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Over the past few weeks I had the privilege of speaking to a few ROTC cadets from Ivy League schools where ROTC programs are banned on those campuses. These young men and women must travel to a nearest campus to fulfill their ROTC requirements, in some instances it may be as far as an hour and a half drive one way. I am writing this as a follow-up to my previous post about the ROTC ban on Ivy League campuses. http://majastevanovich.wordpress.com/2009/11/09/rotc-ban-on-ivy-league-campuses/
In this post I am hoping to give you a better idea about what these cadets have to go through to fulfill their requirements and what motivates some of the best and brightest to go into the military. Finally, I would like to raise a question, is enough being done to motivate the best and brightest to serve their country?
The ROTC ban was enforced during the Vietnam era as a gesture of protest against the war; the ban hasn’t been lifted since. When speaking to a student that attends Yale and is in the Air Force ROTC, he mentioned that although the University doesn’t offer the program on campus, they are extremely supportive of students that choose to do ROTC and rent cars for them to get to University of Connecticut where they fulfill their ROTC obligations. The Yale administration also tries to be accommodating as far as class schedules and they genuinely try to make it as easy as possible for the students choosing to be ROTC Cadets. The overall mood on campus is that of support as well. Other students seem to be proud and supportive of their classmates that are ROTC cadets. At Yale, that is currently only two students in the Air Force ROTC! Another important piece of information that can’t be left out is how committed the Air Force is to retaining these bright students. One of the Professors drives an hour and a half to teach a course to the two cadets because they cannot get to the University of Connecticut because of obligations at Yale. This type of dedication to these students is amazing and it shows that the Air Force is committed to the ROTC scholars, even ones with obstacles.
There were some things that didn’t surprise me from speaking with the cadets. Most have heavy ties to the military; either parents that served or parents that are public servants. This leads to my next point; cadets currently in the program are properly informed about the benefits of the military because they grew up around it and had an open mind as far as what it means to serve as they have seen those around them do so.
The most important part of speaking with the cadets happened when we discussed the perception of the military amongst their age group. We were all able to agree on the fact that youth is very much misinformed about the military and what it offers. One of the Yale cadets mentioned that after the story broke in the New York Times about the ROTC ban on Ivy League campuses, he had countless e-mails and phone calls from others on his campus asking about the ROTC program and saying they had no idea something like this was even an option for them. I think we can all agree on the fact that those attending Yale are some of the brightest students in the nation; yet, many didn’t even know the distinction between enlisting in the military and having the opportunity to be commissioned. They were also shocked at some of the amazing opportunities that the cadets participating in the ROTC program were presented with.
When I spoke with the cadets I also asked what they thought about some of the current marketing happening on the military front. I asked if the marketing impacted their decision to join or if they were inspired by them. The common response was that they felt they weren’t even being targeted. They felt that the marketing efforts were geared towards the group that was debating between going into the work force or joining the military. These cadets all knew that they were going to attend college their freshman year of high school, it was just a matter of what college would accept them. Considering an overwhelming amount of youth these days is college bound, it is a missed opportunity not to have military messaging targeted specifically to them; showing them the opportunities the military can offer them both from the enlisting and commissioning perspective. This raises an interesting point, because looking at military advertising it is hard to say the advertisements don’t paint a picture of opportunity and show the career opportunities, especially with the latest officership campaign by the US Army, you read more about it here. http://majastevanovich.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/us-army-a-new-perspective-on-recruiting/
So, what exactly is the issue in motivating some of these higher caliber candidates? Again, this goes back to the points I make often in this blog and that it is an issue of the type of messaging the military chooses to implore. Traditional advertising, which is where most of the military marketing dollars are allocated to, simply isn’t as effective as it was years ago in reaching and motivating youth towards service. Even though recruiting goals are being met and exceeded, a large portion of the youth population that could offer some of the best personnel possible is being left out because reaching them involves more than a commercial. After speaking with some of these cadets I couldn’t believe how proud and happy they were about their decision to serve their country. Their enthusiasm was infections and I was left hopeful that with the right messaging, Yale University and similar schools will see a rise in the ranks of the ROTC scholars.