ANALYSIS: Client Profile - West Point fashions an about-face in itsPR strategy - The US Military Academy is bucking the army tradition ofshying away from the media, and using its 200th anniversary to branditself

You probably haven't heard all that much lately about the United

States Military Academy at West Point, but get ready: A media blitz is

headed your way. March 16 marks the bicentennial of the army academy's

founding, and seemingly every media outlet in the land is planning to

cover it.

The school's public affairs office is led by Lt. Col. Jim Whaley, who

was promoted to PA director from public information chief last


Whaley's strategy is to use the bicentennial for West Point's future PR

efforts - especially because he is determined to reach audiences outside

the typical army constituency.

The PA office, with 24 employees (all but three are civilians), has a

budget of $23,000 for such things as travel and supplies, so it

can ill afford advertising or outside agencies. (It received an

additional $300,000 for bicentennial materials such as a video,

PSA, VNR, brochure, poster, and media kit.)

The office is divided into four branches: community relations, command

information (which includes an internal newspaper, TV channel, and radio

station), athletics information (the school has 21 Division I teams),

and public information (the three people who deal with outside


The school has 4,000 cadets who, upon graduation, receive a bachelor of

science degree and then serve a minimum of five years on active duty in

the US Army. As with other colleges, West Point must compete to attract

quality students, so its PR audiences include students, parents, alumni,

and high school guidance counselors and coaches. But it has others, such

as Congress (for funding) and tourists. Whaley is now also reaching out

to business leaders, as the school relies increasingly on private


Whaley, who grew up 35 miles north of West Point in Hyde Park, NY, spent

most of his military career in Germany and Panama as a helicopter


He didn't work at his second military occupational specialty, public

affairs, until about 15 years into his career (he has a journalism

degree and an MBA).

Colleagues say that Whaley is smart and creative, a risk taker who

understands PR. Siemens' SVP of corporate affairs and marketing Jack

Bergen, a West Point graduate and member of its public affairs advisory

committee, says that Whaley brings a helicopter pilot's aggressiveness

to the job. "Whaley is just head and shoulders above anyone we've seen

there before. The academy wasn't very proactive in getting out the kinds

of stories it needed to."

Powell Tate's Sheila Tate, also a member of the advisory group,


"The office has never been stronger in terms of talent and direction,"

she says. "He has a great team."

Getting the army talking

One of Whaley's biggest challenges is to confront the military's

traditional reluctance to talk about itself. "We need to let journalists

come in and meet with the faculty and the cadets," he says. "There are

risks, but the dividends far outweigh the liabilities."

He has an advantage in that his boss, Lt. Gen. William Lennox Jr., West

Point's superintendent as of this past June, backs his efforts. "Jim's

doing a great job," says Lennox. "We're a national treasure. The more we

tell the American people about what we're doing here, the better for the

academy and for the American people."

Although Whaley reports to Lennox, he must also let army public affairs

personnel know what he's working on - and sometimes, they don't like


For example, journalists' interest in the school increased after

September 11, and one of the media outlets that called was 60 Minutes -

a perilous event for any PR professional. The show wanted to interview

cadets to learn how they were reacting to the terrorist attacks and

their aftermath.

The segment aired September 30. "The army was strongly against it,"

Whaley says. "They told me, 'This is your career if you do this.' My

feeling was if you don't do an interview with 60 Minutes now, when will

you do it? And it was a great piece. Viewers took away from it, 'Hey, we

don't have anything to worry about.'"

Another project the army is a little nervous about is a March conference

called "The World Redefined" that the school is hosting with Tina

Brown's Talk magazine and UBS PaineWebber. "In the middle of the

bicentennial year, we'll have heavy hitters in business, education, and

politics here to discuss how the world's been redefined after September

11," says Whaley, adding, "You have to take some educated, calculated


Starting from the beginning

Whaley says that when he took over in April, West Point didn't even have

a communications plan for its 200th anniversary. He worked with members

of the advisory committee to put one together. The long-term strategy is

to use the bicentennial to brand the academy under the rubric "West

Point at 200 Years - Timeless Leadership."

Says Bergen, "It shows the 200-year legacy, but brings out - at a time

when the country needs leadership - that West Point is an important

institution for a very important quality in our society across the

board. You now start making the case that West Pointers are not only big

leaders in war, but in business too. You're talking about their

contributions over the last 200 years."

Most of the bicentennial pieces have been in the works since before

September 11. Ten major books will come out. Magazines that have done,

or are planning special articles and supplements include Forbes,

American Heritage, Newsweek, and National Geographic. Documentaries are

being produced by, among others, PBS (airing January 30) and the

National Geographic Channel (14 half-hour shows on cadet life). The

public affairs office has made its own 22-minute video, narrated by

Walter Cronkite. And Tom Hanks has visited the school to discuss

producing a miniseries to air in the spring.

In addition, ABC inked a $25 million deal with a group of West

Point graduates to promote the bicentennial through television specials

and commercials (the deal is controversial for blurring the lines

between advertising and content). A prime-time special, tentatively

called Young America Celebrates West Point, is scheduled to air in June.

Vignettes called "West Point Minute" will run on Good Morning America

and Nightline (they will be marked as advertising). Other programs will

run on channels at least partially owned by ABC parent Disney, such as

the History Channel, A&E, and Lifetime. ESPN will air a documentary on

West Point sports teams.

Several anniversary events have already occurred, such as a Veterans Day

concert in Washington, DC. Future events include a Carnegie Hall

concert, stamp and coin unveilings, and a Smithsonian exhibit.

"West Point is going to be everywhere at a time when the country is

going to be interested," notes Tate.

Whaley wants to build on the 200th anniversary for the future. "It's

great that we have the bicentennial, but we need to use it as vehicle

for communications for years to come," he says. "Next year at this time,

so many things will have happened, very few people will have not heard

about West Point."


Director of public affairs: Jim Whaley

Public information branch chief:

Kirk Frady

Community relations branch chief:

Deborah Degraw

Command information branch chief:

Joe Tombrello

Athletic media relations chief:

Bob Beretta

PA budget: $23,000 ($301,902 for bicentennial)

PR agencies: none

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