USO Seeks ‘Air Support’

NEW YORK The USO is looking for some “air support,” but not the kind you think. The service organization is undertaking an appeal to TV execs to secure free airtime for its new campaign.

The service organization’s effort for donations to send Christmas stockings to military personnel overseas is well under way via radio spots and direct marketing appeals. But starting in January, the USO wants to launch PSA TV spots reminding the public to remember members of the military beyond the holidays.

The spots, created by Williams Whittle, Alexandria, Va., depict a typical day of a USO volunteer at an airport, talking about what they do to meet the needs of soldiers and their families, from offering computer access, providing snacks and making travel arrangements. The ads will run in 60-, 30- and 15-second iterations with the tagline “Until everyone comes home.” There will also be an appeal to viewers who “want to make a difference” to log on to USO.org.

In order to get free airtime for the fresh creative, the USO is more assertively courting network decision makers by hosting receptions and in-person visits to take advantage of personal connections, a rep for the group said.

For example, several media outlets gave away unsold airtime or print space because they have a relative in the military, and one head of sales granted weekly ad space because his parents met at an USO event.

One reason the group is undertaking the unusual outreach effort is because PSA airtime will be more limited this coming year due to presidential candidates buying ad slots.

The USO has reason to be hopeful its efforts will pay off. In 2006, 62 percent of the free broadcast time it garnered occurred on national programming in the top 25 markets, according to a representative for the group.

The USO spent $30 million on ads in 2006 and $35 million in the first nine months of this year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.