SAN ANTONIO – The need to aggressively market, promote and publicize Army Entertainment Division’s marquee event should be high on every director Morale, Welfare and Recreation’s “just do it” list – particularly when the U.S. Army Soldier Show is headed to their installation.
Army leaders believe that no seat should be vacant for “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.
Playing to half-empty theatres no longer is acceptable for the Soldiers who work long days and nights to provide quality entertainment for their fellow troops and Families. That is where MWR directors, marketers and garrison public affairs offices come into play. Just how can they get folks to go see the show? Glad you asked. Although we can’t guarantee a packed house, our game plan should help increase attendance and provide opportunities for local marketing strategies, too.
“You should be using a packed house as a method to raise awareness about MWR,” said Carrie Poore, an FMWRC marketing account manager. “You should enhance it with your local information so that while they are getting the big picture of MWR and seeing talented Soldiers and the feel-good of the Soldier Show, they can also learn about local MWR programming and find out where they can get involved. They might also look for people who want to be involved in the Soldier Show and encourage them to audition and pursue their talent in other ways.
“A packed house just is increasing brand loyalty towards MWR and each person who is attending is a person who might come back and use your facilities and come to your events.”
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 Media Kit. There you will find a schedule and preview of the 2011 Soldier Show that can be localized with show dates, times and sites.
If your installation has a Soldier among the cast or crew, we suggest that you craft an article about that performer or technician – preferably before the show comes to town to alert their friends and co-workers.
“If someone comes from your hometown and they have a great story or they were stationed at your Army garrison, make that a bigger story,” Poore 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 to build loyal customers. Remind them that it’s fellow Soldiers.”
The media kit includes enough high-resolution photographs to wrap around the preview article for a nifty double-truck layout of a broad-sheet or tabloid-style newspaper. Try running that at least two or three weeks before the show comes to your installation. Then remind your readers with shorter articles or stand-alone photos as you get closer to performance dates. Local features work well the week of the show.
“We will tease early, but we really hit it harder on the days leading up to the event,” said Melissa Schaffner, director of MWR marketing at Fort Campbell, Ky. “Generational research tells us that people don’t make decisions about what they are going to do until they see if something better comes along, so you’ve got to keep hitting them with it in the 48 hours prior. 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 guard 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,” Poore 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 aren’t coming any more or they are our loyal customers. 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. Go out to your recruiting station and invite them to the Soldier Show and 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 are 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. Not the actual show on stage, but the venue and its walls and trophy cases and parking lots. If you get more folks to the U.S. Army Soldier Show, perhaps you can lead them to more MWR programs and activities.
“Put up a plasma TV in the lobby and roll digital signs of your local events,” Poore suggested. “Have an MWR 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.”
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 revealed 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 also exists in California, Florida and Texas.
“We can do stories – they call them blogs – and it runs a bit like Army CORE,” Rule said.
Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers is another big supporter of the Soldier Show. Try to get them involved. Do not task them. Ask them nicely to pitch in and help promote the show and they likely will.
The local Family Readiness Support Assistant should be called upon, too.
“You get the lead person on top of all those garrison FRSAs, 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,” Schaffner said. “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 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 VIPs are fully aware of the opportunity. And don’t offend or frighten away others by making a big deal about the VIP treatment. Never list seating as being “limited” because that makes people expect an overflow crowd that will assure them of a bad view of the show.
“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 happens is they take tickets and then something better comes along and they don’t go, and that means you have empty seats. So instead of ticketing, 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 (hint, hint), concessions are usually affordable.
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 at the Home & Garden Center.
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,” Poore said. “Having MWR personally invite customers when they are at the commissary – and don’t forget to use RecTrac to send customers a save the date for the U.S. Army Soldier Show.”
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 MWR programs, too.
“It’s a free night out,” Schaffner concluded. “And you feel good about your country. Hooah!”