ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. – While the pandemic has created challenges for Air Force recruiters to get out in public, attend events and meet face-to-face with potential leads, Air Force Reserve recruiters have stayed flexible and found new ways to reach their target audience during this unprecedented time.
“COVID impacted Reserve recruiting efforts by taking away our ability to have face-to-face engagement at events, which initially negatively impacted our lead acquisitions,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jacinto Nunez, superintendent of the 367th Recruiting Group’s Marketing and Advertising Division. “The air show season, which usually runs from March through the end of the fall and where we traditionally obtain a lot of leads, was completely taken off the table for us. Our team reacted quickly and came up with a strategy to switch into digital lanes of communicating with our target audience. In making this switch early to digital to continue to deliver great messaging, we actually were up in fiscal 2020 for our leads over fiscal 2019. We were quite pleased in how we were able to navigate this challenge and overcome it.”
In spite of the pandemic, Reserve recruiting has continued to sponsor a host of sporting events, some with in-person crowds and others that have only a digital or television audience.
On Dec. 18, the Reserve sponsored an International Boxing Federation match between IBF champion Gennadiy Golovkin and Kamil Szeremeta in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The fight had no fans in attendance, but was aired on the DAZN network and re-aired on ESPN.
The next night, in San Antonio, Canelo Alvarez, the World Boxing Association super middle weight champion, took on Callum Smith. The fight had an estimated crowd of 12,000 fans in attendance with social distancing and masks required. The fight was also aired on the DAZN network. Both fights featured the Air Force Reserve logo on the mat of the ring and digital advertising throughout the arena.
“Boxing is a platform that offers a significant number of individuals who are positively predisposed to military service, are in the right age demographic and who would be valuable to tell the Air Force Reserve story to,” Nunez said. “We have been involved in the past with mixed martial arts and felt this was a great opportunity to expand on our engagement with the boxing audience.”
Taking advantage of opportunities like these shows how the Reserve marketing team is always looking for ways to reach the masses.
“Growing up as a boxing fan, I’ve always been intrigued with the sport and felt it had great value in attracting a diverse demographic audience,” Nunez said. “The Canelo fight and the Golvkin fight really out-performed for a first-time buy for our organization.”
Analysts predicted the two fights would garner about 48 million impressions. Early results showed they produced more than 70 million, providing the Reserve with an opportunity to share its story with a large audience.
Since the second fight took place in San Antonio, Col. Lisa Craig, Air Force Recruiting Service deputy commander, was able to attend in person.
“I’m totally impressed with the level of engagement between our Reserve recruiters, contracting officials and the event coordinators, the way it all blends seamlessly, and how they brought this mobile marketing platform to really engage the right target audience,” she said. “I’m learning about the impressions and how this all works. Seeing the amazing amount of work that has gone into this at a pretty inexpensive cost was a great opportunity for me.”
The Reserve recruiting team on-site was pleased to meet with Craig, give her a tour, explain the setup and how the partnership works.
“We were very glad that Col. Craig took time out of her busy schedule to come out to the event at the Alamodome and walk through the onsite activation areas,” Nunez said. “We were able to explain to her the digital and broadcast elements, so I think it really gave her a good idea of the things we are capable of doing in Reserve Recruiting advertising and marketing and how we are operating in the current landscape to push lead acquisition and ultimately gains to meet the mission requirements.”
“The flexibility of the relationship between the recruiting enterprise, their marketers and our marketing partners is phenomenal,” Craig said. “This flexibility, especially during COVID, enables recruiters to find these niche markets and explore new opportunities. It’s really cool.”
Another unique marketing opportunity for the Reserve was the Professional Bull Rider’s Cowboys for a Cause event that took place on the deck of the USS Lexington in Corpus Christi, Texas.
“This was another great example of working with our ad agency to come up with a unique opportunity to get the Air Force Reserve message out to a military-friendly audience,” Nunez said. “The Professional Bull Riders wanted to do something that brought attention to their support of the military, and we loved the idea of this being on the USS Lexington. We are always looking for military members transitioning from other branches of service to continue their service in the Air Force Reserve. We got more than two million viewers with this event. It was the second highest rated program of the day behind the NFL.”
For recruiters and event planners, flexibility has been an imperative during the pandemic. Some scheduled events had to switch locations. When the PBR World Finals, for example, got moved from Las Vegas to Arlington, Texas, the Reserve recruiting team didn’t miss a beat.
“We made sure that initiatives that had onsite opportunities also had significant digital and broadcast exposure for the Air Force Reserve as well,” Nunez said. “This gave us a number of different paths to communicate to our target audience while at the same time overcoming some of the pandemic obstacles in the way. We were still able to advertise the great opportunities the Air Force Reserve has to offer.”
The Air Force Reserve will once again play a prominent role in March Madness college basketball tournaments in 2021, serving as the title sponsor for several conference tournaments for the third year in a row.
“We are excited to be the title sponsor for a number of college basketball tournaments in 2021,” Nunez said. “We are the title sponsor for the AAC (American Athletic Conference), MWC (Mountain West Conference), C-USA (Conference USA), A-10 (Atlantic 10), Big West and the MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) this year so you will see and hear a lot about the Air Force Reserve on national television this spring.”
This is the first year the Reserve will partner with the MEAC in basketball, but not the first time working with this conference. The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, the football national championship for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, pits the champion of the MEAC against the champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Reserve was the title sponsor for three years.
“Since the Air Force Reserve has always been about diversity and inclusion, we want to continue supporting the HBCUs,” Nunez said. “We want to continue supporting platforms that further that message.”