In this episode, I share some strategic communication lessons that I picked up from the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The Marines have focused on the art of building and leveraging relationships with key stakeholders; we’ll explore one example in greater detail here.
This is my first video podcast, so if you watch on YouTube, I want to give a special shout-out and thanks to Roberto Blake for giving me the push to move from audio into video. (This video on why podcasters should incorporate video was particularly helpful; thanks Roberto!)
I also want to give a shout-out to my transcription partner, Transcribeme.com. If you’d like to see an example of their work, you’re looking at it! They transcribe the podcast and it becomes these show notes! They do a fantastic job with really quick turnaround and they’re very affordable. If you’d like a 25% discount, go to Transcribeme.com/betterprnow.
Setting The Stage
In Washington D.C., the Marine Barracks Washington is downtown. If you’ve ever heard of “8th & I,” that’s the Marine Barracks. It’s the oldest post of the Marine Corps, having been founded in 1801. They tell a cool story of President Thomas Jefferson and the Commandant of the Marine Corps riding on horseback to pick a site for the barracks. They chose a location between the Capitol and the Washington Navy Yard (which is the oldest Navy installation), so the Marines could get to either quickly in the case of an emergency.
As the oldest post of the Corps, they do something very special every Friday evening during the summer, called the Evening Parade, which creates unique strategic communication opportunities for the Marines. According to their website, “The parade has become a universal symbol of the professionalism, the discipline, and the espirit de corps of the United States Marines. The story of the ceremony reflects the story of Marines serving throughout the world. Whether serving aboard ship, in foreign embassies, at recruit depots, in divisions, or in the many positions and places where Marines project their image, the individual marine continually tells the story of the United States Marine Corps.”
The Evening Parade
Let me paint a picture for you. You pull up and even though you’re on the streets of Washington, D.C. and it’s really crowded, with lots of traffic, you’re immediately met by a group of Marines who are in their full-service dress. The white hat, the blue jacket, the white pants, and they’re just exquisite. They’re all wearing their medals and they meet you, they park you, they bring you in, and they’re very, very welcoming and professional.
I was able to go to a VIP reception that the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert B. Neller, hosted for about 200 people. He gave remarks and he also introduced the guest of honor, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. There also were 3 other members of Congress who participated that evening, along with about 24 NCAA coaches. Those two groups are really important.
There were many other people there that night. After the reception, which lasts about an hour and a half, out on the parade deck there are bleachers that hold probably 2,000 people.
The Marines give an hour and fifteen-minute performance, in which they have Sergeant Chesty XIV, who is the current mascot of Marine Barracks Washington. He’s an English bulldog, and he has his uniform and decorations on, including all of his medals and awards.
The silent drill team, which is just absolutely astonishing in their precision, performs, and the Marine Band also gives a performance, including numbers by John Philip Sousa, one of the most famous Marine Band leaders.
Altogether, it’s an evening where you get to experience the Marine Corps on parade.
During the reception, we had both officers and enlisted Marines come up and ask us how we were doing, welcomed us to the barracks, and told us about their role in the Marine Corps. They are steeped in their traditions and history.
It gives you a very personal welcome and a really heartwarming experience, being part of that whole evening. After the performance, the members of the VIP reception were able to take photos with the Commandant and his wife, with the drill team, with the mascot, and with some of the bandsmen. It’s a wonderful evening.
If you’d like to watch the entire performance, click here.
(Thanks to Prof. Enrique Planells for the link!)
Strategic Communication Lessons
So here are some strategic communication lessons.
For the purpose of this exercise, I’m talking about strategic communication in terms of stakeholder engagement that affects your organization’s ability to survive and thrive.
I’m not talking about media relations, I’m not talking about broad public engagement. I’m talking about focusing on those stakeholders who have some kind of really important effect on your organization and its ability to exist and continue to operate.
The AIDA Model
The lens I would like to look at this through, is AIDA, which is an acronym that stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.
If you think about this being a funnel, at the very widest, open part of the funnel is Attention. You have to get somebody’s attention.
