Military outreach program offers authenticity

I kicked off my heels, put on a backpack, and joined the US Army.

I kicked off my heels, put on a backpack, and joined the US Army.  

For the next five days, I intend to “be all that I can be” as I travel with the Department of Defense (DoD) as a guest of the US Special Operations Command. The DoD sponsors what might be one of the most brilliant PR plays I've seen in my years as a PR practitioner.

Called the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, this outreach program aims to increase public understanding of national defense through first-hand observation of military services.  

I am one of 30 community and business leaders embedded in Tampa, FL, with the military. This week, we will be briefed by senior officials and will participate in field activities with the junior leadership and enlisted troops.

What makes this such a smart move by the DoD? We travel as VIPs, without restrictions on what we can say or ask. Gays in the military? Women on submarines? Smart power? Smoking bans?  It's all fair game.  

Further, we get to see, hear, and touch the five branches of the military – the Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Army – on their turf. By taking us out of the office and putting us into the field, the DoD is offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a world that most of us will never know.

The goal? It's is really no different than when PR professionals invite a reporter on a behind-the-scenes factory tour or a blogger to follow a doctor on hospital rounds. The DoD is betting that we will have an overwhelmingly positive experience that will be conveyed for years to come to our contacts in the industry and the community. 

In many ways, this program mirrors the best of social media, which offers an authentic experience that can be candidly assessed and shared via word-of-mouth to the participant's social network.  

Marie Manning, who is blogging about the program here, is a VP of public affairs for Ogilvy PR Worldwide.

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