Calling all Family and MWR employees to help promote the U.S. Army Soldier Show By Tim Hipps
FMWRC Public Affairs
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The need to aggressively market, promote and publicize Army Entertainment Division’s marquee event—the U.S. Army Soldier Show— should be high on every director of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation’s “just do it” list, particularly when the show is headed to their installation.
Senior leadership at the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command believe that no seat should be vacant during the “entertainment for the Soldier, by the Soldier.” They think the U.S. Army Soldier Show, which provides suitable entertainment for Family members of all ages, should attract standing-room-only crowds wherever the troops perform.
“You should be using a packed house as a method to raise awareness about other Family and MWR activities on your garrison,” said Carrie Pollard, an FMWRC marketing account manager at headquarters. “You should enhance the event with your local information, so that while they are getting the big picture and seeing talented Soldiers and the feel-good of the Soldier Show, they can also learn about local Family and MWR programming and find out where they can get involved.
“A packed house just is increasing brand loyalty towards FMWRC,” Pollard said, and each person who is attending is a person who might come back and use your facilities and come to your other events and activities.”
A plethora of Soldier Show material awaits editors of installation newspapers, magazines and Web sites at ArmyMWR.com by clicking on Rec & Leisure, Entertainment, U.S. Army Soldier Show and then Media Kit. Tat page includes a schedule and a preview of the 2010 Soldier Show that can be localized with show dates, times and sites. It also lists all the cast and crew, with bios and photos.
If your installation has a Soldier among the cast or crew, we crafting an article about that performer or technician – preferably before the show comes to town—will give their friends, co-workers or members of their unit additional incentive to attend.
“If a cast or crew member comes from your hometown and they have a great story, or they were stationed at your Army garrison, make that a bigger story,” Pollard said. “Play that up in your promotions and play that up in your ads. That’s how you build a loyal fan base. We want you to build loyal customers. Remind them that it’s their fellow Soldiers on the stage or behind the scenes making it happen.”
The media kit includes enough high-resolution photographs to wrap around the preview article for a double-truck layout of a broad-sheet or tabloid-style newspaper. By running that at least two or three weeks before the show comes to your installation, you’re planting the seed. Then remind your readers with shorter articles or stand-alone photos as you get closer to performance dates. Features about local cast and crew work well the week of the show.
This strategy has worked well at Fort Campbell, where seating is scarce in spite of the fact that the installation runs three shows over the course of two days.
“We will tease early, but we really hit it harder on the days leading up to the event,” said Melissa Schaffner, Campbell’s Director of Family and MWR.
“Generational research tells us that people don’t make decisions about what they are going to do until they see if something better is going to come along, so you’ve got to keep hitting them with it in the 48 hours prior to the event. That’s something that I think is really important, especially when you’re talking about that 18-to-25-year-old market of Soldiers and young Families – they don’t commit.”
The media kit includes cast bios and photos, along with information about Soldier Show operations, cast selection, history and sponsorship. Although this is the 27th season of the modern era of the U.S. Army Soldier Show, many in the military’s ever-changing demographic are not really aware of what the show is all about.
“We have been assuming that people know what the U.S. Army Soldier Show is,” Pollard said. “We need to go back to the basics. I can’t tell you the amount of times people have asked me, ‘What is the Soldier Show? It sounds kind of boring. Is it a bunch of briefings or what is it?’ I think we’ve gotten away from telling people what the Soldier Show is and we really need to get back to the basics because we have a lot of turnover.”
“Those people who used to come to the Soldier Show in 2000 either aren’t coming any more or they are our loyal customers,” Pollard said. “So how do we get new customers?
“We have to teach them what it is again and make it exciting. That’s kind of my goal: to re-teach new audiences.”
Pollard says one audience that’s often missed is right outside the gates of the installations.
“Go out to your recruiting station and invite them to the Soldier Show. Have them invite any recruiters or potential recruits who come through. What a cool way to say, ‘Hey, are you thinking about joining the Army? Come to our Soldier Show next Saturday night and see what the Army is about, see some talented Soldiers having fun in their career.’ Open it up to your local community and invite high-school students and their Families.
“I always love bringing my friends and Family who don’t work for Family and MWR to the show. When you bring someone from the outside and you watch their expressions and how excited they are about those Soldiers, they walk out of the theater with a newfound pride – and they become new loyal customers.”
Another piece of the media kit explains the philosophy, mission and history of Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, which provides more programs and services than most Soldiers and Family members realize. That information can be expanded upon and localized to promote several programs and activities on each and every installation, as can the Soldier Show itself.
The venue and its walls and trophy cases and parking lots become a marketing opportunity. If you get more folks to the U.S. Army Soldier Show, perhaps you can lead them to more Family and MWR programs and activities.
“Put up a plasma TV in the lobby and roll digital signs of your local events,” Pollard suggested. “Have a representative discussing upcoming local events with people waiting in the lobby. Maybe put something on their seats inviting them to a special event that’s coming up at your local garrison.”
You can also consider handing out coupons or samples. Promote everything…for example, if you have a display under a tent advertising a Family and MWR activity, remember to put a sign on the tent itself saying “Rent this tent for your backyard event!”
Newspaper articles and posters can only do so much. Don’t forget to approach local radio and television stations about public service announcements of the show, particularly in smaller markets.
Social media is another avenue to promote the Soldier Show.
“In the few months that I have had U.S. Army Fort Carson on Facebook, we now have over 2,000 fans, and not all are from the installation,” said Douglas Rule, the public affairs command information chief at Fort Carson, Colo. “We’re also using Twitter. If you have video on YouTube, let the people know so they can link it on their sites. The same goes for photos on Flickr.”
