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Secretary of the Army Caldera Announces Operation Graduation

Presenter: Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera
September 19, 2000 2:15 PM EDT

(Army briefing on Operation Graduation announcement. Also participating: Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley; Advertising Council President and Chief Executive Officer Peggy Conlon; President Anthony J. DeGregorio of Publicis; Senior Copywriter Dan Balser of Publicis; and Army Chief of Public Affairs Maj. Gen. John G. Meyer, Jr.)

Meyer: Thank you, Admiral Quigley. Appreciate it. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

George, it's always good to see you.

Q: (Off mike.)

Meyer: You need to be kind, George!

Thanks for joining us as we formally announce the first elements of a national communications campaign with America's teens. Today we're joined by three people who share a common goal -- educating America, especially its youth. Each will speak briefly, we will share with you the television portion of the national public service initiative, and then answer your questions.

We're honored to have back with us the Secretary of Education, the Honorable Richard Riley, as well as the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Ad Council, Ms. Peggy Conlon.

And what I'd like to ask your request is, we'd like to make the presentations, show the film, take your questions and answers on what we've dubbed this, called Operation Graduation. And then when that's over, Secretary Riley has to leave. Ms. Conlon will be able to stay, and Secretary Caldera will stay behind and answer any other questions you all may have on any other subjects.

With that, I'd like to present our 17th Secretary of the Army, the Honorable Louis Caldera.

Caldera: Thank you, Gil. I'm honored to be joined by Education Secretary Dick Riley and President and CEO of the Ad Council Peggy Conlon, to announce today that the Army will sponsor a three-year national public service advertising campaign to encourage America's youth to finish their high school education.

We're very, very proud of the work that the Advertising Council has done, along with the internationally renowned advertising firm of Publicis that's represented today here by their president and chief creative officer in New York, Tony DeGregorio -- and Tony is right here with us.

They have just done some marvelous, marvelous work. In a few minutes, you'll be able to see the tremendous job that they've done telling the story of three young Americans -- these are real students, they're not actors -- who have overcome tremendous obstacles to make a personal commitment to finish their education. They represent the diversity of our nation and they represent the kinds of obstacles that young people are facing to finishing their education, including teenage pregnancy, drugs, and getting caught up with crime and violence.

Publicis has come up with what I think is just a brilliant slogan for this campaign: "Stay in School. Give Yourself a Chance." The message is an inspiring one. It's an empowering message that says, "Regardless of the obstacles, believe in yourself and find the inner strength to finish school and give yourself a chance to do something good with your life. Others who face the same obstacles are doing it, and you can do it too." This message addresses the importance of personal motivation to success in school.

I want to say that this campaign is not a recruiting campaign. Indeed, it is targeted to 12- to 14-year-olds, young men and women who are making decisions today that are going to affect their ability to finish school tomorrow. The Army is sponsoring these messages because we believe in America's youth, and we believe that the Army is an organization that can effectively deliver this message. We are proud to sponsor this campaign as part of our commitment to America's youth.

At this time, I'd like to introduce a great personal friend, a great friend of the Army's, notwithstanding his background has a Naval Reserve officer, and a great Education secretary whose department we look forward to working with closely on this and other education initiatives for soldiers and their families, and for the greater good of our nation.

Ladies and gentlemen, Education Secretary Richard Riley.

Riley: Thank you, sir. Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary, and Peggy, it's great to be with you. We've worked with the Ad Council on a number of worthwhile projects, and this is another one, one I'm very pleased to be involved in.

The Department of Education and the Department of the Army really have a strong partnership, and I would say you, Mr. Secretary, deserve an awful lot of credit for that. The secretary has taken a real interest in American youth in general as it pertains to strength in the Army, and I'm very proud of his feeling in that regard and his work.

We've worked together on a lot of projects, such as Read Right Now, a summer reading program; the Army's GED Plus program. Secretary Caldera knows that providing an excellent education for every child in America will make our nation stronger and make it more secure.

Now today the Department of the Army, along with the Ad Council, is again leading the battle for better education. The Operation Graduation advertising campaign can be an important part of our efforts to make sure that no young person is left behind. And it's certainly our obligation in this country. With an economy that has moved from the industrial era to the information era, which I call the Education Era, a high school diploma is really more critical now than ever before, in order for a young person to become a well-adjusted, a productive citizen who can literally have dreams and reach their dreams.

