An audit found the US Army wasted $36 million on marketing in one year. Here’s how its new leaders plan to ensure a return on taxpayers’ money.

  • An internal audit found that the US Army wasted more than $36 million on marketing in 2016. An earlier version of the report said $930 million spent over the previous three years "didn't provide best value."
  • The Army's new marketing leaders told Business Insider they would ensure a greater return on taxpayer dollars.
  • They're upping Army's presence at events like Comic-Con and Pax, a conference for gaming and esports, because gamers "make good soldiers."
  • As a result of the audit, the Army earlier this year slashed the size of its marketing team, relocated them to the homebase of new ad agency DDB in Chicago, revamped its events strategy, and sought to improve its internal data system.
  • Officials also said they would hold ad agency holding company Omnicom more accountable for results.
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Last year, an internal audit found that the US Army wasted more than $36 million in taxpayer money on marketing in 2016. An earlier version of the report found an eye-opening $930 million spent between 2013 and 2016 "didn't provide best value to support Army recruiting."

The Army's new marketing leads — assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs E. Casey Wardynski and enterprise marketing chief Brigadier General Alex Fink — told Business Insider how they plan to ensure a greater return on that investment by holding themselves to the same standards as any other major advertiser.

Read more: The US Army has struggled to get recruits. Its new marketing heads explain how the military will target Gen Z with personalized, data-driven ads.

The Army revamped its events strategy and plans to update its internal data system

The audit led to a complete overhaul of the Army's marketing operations.

Most of the programs labeled ineffective concerned events marketing, so Wardynski said the Army is abandoning efforts like the Tough Mudder series, which cost about $2 million and only led to seven contracts. Instead, it's focusing on conventions like Comic-Con and gamer gathering Pax, where the Army can set up virtual recruiting stations and quickly see ROI.

Last month, the Army introduced its new esports team at Pax West in Seattle. Wardynski said gamers "make good soldiers" due to their ability to absorb information.

The audit also faulted Army employees for failing to enter data — into what it calls its enterprise marketing management system — that tracks campaign results or submitting incorrect numbers.

Fink said improving that record is one of his key goals; IT firm Booz Allen Hamilton recently won a $152 million contract to develop software for managing recruitment and retention, and the Army eventually hopes to combine the two systems.

Army leaders say they would hold themselves and their agencies to a higher standard

As part of its 2019 defense spending bill, Congress withheld 50% of the Army's marketing budget pending a report on the audit by then-Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper, who was confirmed as President Trump's Defense Secretary in July.

Esper's report led the Army to slash the size of its marketing organization from 60-plus employees to 20 and move it to Chicago, blocks away from its new ad agency of record DDB and parent company Omnicom.

Wardynski and Fink called the new Chicago division the product of a collaboration between the US Office of Personnel Management, the Army, and unnamed marketing execs that it brought on to advise them.

Wardynski said the new group, called Office of the Chief Army Enterprise Marketing, may eventually grow to more than 50 employees and that there would be an emphasis on hiring longtime military staff who are better equipped than civilians to translate the military experience to its ads.

Fink also reports to a newly formed governing board consisting of Wardynski, deputy chief of staff Lt. General Thomas C. Seamands, and Lt. General Paul Funk, who was appointed commanding officer of Army Training and Doctrine Command in March to lead the overhaul of its recruitment efforts.

Since Congress ultimately controls the purse strings, Army marketing leaders addressed the Senate and House Armed Services Committees in January 2018, after Adweek broke news of the audit. Since then, Wardynski said his team has continually updated Congress about its move from a focus on broad-reach TV campaigns to a targeted and data-driven one.

Finally, the Army plans to make ad agencies DDB and OMD more accountable by attaching numeric goals to every budget item and offering incentives to get the best results.

Fink said if a platform doesn't deliver — linear TV included — he would quickly move on to one that does.

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