Once you’ve gotten their attention, you have to create Interest in what it is you’re doing, what your organization has to offer, whether it’s a product or a service.
Then you have to move them from Interest to Desire. You want them to, in the case of sales marketing, buy your product or purchase your service. In the case of the Marine Corps, you probably need to attract recruits, and there are other things that the Corps depends on, as well.
Finally, once you have that Attention leading to Interest leading to Desire, you want them to take Action.
In the case of the Evening Parade, there are three groups of people who are there participating: You have the Congressional members, you have coaches, and you have members of the public. All three of those are important for the future of the Marine Corps.
For the Congressional members: What does the Marine Corps, like every other government organization, rely on from Congress? One of the main things is funding. So, that night we had the House Majority Leader and three other members of Congress. Through that evening’s experience, they come away with a better understanding of the Marine Corps. They certainly have a positive impression of the professionalism, discipline, and polish of the Marines. That probably leads them to be predisposed to thinking positively about and supporting the Marines when they put in their funding request.
Same thing with the coaches. These are NCAA coaches from a lot of different sports. I believe that night they were Division III coaches from around the country. Those coaches, whether they are coaching only, or they’re coaching and teaching on campus, are interacting with students and with parents. They are in a prime position to make recommendations and suggestions for avenues that their students might follow for the rest of their careers.
Being able to recommend the United States Marine Corps helps point talented, professional, disciplined, young people to the recruiters. That also helps the Marine Corps, because they’re always looking for qualified new enlisted and officer recruits.
Additionally, to have the parents also being exposed to the Marine Corps in this very positive setting, gives another voice to recommend the Marine Corps as a potential career path for young people.
If you think about what the Marine Corps is entirely dependent on, they’re dependent on recruits and funding. Those are the two big things.
So, over the course of one summer season, you could have all of the members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, which play a major role in determining the funding for all the military services.
You could have most of the professional staff members that work on those funding packages. You could have most of the members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for Defense also participating.
And so, if you have just the majority of them coming through over the course of a couple of years, now you’ve reminded them of who the Marine Corps is, what role they play in national security and national defense, why that investment in the Marine Corps is important.
You also have touched thousands and thousands of either potential recruits or influencers of recruits, whether they’re parents or teachers or coaches.
So, those become positive voices to represent the Marine Corps when young people are trying to make a decision about what path they are going to follow in life.
If you think about this from a marketing perspective, in terms of creating influence and positive impressions, and getting these groups of people to help you with your messaging to those who are potential recruits and new members of the Marine Corps or to those who make funding decisions about the Marine Corps’ budget, the evening parade is a fantastic way to do it.
Is this an opportunity that is only open to the Marine Corps? Absolutely not!
Every organization can (and, perhaps, should) do what the Marines have done.
The United States Army also does it with their Twilight Tattoos in Washington. As an aside, if you live in Washington or come for a visit, make sure that you see one of these events, because they’re absolutely spectacular.
If you think about it, any organization could create some kind of personal experience or personal engagement with the stakeholders that are most strategically important to that organization. Whether it’s a school, or a manufacturing company, or a services company, or a non-profit, there are unique ways to increase awareness, understanding, and engagement with your stakeholders.
The Bottom Line
For me, this is the main takeaway:
- Understand who your strategic stakeholders are and why they are so important to you and your organization.
- Find or create ways to connect with them that are meaningful and that help to build understanding.
- These engagements should follow the AIDA model, in that they create attention, interest, desire, and ultimately, they can lead to action that is mutually beneficial for your organization and its stakeholders.
That’s the lesson for today. I hope you find it valuable and I really want you to get as much value out of this as possible.
What questions do you have about public relations, marketing, branding, or organizational communication? Drop me a line at Mark at BetterPRNow.com.
If you want to nominate a guest for the podcast, give me a shout.
Finally, I want to remind you about my transcription partner, who does a great job and is offering a super 25% off deal. Just go to transcribeme.com/betterprnow.