The Association of Graduates (AOG) of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point commissioned Southard Communications to come up with a program to promote the Academy’s Bicentennial. Specifically the AOG wanted to utilize its extensive alumni network (composed of West Point Societies in over 120 locations around the world) to promote the Bicentennial and the Academy in its local communities. The mission was to create an easy-to-use product that would enable each Society to impact its local community’s perception and knowledge of the Academy and its Bicentennial.
Description of Program/Challenges
Southard worked with the AOG to produce a Bicentennial Local Outreach Kit, comprised of several items to facilitate the local promotion of the Academy’s Bicentennial. The local promotion is done by alumni who potentially have no previous knowledge of public relations, and by associations with thousands of members or just dozens. Each Society received a kit by mail.
The program is extensive in the scope of the materials and the usage possibilities, and yet it is extremely simple to use and understand. It addresses the needs of a large group of a people, and can be implemented successfully in virtually any community. The program makes it possible for each society to heighten awareness of the Academy and its Bicentennial on behalf of the AOG and the Academy, regardless of its membership or knowledge base. An instruction manual explains how to use the kit and each item therein, and also contains suggestions for local events and activities. A 1-800 public relations support number to Southard was established, along with an email listserve for communication between the societies and Southard. The kit includes:
local template press release
national template press release
template opinion/editorial letter
5 minute speech
20 minute speech
interactive power point presentation for long speech
local media list organized by geographic area
· national media list organized by geographic area
CD containing all written materials
CD with pictures of West Point
800 support number and email listserve
Research: Prior to designing the program, Southard and the AOG conducted research to determine the most effective way to achieve the objectives. Small focus groups, made up of West Point Society Presidents, AOG staff and USMA officials, were held to determine the needs of the various Societies and their communities. In addition, other community relations programs were reviewed to determine their effectiveness. An assessment of the technological capabilities of the AOG and the Societies determined the accessibility of certain technology-enhanced aspects of the program (such as the email listserve, the virtual kit etc.). Lastly, Southard audited external communications materials for the AOG and the Academy for use in creating the kit.
Objectives & Strategy: The main objectives of the program are to increase awareness and knowledge of the Academy and its role in United States history, thereby establishing the Academy’s name recognition and strengthening its recruiting abilities. Using the Bicentennial as a medium to initiate communication and discourse, the Academy’s alumni networks are the most effective and credible conduit of information to their communities. Strategically these elements together provide the unique opportunity to reach out directly to a larger community around the world and help them to understand the Academy, its story and its values.
Those best able to communicate about West Point are those who lived the experience: the alumni. With an emphasis on individuality and personal histories essential to the program, the strategy for the kit was to disseminate as much information as possible, to as large an audience as possible, in a direct and personal way. The kit was designed to be tailored to each individual Society’s needs, taking into account varying motivations and abilities.
Once research and design of the kit were finished, the actual elements were produced by Southard staff and extensively reviewed by the AOG and the Academy. The kits were assembled and mailed to the Societies, timed to coincide with a presentation of the kit and how to use it at the Academy’s annual Leadership Conference attended by all West Point Society Presidents. The presentation was videotaped and included in the kit A website was created with all elements of the kit accessible online, including an instructional video.
A simultaneous national media campaign by Southard and the Academy is currently underway, in order to effectively communicate to as large an audience as possible. The email listserve was utilized to disseminate announcements of national media or national events, which the societies could then leverage in their own communities. Societies are encouraged to use the listserve to share best practices and discuss problems.
The program was well-received by Societies and has been put to use with effective results in many locations. The results are not yet complete as the Bicentennial program spans an entire year lasting through August 2002. Below are some examples of events/themes/holidays that were leveraged by Societies in their local communities.
Event Society activity based on kit Result in local community
Army/Navy Game Tailgate parties in local community Promoting Academy, recruiting, raising awareness
Military Social Events Academy Balls, posting collateral materials(poster,banner,keychains) Recruiting, raising awareness
Pearl Harbor Day Local media interviews w/alumni Promoting Academy
Local high school recruiting Talks by alumni, posting materials(poster,banner,keychains) Promoting Academy, recruiting
Engineering Bridge Design Contest Promote design contest in local schools Promoting Academy, raising awareness, recruiting
PBS in Oregon Private premiere of 2 hour documentary with alumni Promoting Academy with local media
Founder’s Day -March 2002 Local gala celebrations simulcast with main celebration at West Point Celebrating Bicentennial, promoting Academy, raising awareness