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thedrifter
06-09-08, 09:05 PM
Marines blitz recruiting goals, even nontraditional targets

YouTube, MySpace enlisted to push service

12:35 AM CDT on Monday, June 9, 2008


By DAVID McLEMORE / The Dallas Morning News
dmclemore@dallasnews.com


SAN ANTONIO – Rebecca Lemanski's family had no problem with her going into the military.

But the Marines?

"We're a military family. But the Marines took a little convincing, especially my mom," said Ms. Lemanski, 18. "She didn't like the idea of her youngest daughter being a Marine with a war on. I didn't want to join something that was easier because I knew I could do that."

Her recruiter, Staff Sgt. Jessie Jelks, a 12-year veteran, isn't surprised. The physical and mental challenges and the intangibles of duty and honor are the Marine Corps' biggest selling points.

"I don't have to sell the Marines. They know what they want when they step in the door."

That may be why the Marine Corps is smashing enlistment records, even as a long and unpopular war makes military service a hard sell.

In April, the Marines signed up 2,233 recruits, beating their monthly goal by 142 percent, a level that far exceeds any other military service. The Navy and the Air Force just met their April target of 2,905 sailors and 2,435 airmen, and the Army reached 101 percent of its goal with 5,681.

The numbers are no fluke. In March, the Marines hit 137 percent of their monthly target.

The effort is being driven partly by appeals to nontraditional audiences, including women, and a change in enlistment standards.

The Marines have aired a 60-second ad on American Idol and put recruiting videos on YouTube.

"All the services offer money for college and job skills, but the Marine Corps goes beyond that," said Gunnery Sgt. Pauline Franklin, spokesman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command. "We emphasize service to the nation, self-reliance and pride of belonging to an elite team."

The stresses of recruiting and training for two hot wars while dealing with a major force expansion are being felt by all military services, said Alice Hunt, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security. But the Marines appear to be keeping pace with their goals.

"The Marines are experiencing the same kinds of stress among personnel and families as the Army; it's just not as explored or reported," Ms. Hunt said. "But the Marine emphasis on recruiter training and their ad campaigns works for them."

Plus, the Marine ethos, a combination of history, toughness and sense of duty and commitment, is a powerful sales tool.

"When potential recruits walk in asking how much money they'll get or benefits, it's not unusual for a recruiter to walk them to the door and point out the Army, Navy and Air Force offices next door," said Capt. Antonio Hinojosa, executive officer for Recruiting Station San Antonio, which covers most of South Texas.

Niche marketing


The Marines have taken to niche marketing with a vengeance, adding about $5 million to their advertising budget for a total this year of $157.4 million.

Besides the American Idol ad, they have set up a MySpace.com page to get viewer feedback. Soon, they will branch into pyromarketing, the latest buzz in network marketing that fine-tunes the message to a specific market.

The focus marks a subtle shift from individual accomplishments – a young man climbing a cliff to fight a dragon – to showing the Marines as part of the larger American family.

One new ad, called "America's Marines," shows a line of Marines in dress uniforms, from city streets to national monuments to rural wheat fields.

Over a stirring soundtrack, a narrator intones: "They have always defended this nation and each other. And they still do."

The ads are tremendously popular. On the Marines MySpace page, which features one of the ads, the Marines have more than 81,000 "friends."

Long war


Still, the Marines haven't been exempt from the demands created by a long war and expanded responsibilities.

In 2006, the Marines, like the Army, altered enlistment standards to offer felony waivers for new recruits. The Army's recruit waivers for criminal convictions doubled from 249 in 2006 to 511 in 2007. In the same period, the Marines issued 350 waivers, an increase of 68 percent.

Marine officials stressed that those waivers account for less than 1 percent of total enlistments, with all waivers reviewed for the circumstances of the offense.

"We really haven't relaxed our standards," Gunnery Sgt. Franklin said. "The waiver process is not a means to qualify otherwise unqualified people."

For several years, the Marines have also fine-tuned their advertising campaign to appeal to women, who make up about 6 percent of the Corps, the lowest of any of the services.

Full-page ads in magazines like Fitness and Shape have featured women Marines learning self-defense techniques, an appeal to young women who might become successful Marines.

The result of a revamped advertising focus on women and minorities is harder to measure.

Female recruits have increased slightly from 2,320 in 2006 to 2,507 in 2007. That year, ads featuring female Marines provided 1,044 leads – but only two enlistments.

Jacqueline Perez, 18, of San Antonio wasn't influenced by the ads. She had planned to enlist anyway.

She ships out to Parris Island, S.C., for boot camp July 21.

"I wasn't ready for college, and since I was a little girl, I wanted to be in the military," she said. "But I wanted the challenge the Marines offer, especially for women. If I can handle that, I knew I could handle anything."

Her family supports her decision, though her father would have preferred she go into the Air Force or Army. And her friends, even those who are opposed to the military, are behind her, she said.

"Sometimes," she said, "you have to find out who you are."

Ellie