U.S. Army Looks to Next Agency Front

Readying 2004 review, with hints that ‘Army of One’ won’t survive

Getting an early start on its next mandated review, the U.S. Army said it will hire consultant Jones Lundin Beals to conduct an agency search for its $130 million account. RFPs are targeted for early next year.

The contract, which expires in July 2004, is held by Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett, which won the account in June 2000. The Chicago shop plans to defend the business, agency execs said. While the agency’s campaign has helped the Army exceed recruitment goals, resistance to its tagline, “Army of One,” lingers among Army brass.

Burnett developed the line as a replacement for longtime slogan “Be all you can be” in late 2000, the last few months of the Clinton administration. Sources said Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera wanted to make an impact before vacating his post, and the line was publicly announced before it had been fully sold to Army staff. Burnett spent the second year of the campaign persuading the Army to stick with the tagline, sources said.

An Army rep acknowledged there is some dissatisfaction with “Army of One.” “When a campaign changes after 20 years, there will be some in the organization who will remain nostalgic for the original,” said Paul Boyce, although he noted that “the message behind ‘Army of One’ resonates extremely well.”

“It is not a catchy slogan,” argued a source. “It doesn’t mean anything. It is the antithesis of the Army being about teamwork.” Critics say the Spanish slogan, “Yo soy el Army” (“I am the Army”), works better.

On the plus side for Burnett is the Army’s recruitment success during the past three years. In 2001, the Army wanted 75,800 active recruits and got 75,855. Last year it got 79,604 recruits over a goal of 79,500. The campaign is on target this year with 40,597 recruits so far and a target of 73,800 by October. Over the same time span, Congress also increased the budget, from $95 million to $130 million.

Burnett is also credited with improving the goarmy.com site—getting it in sync with other marketing materials and driving traffic with a reality series on basic training—and more effectively using media dollars to target the population most likely to join. Boyce noted that Burnett’s most recent spot, “Creed,” which aired during the war in Iraq, was well received.

Several agencies expressed no interest in pursuing the account next year, saying Burnett has a lock on the business.

Burnett, however, hit a bump in the road last spring, with a controversy over its dealings with subcontractors. The Rev. Al Sharpton and several lawmakers raised questions about the fees Burnett paid The Cartel Group in San Antonio, which handles Hispanic work on the account, and Atlanta-based Images USA, which had the African American portion. Burnett fired Images in June and replaced it with Muse Cordero Chen & Partners in Los Angeles.

The sticking point at the time revolved around whether there was a discrepancy between what the subcontractors were supposed to be paid and what they actually received from Burnett. Lawmakers threatened to hold hearings, prompting Burnett to hire a Washington law firm to lobby Congress in its defense. A threatened lawsuit by Sharpton’s Madison Avenue Initiative never materialized.

“We look forward to retaining the account and to working with [the Army] in the future,” said Burnett’s Carla Michelotti, evp and general counsel.

WPP Group’s Young & Rubicam, New York, which created “Be all you can be,” held the account from 1987-2000. Burnett won the business over finalists The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va., and Campbell-Ewald in Warren, Mich. Chicago-based Jones Lundin, which also conducted that review, declined comment.