As well as several lively group discussions and input from independent specialists, delegates heard from five local authorities.
Northamptonshire colleagues talked about their 'One thousand pairs of shoes' campaign, which has delivered strong results in a short timescale.
Leeds colleagues spoke about how traditional marketing still works for them, but they are integrating use of digital.
My Barnsley colleagues talked about their creative approach and how 'hyper-local' campaigns, led by carers, has resulted in higher enquiry volumes and conversion rates.
Nottingham colleagues talked about shoes too – how they put themselves in the shoes of prospective carers throughout every step of the recruitment journey and saw great results.
Since 2011, I've managed the Children’s Social Work Matters (CSWM) project.
It is a collaboration of 15 authorities across Yorkshire and Humber that aims to attract more people to a career or jobs in social work – challenges mirroring those of foster carer recruitment.
From 2010-17 I also led Kirklees Council’s fostering recruitment marketing strategy and campaigns.
At the seminar, I spoke about our insight-led, strategic approach - how we streamlined the process, became more 'customer'-focused and changed our culture to one of working with people to 'rule them in'.
Throughout the day we heard how authorities are embracing digital more and more, with Facebook cited as still being the most effective platform.
With our communications budgets reducing year on year it's more crucial than ever that we demonstrate that we are spending money effectively and evidencing it.
Digital marketing is evolving at pace; it’s brilliant for measuring and evidencing results and, in my experience, it really does work in recruiting carers. But we still need to balance that with offline media, given the demographics of different target audiences.
The biggest challenge I always found was measuring conversion in terms of pinpointing which channels resulted in approved carers.
Adding to this challenge is that people think about fostering for a long time before taking action.
For example, a foster carer's story in the media may have planted the seed for someone, but it might be, say, a video on Facebook four years later that nudged them to take action – simply because the time was right for them.
Of course we all need to continually explore creative ideas, but for me, this demonstrates how important it is that, despite financial pressures, we continue to invest in marketing – keeping fostering front of mind and dispelling the many myths that put people off getting in touch.
While at Kirklees, we jointly commissioned campaign creatives, videos and PR with Leeds – halving our individual costs, while we each saw great results.
Discussions at the seminar got me thinking about this and CSWM’s partnership approach.
We all have local pressures and targets, and having different websites and processes adds to the challenge of collaboration, but I'm certain we'd all benefit from working together more to help tackle the shortage of carers.
Karen Jones is comms & marketing business partner at Barnsley Council
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