By: Cameran Richardson
Indianapolis television station WTHR-13 films Legion Riders outside the Indianapolis War Memorial for a 15-second commercial spot. (Photo by Tom Strattman)
The American Legion Department of Indiana’s membership is on the upswing, thanks to its widespread presence on radio and television and at professional football and baseball games. The department recently launched an advertising campaign that brings the Legion’s message to the airwaves and packed sporting venues.
The campaign is the focus of the department’s five-year membership plan and the project of Department Commander Ed Trice during his tenure.
“The advertising campaign is not only about recruiting new members; it’s also about educating the public on who we are,” Trice said. “If our community has a better outlook on who we are and what we do, then that makes it better for our organization as a whole.”
But before the project could begin, leadership had to give its vote of confidence.
“The advertising campaign is a very exciting project, but it’s also a high-risk project that takes everybody’s involvement,” said Hugh Dagley, Department of Indiana adjutant. “Leadership has to get behind it, finance has to have a way to pay for it and the elected officers have to have the vision and courage. There was not a single piece of this advertising campaign that wasn’t thought out before we put it in our five-year membership plan.”
Future department commanders also bought in, agreeing to make it their project as well. “It took me 13 years to get here (as department commander), but in one year it’s gone,” Trice said. “If you don’t have a plan for the next commander to carry on some of your projects, then you’re just spinning your wheels every 12 months.”
STARTING THE CAMPAIGN
The department first called WTHR Channel 13 — an Indianapolis television station. WTHR’s original sponsorship package was too expensive, but the station lowered the price considerably when Legion officials highlighted their outreach programs and services to veterans. From there, WTHR put the department in contact with the Indianapolis Colts marketing team, which also offered special pricing.
“Because we started developing relationships with WTHR and the Colts, they dropped their prices because they knew that whatever they were going to work with us on, the community would benefit from,” said Bruce Drake, communications director for the department.
REAPING THE BENEFITS
The department’s year-long sponsorship package with WTHR Channel 13 includes:
• 540 15-second TV commercials. Five commercials have been filmed that feature local Legionnaires sharing why they joined. The department retains ownership of each commercial, and districts that don’t have Channel 13 coverage receive copies of the commercials to send to their local news stations.
• Advertising on WTHR’s Support our Troops and Faces of War web page.
• Banner ads on website. The first Legion membership banner ad on WTHR’s website received a .21 hit rate, which is three times the site’s normal hit rate. The ad linked to Legion.org’s “How to Join” page.
The department’s year-long sponsorship package with the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium includes:
• Membership booth at Colts training camp in Anderson, Ind.
• Two game-day membership booths. One membership booth is located outside the stadium in the Colts’ tailgate area, and one is inside the stadium. Legion volunteers hand out organizational literature.
• Six game-day radio commercials. The 30-second commercials run before, during and after the game. The Colts radio network reaches 45 statewide affiliates.
• Six game-day banner-scroll ads. A 30-second membership ad runs inside the stadium before, during and after the game.
• Raffle items. The department has 12 jerseys of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to raffle off at each home game. Names are drawn from lists of booth visitors who request more Legion information.
• Use of Colts emblem. The Legion’s and the Colts’ emblem appear on magnets and promotional materials handed out.
The department’s two-year sponsorship package with the Indianapolis Indians baseball team at Victory Field includes:
• 288 radio commercials. The Legion receives two 30-second commercials each game.
• Game tickets. As a partner of the Indians Community Pinch Hitter Program, the department gives tickets to underprivileged groups or charities. The recipients are notified that tickets were provided courtesy of the Department of Indiana. The department receives recognition on the scoreboard.
• Legion-sponsored game. The department sponsors a “Legion night” at Victory Field which involves distribution of Legion information and custom co-branded items, banners and an opportunity to throw the first pitch. The department receives recognition on the scoreboard.
SEEING POSITIVE RESULTS
Since the Department of Indiana’s advertising campaign began July 1, numerous veterans have walked in to posts with their DD214’s; two female Legionnaire commercials were aired on the Queen Latifa (singer, actress) Show; more than 800 contact cards have been collected from membership booths at Colts games; and the department’s Facebook page has received 4,500 “Likes.” Other departments have also reached out for help in starting similar campaigns.
Drake attributes much of the campaign’s success and Legionnaire support to the five-year membership plan.
“The department owes its districts and posts a strategic-level thought of what the big picture is and that’s what our five-year membership plan is,” he said. “We didn’t say, ‘This is what we’re thinking about doing.’ We said, ‘This is what we’re doing.’”