together. But, to a certain extent, I think it is right to place upon the army a responsibility to ensure that its recruits go in knowing full well these risks, and having ads which are overly flippant about the dangers may well be undersirable.

Matthew Sinclair said...


You have a point, to a certain extent. The Army should do things somewhat differently and does take the question of retention and getting not just new staff but new staff who will stick seriously - I remember an article about that a while ago when a big Saatchi & Saatchi campaign was launched.

I think that your position, though, is much more subtle and sensible than the wild yardstick used by the JRCT. My criticism of them I absolutely stand by.