Now we've made progress in this area in recent years. I think we need to talk more about our progress, because I think you can do more if you're making some success. Between '92 and '99, the percentage of young adults 25 to 29 who have a high school degree -- of course, a lot of them have come in with GEDs or whatever after high-school age, but ages 25 to 29 who have high school degree -- have gone from 86 to 88 percent. For African Americans, the figure rose from 81 to 89 percent, and for Hispanic Americans, the percentage inched up from 61 percent to 62 percent.

The moving upward is a positive development, but we do in this nation have a real serious obligation to deal with all of these children in all categories, but especially Hispanic Americans. That is a much too noticeably low figure that all of us have an obligation to do what we can to change. But for all children, this finishing of high school is absolutely critical to their chances in life to do what they want to do with it.

The Department of Education -- there we have focused much of our attention on things like parent involvement in education, mentoring programs; after-school, summer school opportunities; more resources for low-income students. Each of these kinds of things helps to improve academic achievement and thereby lower the dropout rate. And I'm pleased that so many individuals, so many community groups, and businesses across the nation have made education a top priority, and it is out there right now. And we're very lucky to live in a time when education is a top priority. It's a wonderful time to be involved, especially in public affairs.

And I'm so pleased that the Army and the Ad Council are working together to reach out, then, to young people who are at risk and encourage them to stay in school. I'm very grateful to Secretary Caldera and Peggy Conlon for taking an active role in urging our young people to stay in school, and I look forward to further reductions in the dropout rate, and to more and more partnerships for better education.

Thank you very much.

Caldera: At this time, I would like screen the PSAs for you.

(Run videotape of public service announcements.)

Those are the spots, and if you're like me, they're tremendously moving, I think -- going to be tremendously impressionistic to America's young people.

The campaign includes the television advertising spots, the billboards that can be found on billboards or bus shelters, other locations, and radio spots.

This campaign as it is unveiled means that these spots will now be sent to networks and to others who we've been talking to about supporting this campaign.

At this time it's my privilege to introduce another great Naval Reserve -- former Naval Reserve officer Peggy Conlon, whose team at the Ad Council has just done tremendous work on this campaign and tremendous work on so many campaigns, memorable campaigns in recent years -- to take a bite out of crime, friends don't let friends drive drunk -- all things that have changed behavior because of the power of advertising to communicate a message that sometimes is hard for others to communicate, whether it's a parent or a teacher.

And we think that this tremendous combination of the power of the Advertising Council and the networks that support them and a great advertising firm like Publicis and their creative team that came up with these ads is going to make a difference for that hard-to-reach group of young Americans, half-a-million a year, who are still dropping out of high school, who we need to reach with this very inspiring message.

Peggy Conlon.

Conlon: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

Good afternoon. It's an honor for me to be here today to help introduce a campaign for the U.S. Army, Operation Graduation. I remember very clearly the day that we got a call from the Office of the Secretary of the Army. Secretary Caldera called the Ad Council expressing a keen interest in working with us to create a public service campaign about an issue that he felt personally committed to addressing.

The Ad Council has a large commitment to the welfare of children, and Operation Graduation is central to that cause. Education is of paramount importance to the Ad Council, as I'm sure Secretary Riley can attest. For years we've engaged the powerful resources of the advertising and media worlds to create campaigns for such educational issues as education excellence, after-school programs, community schools, the value of math and science, and recruiting new teachers, just to name a few. Today we add another to that list.

Operation Graduation is a campaign that urges kids to take advantage of the opportunities available to them, and to experience all the benefits that a high school diploma can offer.

Of course this job will not be an easy one, but then again, the Ad Council has never been afraid of challenges. For the past 58 years, we have dedicated ourselves to addressing the most pressing social issues of the day -- from war bonds and victory gardens to the polio vaccine to the Peace Corps, anti-discrimination and drunk-driving prevention, the Ad Council has raised awareness, inspired individuals to action, and saved lives.

Thanks to our many messages, and to the media that run them pro bono, seat belt usage has increased from 21 percent to 69 percent in just 15 years, and our seat belt education campaign is widely regarded as a major factor in the near nation-wide adoption of seat belt laws. Curb-side recycling has increased exponentially. And through our campaign with the United Negro College Fund, over 300,000 deserving minority students have completed a four-year college degree.

