The top high school football players in the US often exhibit dedication, respect, personal courage, and physical and emotional strength, qualities the US Army values in its soldiers.
Using that connection, the Army seeks to promote itself and its soldiers through the US Army All-American Bowl, which pits teams of high school all stars from the eastern and western portions of the US against each other for an early-January game. For the 2008 event, the Army once again worked with Weber Shandwick to bring attention to the game.
The effort surrounding the high-school bowl game seeks to offset the daily stories and blog entries that portray the negative aspects of joining the military.
According to WS, the PR team attempts to showcase it as a career possibility by spreading messages beyond the sports page to influential adults, high-school prospects, and military family members and veterans. The campaign pairs athletes with local Army members for bowl-watching parties and football and Army skills competitions, creating feature-story opportunities.
"It's thinking nationally and acting locally," says Steve Johnson, SVP of WS' consumer marketing.
As in past years, WS and the Army publicized the event by reaching out to national sports and general interest media, and contacted Army bases in the regions where the players are from. The Army also named a soldier as an All-American Bowl hero for every player selected for the game and honored them during the pre-game ceremony to create positive buzz. The Army also released practice footage of the players to local media in regions where they reside, and profiled players to publications targeted at specific multicultural demographics.
Last year's 11-month push resulted in more than 3,600 media hits in the months leading to the game, and in 2008 achieved a 28% increase in total media impressions. The campaign also netted more than 33% message penetration during that period, partially due to a successful radio news release.
"[The Army thinks] it's a... success, and that's why they keep reinventing the program every year... and it keeps getting more robust," Johnson says. "It's hard to deny [the Army's] happiness when they keep looking to make it bigger every year."
WS is working with the Army to promote the 2009 edition of the All-American Bowl, refining its messaging to show off the bond between local communities and the soldiers representing them.
It's not a easy to promote a branch of the Armed Forces while there is a controversial war in Iraq.
But WS has helped the US Army boost its image by creating a bond between high-school athletes, many of who are heroes to children and others in their communities, and soldiers, who have exhibited bravery on the battlefield and are admired by many Americans.
The campaign also adequately shows off the human side of both soldiers and athletes by engaging them in skills competitions and bowl-watching events.
PR team: Multiple US Army offices and Weber Shandwick (Minneapolis and Austin, TX)
Campaign: US Army All-American Bowl campaign
Duration: March 2007-February 2008