Rule also uses CSFreshInk.com, “where small talk is a big deal.” It is produced by The Gazette, the daily newspaper in Colorado Springs. The Denver Post has a similar site called YourHub.com, an on-line newspaper of sorts that is becoming increasingly popular.
“We can do stories – they call them blogs – right on major news sources’ websites,” Rule said.
Incorporate side campaigns, such as the Army Family and Community Covenants, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, and I. A.M. STRONG (the latter two of which are 2010 U.S. Army Soldier Show sponsors) to give another angle to the pre-event coverage.
You can also play snippets the shot on garrison television programming, on or run your own powerpoint or video presentations on large screen TVs wherever people are standing in line in your facilities.
Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers is a big supporter of the Soldier Show. Try to get them involved. Ask them to pitch in and help promote the show through their communications channels, and they likely will.
The local Family Readiness Support Assistant should be called upon, too.
“Go to the lead person on top of all those garrison FRSAs,” Schaffner said. “I e-mail her every press release and every flier – get that stuff to her digitally – and then she shoots it out to all the other brigades, which goes to the battalions, which goes to the companies, which gets out to the FRG leaders, and they send it to their POCs.”
“Who makes the decision about what the Families are going to do? The spouses do,” Schaffner explained. “So all my data about all my events is going out to the spouses at home in their in-box by sending it to one person, and that’s the lead FRSA because she has the connections to all those FRG leaders via e-mail. It goes out like crazy. Pretty cool stuff. You just have to know who that person is and make a friend of them. It’s about relationship-building.”
VIP performances should be pitched as such, but don’t forget to make sure the rest of the community as still fully aware of the opportunity. Don’t offend or frighten away others by making a big deal about the VIP treatment, and never list seating as being “limited.” If a potential patron is waffling on whether or not they want to go, wondering if there’s going to be an overflow crowd and limited seating will sway the decision against you.
Schaffner learned that lesson the hard way.
“We have a 700-seat theater and we usually get three shows out of the Soldier Show and we are full every time, pretty much,” Schaffner said. “In the past, we have ticketed it by giving out free business card-sized tickets through our Leisure Travel office in the main PX so people knew they had guaranteed seats.
“But what happened is people took tickets and then something better came along and they didn’t go, and that left empty seats. So instead of ticketing, now we just say ‘first-come, first-served,’ and they start lining up out the door. We have to have fire department and police support all around our theater for traffic control and to make sure the line is not out in the street. It’s huge.”
After all, it is a free show, and where offered, concessions are usually affordable. And when it comes to concessions, consider offering them discounted or free: what better way to lure away die-hard fans of major pizza chains than with samples and coupons for the local Primo’s?
Do not forget to lean on the Defense Commissary Agency and Army and Air Force Exchange Service to help promote the show in stores and gas stations on post. Get the show announced over the intercom to shoppers.
“This year, for the first time, we’re putting up a poster in all of the AAFES facilities funded and distributed from headquarters,” Pollard said. “That’s something new. But local marketers can take it a step further, especially if they’re willing to do the leg work.”
“When the Soldier Show’s coming, customers shouldn’t be able to walk into a Family and MWR facility anywhere on post without seeing a poster,” Pollard said. “It takes time, and effort, and a little money to print the posters, but it’s worth the effort—especially if you use this as an opportunity to cross promote other Family and MWR activities.
Off-post businesses also will proudly display Soldier Show posters. The use of electronic marquees that greet people as they drive onto nearly every installation is another great way to promote the Soldier Show. And, of course, there is always word of mouth.
“We underestimate a personal invitation,” Pollard said. “Having employees personally invite customers is huge – and don’t forget to use RecTrac to send customers a save the date message.”
Bottom line: it is up to you and yours to help pack the house. Then you can sit back and enjoy the show, all the while knowing you did your part to support the U.S. Army Soldier Show and your other installation Family and MWR programs, too.
“It’s a free night out,” Schaffner concluded. “And you feel good about your country. Hooah!”
“You should be using a packed house as a method to raise awareness about other Family and MWR activities on your garrison.” Carrie Pollard, FMWRC marketing account manager
“… people don’t make decisions about what they are going to do until they see if something better is going to come along, so you’ve got to keep hitting them with it in the 48 hours prior to the event.” Melissa Schaffner, Director of Family and MWR, Fort Campbell
“Who makes the decision about what the Families are going to do? The spouses do… So all my data about all my events is going out to the spouses at home in their in-box.” Melissa Schaffner, Director of Family and MWR, Fort Campbell
Tips to consider when marketing the Solider Show on your installation:
Cross promote with other Family and MWR activities on your garrison.
Feature local cast and crew members in articles, posters, advertisements.
Run stories or photos in the garrison paper every week before the show, up to three weeks in advance.
Use social media to reach the younger audiences.
Remember, not everyone knows what the show IS. Educate your customers.
Invite recruiters. Invite them to invite potential recruits or local JROTC units.
Ask locally-owned radio stations or local cable stations to run PSAs.
Use major media’s smaller outlets—including online calendars and blogs.
Involved the local Family Readiness Group leaders.
Offer free or discounted concessions.
Put up posters everywhere, including AAFES, the Commissary and franchised retail and food activities on post.
Ask civilian establishements off post to put up posters.
Use those relationships with your sponsors.
Don’t forget the power of a personal invitation—invite everyone you talk to.