Our model is that we utilize the talents of the wonderful advertising agencies, like Publicis -- who I must again thank for your tireless work, for the many hours, for traveling all across the country, and everything that you did pro bono to bring this campaign to life. And our strong relations with the media are also very important. On average, the media donates over a billion dollars in advertising to the various Ad Council campaigns yearly to get our messages to the public in as strong and innovative and memorable a way as possible.

Yesterday, Secretary Caldera and I met with members of the media at a special luncheon in New York to give them a sneak preview of Operation Graduation. Actually, it was set up and revealed by the people from Publicis. Their response was overwhelming. To a person, the members of the broadcast and cable networks, outdoor companies, and radio have made a commitment to support this with donated media, and we're very encouraged.

I would like to thank Secretary Caldera, without whose tireless dedication and personal involvement in this campaign would not have been possible. You know, oftentimes we wonder whether a single individual can really have an effect on people's lives. Well, through his passionate championing of this cause, I think that Secretary Caldera will make a big difference in many young people's lives for many years to come.

Thank you very much.

Caldera: We'd be happy to take your questions at this time.

Yes?

Q: How much is the Army spending on this, and what's in it for the Army?

Caldera: It's about $1.5 million to $2 million a year for three years. And so -- and then, of course, with the donated advertising time, the value of the campaign is much greater than that.

Our interest is the general welfare of America's young people and of our nation.

We are one of the largest employers of young people in America, and so of course we care about their education, their training, their moral and physical development.

Most of these young people will probably never join the Army or any of the military armed forces, but we still think that we have a lot to offer by helping to sponsor this campaign, and we think that it reinforces the message that the Army is committed to America's youth.

Q: Could you elaborate on where that money goes? Because I'm assuming that a TV program that runs a spot does it pro bono, and then --

Caldera: Right. There are still production costs and other kinds of things, not withstanding the tremendous amount of donated time that's made by the advertising agency. Peggy, maybe you'd like to --

Conlon: Yes, most of that -- or, all of that money, actually -- goes into paying the out-of-pocket costs that the agency incurs; talent, editors, film, things of that nature. And then a very large portion of it also goes for distributing to the media. We go to over 28,000 media outlets, and that alone is very expensive.

Q: So you're not paying for anybody to run it; it's strictly production costs?

Conlon: That's correct.

Q: The other one is just a small wordsmith question -- (chuckles). Did you have big debate -- maybe you wanted to put "Give yourself a chance, stay in school" -- have it be a climactic sentence. Was that a big debate in the back room? (Laughter.)

DeGregorio: Actually, Dan Balser and Jim Basirico -- why don't you folks stand up? We -- we knocked that around --

Staff: (Inaudible) -- to the lectern, please.

DeGregorio: Oh, yes. Okay. I'm sorry. Dan Balser is the copywriter on this campaign. Why don't you come up and -- Jim Basirico is the art director. Was there a debate? We always debate everything, so -- (laughter) -- so -- everything. Jim and Dan will tell me I like this line or I don't like this line, and we'll knock it back and forth. We knock it around. Not very long, because we thought it had the first message of staying in school and, therefore you'll give yourself a chance. If someone's driving by on a -- outdoor at 50 miles an hour, we'd like them to get "stay in school" as the first message and then "therefore, giving yourself a chance." We think it works better that way.

Q: How did you find the kids?

DeGregorio: We looked at about 100 kids, in conjunction with the production company. That was Andrew Walton, the director. And from the 100, Jim and Dan culled it down, along with Cassie Diehm, who's the broadcast producer, and showed me 30 people, and we decided in my office who to go with.

And it was really, you know, difficult, because each of these kids have these enormous obstacles to overcome, and it was very, very difficult to decide on which one. If you look at an Ashley, with the odds going against her, it's amazing that that young girl is still in school.

Staff: It was difficult to decide. Unfortunately, it was really easy to find kids.

Q: Yeah.

Q: Where did you find them?

DeGregorio: In different parts of the country. All --

Q: (Chuckling.) I mean, did you have a casting call, or did you go through social services, or --

DeGregorio: We went to -- Dan actually did the casting, so do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Balser: Well, actually, the production company, Chelsea Pictures, the director's production company, had contacts in various cities, and they actually began interviewing and did a lot of the actual preliminary legwork for us. It wasn't a traditional casting, like we typically do in advertising, where people come and they hear about it. This was done through organizations that Chelsea Pictures -- and Andrew Walton did the legwork on finding a large enough number where we were -- had the privilege of and really the luxury of just culling it down from a relatively small number.

