CAMPAIGNS: US Air Force works with employers as it calls up reserves

PR Team: Doe Anderson Interactive (Louisville, KY) and the US Air Force (Washington, DC) Campaign: "E" Pin Time Frame: August-December 2002 Budget: About $250,000

PR Team: Doe Anderson Interactive (Louisville, KY) and the US Air Force (Washington, DC) Campaign: "E" Pin Time Frame: August-December 2002 Budget: About $250,000

The Air Force trains reservists and National Guard pilots to the same standards as active-duty personnel, and fostering good relationships with civilian employers can be vital to retaining skilled pilots. "We cannot do the work of the Air Force without the support of the employers," says Brig. Gen. Edward Tonini, a public affairs officer at the Pentagon. Tonini is among the many Air Guard members and reservists called to active duty since September 11, and he quickly recognized the need to make direct contact with employers. However, the Department of Defense (DoD) can't require service members to provide information about their employers, and it had little success in soliciting voluntary data. Strategy Sen. Ted Stephens (R-AK) reminded Tonini of the "E" flag program used in World War II to recognize companies whose efficiency aided the war effort. That in mind, Tonini and his staff sought an updated version of the program. Tonini's team also knew the best way to build participation would be to foster a friendly rivalry. Borrowing ideas from the United Way, the program would also emphasize personal contact, and give commanders a way to compare their results. Tactics The PR team updated the "E" flag idea by developing "E" lapel pins for employers recommended by guard members and reservists. The Air Force hired Doe Anderson Interactive (DAI) to help develop the campaign, and the firm designed the pin. Air Force officials began explaining the drive to wing commanders in August, and DAI set up a website so commanders could compare personal-contact statistics among states and units. Tonini's staff contacted some low-ranked units to boost efforts. Once the initial flood of recommendations had been sorted electronically, the PR team conducted a press conference announcing the program. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper ceremonially awarded the first pin to UPS, which donated shipping on items sent to families, employers, and other stakeholders through the Your Guardians of Freedom program, of which the "E" pin is a part. (See January 6, 2003 Analysis at prweek.com.) Nominated employers received not only pins, but letters signed by Jumper and Air Force Secretary James Roche. Those recommended by multiple employees got advance letters asking them to distribute the pins among executives and supervisors. The team also sent pins and letters to the CEOs of the Fortune 500 companies recognized. Results In the first 10 weeks, more than 59,000 service members recommended their employers - 10 times the number of contacts the DoD had collected in two years, Tonini says. About 90% of activated service members were contacted personally, and nearly half of those with nonmilitary jobs recommended employers. Several Pentagon reporters planned to attend the November press conference, but Iraq upstaged the event by announcing that day that it would allow UN weapons inspectors back into the country. However, the program still garnered coverage from the Air Force News Service and Louisville media outlets, Tonini says. UPS' publicity efforts brought a few press inquiries, says PR manager Peggy Gardner. "Our press release wasn't really put out to drive media coverage, but to document on our website the recognition we'd received," she says. "We've found that our press room gets a lot of traffic, and many specific audiences go there to research what we've said about the issues that interest them." Some companies found employee-relations opportunities. The pins can be seen not only as a "thank you" to management, but to fellow employees who must take up the slack for those on active duty, says Southwest Airlines Capt. Ken Gile, who wears his pin on his uniform. Future The Air Force will continue mailing pins to nominated employers. "Every other reserve component has looked at [the program] with a great deal of interest, and they are currently evaluating it," Tonini says. His team is also studying ways to apply a similar system for outreach to other groups affected by military activations.

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