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GAO goes on attack: military ad dollars coming under fire — Military Ad Dollars Coming Under Fire By Michael McCarth

The much-heralded “peace dividend” from the downsizing of the American military is paying no bo

Due to prodding from Congress, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) is poised to launch a sweeping months-long review of military recruiting and advertising to see where the money goes and how it’s spent.
Foy Wicker, assistant director of the Military Operations and Capabilities Issues Group for the GAO’s National Security and International Affairs Division, said last week that his unit is beginning to inform the four armed services about the broad-based study which will focus on all aspects of military recruiting. “Obviously we’re looking at advertising,” he said. “While it’s not one of our main focuses, anything is fair game in a downsizing situation.”
Given the nature of the GAO project, the spotlight will fall on the roughly $70 million spent by the military’s four main shops (including reserve spending): Young & Rubicam for the Army, BBDO for the Navy, Temerlin McClain for the Air Force, J. Walter Thompson for the Marine Corps. Backer Spielvogel Bates handles a joint recruitment program sponsored by all four services.
The main proponent of the probe is Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.), chairman of the Senate Federal Services Subcommittee, who has been an outspoken critic of the dollars spent on military advertising while the Pentagon downshifts to a post-Cold War environment. “Senator Pryor was the one who requested the GAO study,” confirmed Pryor’s press secretary, Damon Thompson, last week.
While Thompson said Senator Pryor and other legislators will wait for the GAO to wrap up its review and issue recommendations before taking any action, he noted that Pryor is strongly, “in favor” of agencies and other government contractors having to compete often for their government business. In the past, Pryor has cited examples like JWT’s 25-year relationship with the Marine Corps as one of the problems with military advertising. “Sole-service contracts raise (Sen. Pryor’s) eyebrows,” said Thompson. “Competition makes thing more efficient.”
Separately, informed sources are actively speculating that the first target for a competitive pitch could be Y&R’s $36-million U.S. Army account. Government sources said Y&R’s contract is structured as a one-year deal with four renewable options; this spring the Army exercised its first option, which will extend the contract to March 31, 1994. Several sources said the Army will likely pull the plug on the Y&R contract this winter and hold a full-scale pitch for the account.
However, Col. John Myers, director of advertising for the Army Recruiting Command in Fort Knox, Ky., said that he “was not aware of any resolicitation” of agencies.
Like the other services, the Army’s advertising budget has been scaled back. From a level of around $65 million in 1990, Army advertising will fall to around $23 million in 1993 and hopefully climb back to the $30 million level in 1994, according to Myers.
With manpower, requirements falling, congressional critics like Pryor have pounced on questionable media buys like the military running commercials during the pro football conference championship games in 1992 (at a cost of $330,000 per 30 seconds) to attract new recruits. Last summer, Pryor was able to wipe out roughly $175 million in recruiting expenses for 1993 from the appropriations bill.
Service Agency 1992 Billings(*)
Army Young & Rubicam $36.6M
U.S. Armed Backer 9.4M
Forces Recruiting Spielvogel Bates
Marine Corps J. Walter Thompson 5.2M
Navy BBDO 3M
Air Force Termelin McClain 2M
(*) Source LNA/Arbitron
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)