DeGregorio: We work with primarily actors and models in the advertising business. What makes this so compelling that -- 100 of these kids were real, and there is no way you can replicate their performances with actors or models. And that's what made it really difficult, because what you're hearing when they tell you these stories are real, tragic stories. So it's not like just casting aside some pretty face who's a model, go on to her next job; this is -- these are kids who need help.

Q: How will this ad campaign be focused toward Latino youth? And are there plans to do this in Spanish?

DeGregorio: Well, again, I could pass that over to -- would -- there will be another effort, and maybe I could send it over to Peggy.

Conlon: Yes, it's, as you know, very important, because the highest percentage, as a population, of kids that don't finish high school are Hispanic. And so the Army has made provisions for that. And we have an entirely separate campaign that is currently under development by a Hispanic agency in New York City, Conill. And so they are doing all of the same kind of research that Publicis did and -- to get to the specific problems and find messages that resonate best with --

Q: (Off mike.)

Conlon: I believe that's about three months behind this campaign. Yes.

Q: When will these spots begin airing?

Conlon: Well, we have actually had requests from some of the network people, cable and broadcast networks, and radio groups that were at the reception I alluded to yesterday, that -- we have promised to just individually messenger them over to them. These were just finished.

But I would say in about two or three weeks they will be in the hands of all of the media outlets that I mentioned to you. And our experience is that a few weeks after that the public service directors get them into rotation. So I'd say about a month from now you should be seeing -- .

Q: I would like to go back to the cost. How much did you say the campaign is going to cost over a three-year period?

Conlon: This campaign is in excess, because of the various target audiences and some, you know, things that we're doing -- a lot of research and so on -- in excess of a million dollars a year for three years. We have a three-year commitment.

Q: Is this just one -- a multiple-part campaign that you're going to be releasing ongoing --

Conlon: Yes. Publicis will go back probably nine months from now and begin the cycle all over again. We'll find out what learning came out of this and refresh the material. We'll have new material.

Q: Are we seeing a campaign similar to, like, the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, where there are going to be advertising agencies producing several messages throughout, you know, the upcoming years?

DeGregorio: Well, we will be the agency producing it. I am also involved in the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, and in that case the partnership draws on many, many agencies. It's actually 20 or 25 agencies that participate. But this will be a Publicis and Ad Council and U.S. Army effort.

Q: Do you know where the cost comes in? Because I know that Partnership for a Drug-Free America doesn't have the high cost attached to it. Or maybe it does some, you know --

Conlon: Their model is the same as ours. And they are reimbursing agencies for --

DeGregorio: Production is paid for.

Staff: Production is -- no, certain production costs have to be paid, of course.

DeGregorio: Of course.

Q: I guess my second question is, I think the campaign is great and you're correct, you know, the media is very powerful and can implement behavior modification through the media. My question, I guess, will be to Secretary Riley: Are there any plans in the works to support the campaign with mentoring programs or after-school programs that the Army and the local communities can participate in?

Caldera: Come on over, Dick. Let's both answer that question because -- and of course the department has a lot of programs that the secretary can talk about.

Yes. I mean, the Army is interested in doing more than just supporting the advertising campaign. And so we are looking at other ways in which we can be involved in helping parents, teachers, community groups implement local strategies in local communities and other ways of involving some of our soldiers and families. So it's a commitment to America's youth that goes beyond just sponsoring the advertising campaign. And we certainly will look for great partners, including the Department of Education and others, who are interested in also helping America's youth.

Riley: Well, I talked a lot about partnerships in my remarks. And that's very important. We do have a number of programs, of course, that deal with the issue of staying engaged in school. The most recent, a couple of years ago we started this Gear Up program, where colleges are connected up to poor middle schools. This is the age -- young people -- that these are reaching and are designed to reach. And this program combined with these other efforts I think will be very, very significant. We have a lot of reading programs, we have adult education programs, of course, and the important thing is to comment different directions and hit young people.

And while we're talking about staying in school, there's a real attention to that now and a lot of parents have really gotten into it. And while it might be a total of some 88 percent, for a child who drops out, it's a hundred percent.

Meyer: Any other questions?

Not on this subject, right, Pam?

Q: Yes. (Laughter.)

Meyer: Okay, thank you all very much. Appreciate it very much.

Riley: Thank you all very much.

Q: Thank you.

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