In lieu of a formal campaign, the armed forces have turned to guerilla communications tactics to highlight the employment needs of veterans, many of whom will soon return to the work force as soldiers withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq.
On top of the ending conflict, the Department of Defense (DoD) has announced plans to pare down the amount of active servicepeople to reduce its budget in the coming years.
These efforts have resulted in two communications mandates for the military. The first is informing the private sector about the need to employ veterans. The second is alerting former servicepeople of job opportunities.
A major partner in the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces has been Con-way, a global provider of supply chain solutions. The company worked with 60 Minutes on a segment highlighting the plight of soldiers who came home to find they'd been demoted or their jobs were unavailable.
"Con-way was profiled as one company that goes above and beyond in support of its deployed citizen soldiers," says Gary Frantz, director of corporate communications. "[Veterans] are a great fit with the culture of our company, which stresses core values of safety, integrity, commitment, excellence, and collaboration."
The company estimates it employs more than 1,000 former military personnel.
Many of these efforts take place as part of the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces, which is open to all service members and veterans. The program has 2,700-plus employer partners and EmployerPartnership.org (its career portal) gives servicemen and women access to about 700,000 open positions.
The program draws the attention of employers and the public through a multifaceted strategy. Program support managers around the US build relationships with employers through speaking engagements, one-on-one contact, email, and phone.
"We offer employers a direct connection to trained, reliable candidates who are pre-screened, drug free, and bring the skill sets you need," says Lt. Col. Matt Leonard, strategic communications officer for the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces.
The program is also publicized in military publications by disseminating success stories of veterans who have found work through the program. These stories sometimes generate mainstream press interest.
"Nothing proves the validity of a program as well as actual success stories," says Leonard.
With no dedicated PR budget, Leonard has to be creative. He calls one strategy he has developed "piggy-backing." This involves seeking out veteran employment stories on mainstream media sites, such as The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, and in the comments section he provides facts about the program along with a link to the portal. This helps publicize the initiative to veterans and employers, while spurring greater media activity.
Most servicepeople attend transition employment workshops offered by the Department of Labor. They receive notice of job postings through various venues, such as base newsletters, calendars, town-hall briefings, installation websites, and social media pages such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, according to Mary Danner-Jones, secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.
Despite the many programs, the future concerns Danner-Jones.
"With the resource constraints the DoD is experiencing," she says, "it will be a challenge to meet some of the enhanced requirements to support service members, their families, and DoD civilian employees who are impacted by the drawdowns."
In terms of PR firms, Powell Tate has had a key role in raising awareness about the program by assisting with media outreach and coordinating executive visibility at events. At these speaking engagements, employment initiatives are often discussed.
The highest-ranked officers tend to have varied backgrounds, from medical to administrative. "It's important to have these leaders talk about some of the work we're doing," says My Lê Goel, a VP at Powell Tate. "It keeps employers engaged."
Telling a story
Ogilvy has also been active in sharing stories of injured servicemen trying to return to a life of normalcy. The firm has found telling stories of individual veterans through social media to be more effective in grabbing media attention than a "static press release."
"There is power in video and imagery as opposed to a one-dimensional transmission of a message," says Jim Cowen, SVP at Ogilvy's Washington office.
Employers with longstanding military relationships have nothing but praise for former service-people. "They bring leadership, tremendous skills and uncompromising character to the business community," says Megan Parker, external communications manager at General Electric.