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Army to shift resources from bonuses to recruiting ads in future

The Army’s recruiting and marketing arms are having a banner year, leaders say, with particular credit given to the new Army advertisement team that put roots down in Chicago this summer.

Seeing the promise that big data and targeted ads can have on recruitment numbers, the service is exploring how to shift more funding to the marketing side of recruiting in years to come, according to Eugene Wardynski, the Army’s assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs.

“We work pretty closely with RAND Corp. They have a project that’s been going on for several years, looking at what’s the efficient mix of recruiters, enlistment bonuses and advertising,” Wardynski said.

The Army offered massive incentives this past year for recruits, including infantrymen bonuses that topped out at $40,000 for new soldiers signing up for six years.

“Based on [RAND’s] model, we think we’re probably at about 60 percent of what we ought to be spending on advertising," Wardynski said. "And so we’ve had good discussions with Congress about what the way forward ought to look like and bumping up those resources and moving resources out of other programs, because the advertising is a lot more effective than other spends we could make right now.”

That funding would likely “come out of some bonus programs first, and then the sizing of the recruiting force would be next,” Wardynski added.

The Army Marketing Enterprise moved from its long-time home outside the Pentagon last year in order to be closer to its partnered ad agency — DDB Chicago. The team, staffed by a mix of uniformed military personnel and civilians, is charged with building the Army’s brand and driving leads for recruiting.

"This office was stood up after the budget was already put together. So this team is running on a very lean budget, and it came down from a large budget,” Wardynski said.

Army recruits hold gear above their heads after arrival at the National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt, N.J., Oct. 19, 2019. (Master Sgt. Matt Hecht/DoD)
Army recruits hold gear above their heads after arrival at the National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt, N.J., Oct. 19, 2019. (Master Sgt. Matt Hecht/DoD)

The Army Marketing Enterprise currently has a media spending budget of roughly $157 million, said Brig. Gen. Alex Fink, who leads the team. That budget includes money for the ads, as well as the measures taken to place ads in front of the right viewers.

Fink’s team isn’t peppering the airwaves with random ad slots, he added. Instead, they’re using data analytics to target those in Generation Z already interested in service. The team also helped overhaul GoArmy.com as it rolled out its new ad campaign this fall. The updated website architecture is designed to get recruits to their interest areas in fewer clicks.

In December, the Army had 4.6 million unique visits to GoArmy.com and generated 44,000 leads for recruiters to pursue, according to Fink.

“GoArmy.com is really the center of gravity of our campaign," Fink said, adding that the website logged 75,000 people who spent a significant amount of time on the website. “That’s a 72 percent increase than what we had year over year. So that’s a real indicator of the strength of the campaign, but also the efficiency of the content we have on the website.”

The Army has had a turbulent past few years when it comes to recruiting new soldiers, due in no small part to the strong economy. But the service is doing better now that it has lowered its goals to more manageable numbers and now that the Army’s growth plans have steadied out to only about 1,000 troops per year for the next four or five years.

The service missed its 2018 recruiting goal of 76,000 new soldiers by about 6,000, but it managed to exceed its 2019 goal of 68,000 new soldiers. And for 2020, the Army is currently a little more than 2,000 recruits ahead of this same time period last year, according to Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, who helms Army Recruiting Command.

However, the Army isn’t saying how many soldiers its aiming to recruit this year, citing the complicated interplay of recruiting new troops and retaining those already in the force.

The service has said however that its end-strength goal for 2020 is 485,000 soldiers in the active duty force. If the Army exceeds its recruiting marks by the time fiscal year 2020 closes out, those waiting to attend basic training will be slipped into the delayed entry program for the following year.

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