For my new The Drum column today, come for my exposé of a business PR cliche and stay to learn some of my favorite publicity tactics:
It’s a common publicity tactic: brag that your hiring rate is lower than Harvard University’s acceptance rate. The obvious goal is to attract top talent to such a seemingly prestigious company. But it also happens to be completely disingenuous.
Take the most recent example. In late 2019, Blinkist, a modern version of CliffsNotes based in Berlin, published an advertorial – oh, excuse me, a piece of content marketing – in the company’s online magazine that highlighted the company’s success and promoted the exclusivity of its staff.
“In 2018, thousands of people applied for a job at Blinkist,” the article began. “1,600 candidates were interviewed, of which 73 were hired. Blinkist’s acceptance rate was 4.6%, and Harvard’s acceptance rate – 5.2%.
“It’s common knowledge – Harvard is tough to get into. Once there, expect to be surrounded by the smartest people – with the biggest and brightest ideas. Having Harvard on a CV opens up a lot of doors – and it’s the same with Blinkist. A company rapidly on the rise, being built by some of the world’s smartest people.”
There was just one problem. You know another business that has a lower acceptance rate than Harvard? The Walmart store in Washington, DC.
It is not just Blinkist. Many other companies have made similar, Harvard-related claims. The AngelPad startup accelerator. The Raya elite dating mobile app. Under Armor’s internship program. The Y Combinator startup program. The Andela training program in Africa for software engineers. An Apple coding academy in Italy.
The Data Incubator boot camp for data scientists. McDonald’s Hamburger University in China. The Deloitte consulting firm. Hunter College Elementary School in New York. The Citadel hedge fund. Banking giant Goldman Sachs. The summer internship program at The New York Times.
Saying that you are more exclusive than Harvard has become a bigger business PR cliche than politicians saying they are resigning to “spend more time with their families” following some scandal.