Air Force Goes High-Tech to Target Recruitment Leads

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Along with the B-2 stealth bomber and other high-tech equipment used by the U.S. Air Force, add an advanced new database system designed to improve recruitment.


Though recruitment goals for the Air Force vary from year to year, "we recruit about 36,000 people each year," said Kerry Macaitis, direct marketing account executive at the U.S. Air Force.


To reach these recruits, the Air Force relies heavily on direct mail. This year 16 mailings are planned.


To target appropriate leads from direct mail as well as television, radio and other sources, and then distribute leads to recruitment offices around the country, the Air Force turned to a custom database solution developed by Merkle Direct Marketing Inc., Lanham, MD.


"We did not have a data warehouse system set up before [we implemented the Merkle solution] that was specifically for leads," Macaitis said.


As part of an initiative begun in February, Merkle built and delivered the database solution and then began to supply a range of services to the Air Force Recruiting Service. The project, from fact finding to rollout, was completed in six weeks. Merkle is working with the Air Force as a subcontractor through Austin, TX-based GSD&M, a strategic marketing and advertising company that is the agency of record for the Air Force Recruiting Service.


The solution, Merkle's proprietary Military Lead Management Knowledge Center, lets the Air Force process responses from direct mail, call centers, broadcast, print and the Internet and distribute the best, most qualified leads quickly to field recruitment offices. Merkle analyzes the data to help Air Force recruiters better understand the effectiveness of different types of outreach.


"Merkle sorts all that different data out and creates a good record for each individual, and then gives that data out to the recruiter in the field," said Michael Mathias, Merkle's senior vice president, client management services. "We supply them with age and education-qualified leads that they can follow up on.


"There is a 2-to-1 ratio of people who want to sign up or talk to a recruiter who just aren't qualified. What we do is try to prequalify everybody best we can and utilize the recruiter's time most effectively."


The Air Force and Navy have not released any new advertising to coincide with the war with Iraq and patriotic feeling in the country. The Army and Marines did roll out new TV commercials to reflect values of patriotism, teamwork and duty.


Though news reports state that the war hasn't sparked a significant increase in people signing up for military service, all four branches of the armed forces said this month that recruitment is on or ahead of schedule for the fiscal year, which began last October.


Mathias said that the system also can let a recruiter know how interested a potential recruit is. An applicant may have signed up for the Air Force multiple times -- on the Air Force's Web site, through a response to a direct mail piece or at a recruitment event, for example.


"Having this information is very important to a recruiter," Mathias said. "If they are responding three times versus one time, the recruiter may handle that person differently."


Basically, we "collect all the data, make it available quickly out to the field, qualify it and, where appropriate, enhance it with other information that we may have," he said.


During the past several years, Merkle has developed a niche market providing military lead-recruiting systems. The company provides varying levels of marketing and infrastructure support for the Marine Corps and Army as well as the Air Force.


For the Marines, Merkle takes relevant recruiting data and combines it with its in-house national consumer file to help better locate recruiters in population centers that have the best-qualified prospects, keeping access high and costs low.


"This is based on our analytic approach to understanding what propenses folks to be in the military," Mathias said. "We are in discussions with the Air Force about this right now."


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