The end of the Cold War brought with it problems for the British
Army that have still not been fully resolved. Principal among these is
how to present itself to the public when its role is no longer as
clear-cut as when it was defending the UK’s interests from the threat
posed by the Soviet Union.
The Army is currently seeking advice from a communications specialist or
PR agency (only COI roster agencies are being considered) who will be
asked to plan, deliver and evaluate a corporate communications strategy
that will improve the presentation of the army both internally and
The appointee will report to the Army’s PR director Brigadier Robert
Gordon, who concedes that there is a need to draw on ’private sector
It is vital that the Army gets its corporate image right because in
recent years it has had real difficulties attracting enough recruits of
sufficient calibre. ’There is a major public perception that the armed
forces no longer have a career to offer,’ says Jane’s Defence Weekly
news editor Ian Kemp.
In part, this is a hangover from the Options for Change programme
implemented by the previous government in the aftermath of the Gulf War,
which focused on reducing the size of the Army. And was, of course, a
long-running story in the media.
But recently the pendulum has swung back a little way. Although this
year’s strategic defence review made headlines with the proposed
large-scale reduction in Territorial Army numbers - from 57,000 to about
40,000 - provision was actually made for an increase of over 3,000 in
regular Army posts.
Kemp says the Army may have a ’shortfall’ of as many as 8,000
So recruitment and retention of existing soldiers is clearly a priority
’We carried out some research a year or so ago and to our not great
surprise we found out that the UK public know very little about the
Army,’ says Army deputy PR director Major Nick Sharples. ’What we are
really trying to do is to be a high quality, professional army that is
valued by the nation. I think that we have the first part of that
sentence but I don’t think the nation knows enough about us to value
There are, however, indications that matters are improving. Through
Saatchi and Saatchi, the Army has been running effective TV recruitment
advertisements which have tried to present the army as it is today,
carrying out peace-keeping and humanitarian duties. The campaign has
enjoyed some PR support from both the client’s in-house team and the
’PR is not something the Army invested in sufficiently in the past but
they have recognised that shortcoming now,’ says Saatchi and Saatchi
group account director Jeremy Pyne.
Among the PR initiatives undertaken by Saatchi andSaatchi was a ’black
Changing of the Guard’ as a means of illustrating that the Army is keen
to attract recruits from ethnic minorities. In the past, the Army has
been criticised by the Equal Opportunities Commission and savaged by the
media for tolerating racism in the ranks.
’They are going to have to change what is a still badly perceived image,
which is that there are elements in the Army of racism and bullying,’
says the Times defence editor Michael Evans.
BBC defence correspondent Mark Laity has sympathy for the Army. He feels
it has to struggle against an ’often hostile media’, with journalists
seizing on any negative stories with zeal. Part of the problem is that
newspapers are investing less in covering military issues. Among the
broadsheets, neither the Guardian, nor the Independent have a full time
defence correspondent. At the same time, the sincere efforts by the Army
to put its own house in order have been largely overlooked. ’The
screw-ups were reported but the clean-up wasn’t,’ he says.
There is concrete evidence of the progress made. The number of new
recruits from ethnic minorities has risen from 0.7 to 1.7 per cent in a
year and Sharples is adamant that this will increase to three and then
four per cent over the next couple of years as the work of a recently
established ethnic minority recruiting team pays off.
There has also been the introduction of video diaries - VNRs sent to
every unit to keep them up to date on what is happening in the Army.
Moreover, a liaison officer is attached to Carlton’s TV drama series
Soldier, Soldier to ensure that it offers a broadly realistic portrayal
of Army life.
If the Army does decide to go with an agency rather than bringing talent
from the commercial sector in-house, it will not be entering completely
uncharted territory. Consolidated Communications is already working for
the Territorial Army, with a brief to stress that although it is being
reduced in size it remains important.
Bringing in private sector expertise is not without precedent in other
countries. France recently appointed Jean-Francois Bureau as the first
ever civilian to head the information and PR service at its defence
But, back in the UK, there are indications that the Army’s marketing
communications may be more comprehensively overhauled in several years
time. Colonel Rory Clayton, who as head of plans in army recruitment is
responsible for attracting new recruits, believes it is almost
inevitable that his department and the PR team, presently in different
parts of the country, will be brought together.
The strategic defence review looks likely to be followed by a strategic
marketing communications review.