Mark McCulloch, founder of Hospitality Rising, talks to MCA about why his campaign is positioning a job in the sector as “the fun option”

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Mark McCulloch thinks back to the moment he first conceived of Hospitality Rising, his campaign to attract more people to work in hospitality.

The marketer was spurred to action after becoming horrified at another negative story about hospitality’s workforce woes - not least a stat that reported only one in five would consider a career in the sector.

He realised then that the industry had a branding problem - and therefore needed a branding solution, an area he was-placed to assist.

“It must have been a rush of blood to the head – and I can’t even blame drinking because I’d given up drinking at the time!” he tells MCA.

Having worked in marketing roles at YO!, Pret and consulted for the likes Dishoom, McCulloch’s Hospitality Rising campaign is seeking to double the amount of people considering a job in the sector by changing negative perceptions of work the industry.

With the financial support of operators, it aims to launch the biggest hospitality recruitment advertising campaign the UK has seen, covering everything from TV to TikTok – a platform that is already proving effective at marketing jobs to younger people.

McCulloch initially approached some of the top advertising agencies in the UK, but many were either too busy or unwilling to commit until some money had been raised.

It was Julian Douglas, president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), who offered to assist free of charge, as he saw the cause as a social problem.

Bringing together a team of “creative rock stars”, the IPA committed to supply quarter of a million pounds worth of free work.

This included the services of influential behavioural scientist Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of ad company Ogilvy.

VCCP, the creative agency behind the Meerkat ads, came on board.

And also from Ogilvy, Matt Waksman who was the brains behind the army recruitment ads while at Karmarama, joined the efforts.

The long-running army campaign is considered one of the most successful in advertising history, and it is hoped some of this marketing magic can be transferred to the hospitality sector.

Indeed, there are traces of this in the sense of excitement and belonging conveyed in the initial ads.

The strategy is simple: to target people under 30 in entry level jobs, and try and displace them to come into hospitality.

“You can say anything about hospitality, but you can’t say it’s boring,” McCulloch says.

“We’re trying to position it as the fun option. It’s an act of rebellion against the 9-5 and that will resonate with some people.”

With the support of the IPA, Hospitality Rising has produced two ads. One has the tagline ‘live fast, work young’.

“It’s all about being fast paced, exciting, for people that are young at heart.”

The other one is about ‘local legends’, and the status that pub and restaurant staff gain to people in the community.

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The ads feature hip young people in trendy coffee shops and bars, but McCulloch shrugs off suggestions this stylised view is unrepresentative of the sector as a whole.

“People have said, I don’t see my brand in that. That’s not the point. The point is we need to show hospitality as something exciting and different. Once they’re interested and apply, then they can decide which brands to work for.”

He is wary about complicating the message with themes about building a career, preferring to keep it simple in stage one of the campaign.

“We’re trying to pick our battles. It’s like going on a first date and asking to get married.

“Let’s get people in, then we can move on to careers and moving people up the ladder. One set of ads is not going to solve everything, we are going to have to keep going.

“Stage two might be more career focussed.”

With a fundraising target of £5m, and less than a tenth of this secured, McCulloch has his work cut out.

He is asking hospitality companies to donate £10 for every member of staff, a “genius, egalitarian” idea that came from James Nye of Anglian Country Inns.

There are sliding scales of contributions for bigger companies, and he recognises it might be a tall order for some, but he insists working together is the only way.

“Some of the bigger companies are asking, ’what do I get this that’s extra?’

“That’s not the point. What we’re trying to do here is show hospitality as one thing.

“We’re trying to do something different that will change the perception of hospitality in the long term.”

The campaign has had interest from the government’s hospitality and tourism skills board, as well as Prince Charles’ office.

For McCulloch, who is working on the initiative alongside his day job, his personal motivations is a mixture of self-interest and a desire to give something back. 

“At an absolute selfish level, if there’s no hospitality, there’s no suppliers,” he adds.

“But the biggest thing was hospitality has been really good to me. I’ve worked in other sectors, like travel and finance, but hospitality really welcomed me.

“I felt like I should give back, and I think for anyone that has made a penny out of hospitality, it’s time to step up.”

To find out more about the campaign click here