By Rob Whittle

I am not going to try to paint a picture of advertising that is all fun, games and glamor. Our business has its fair share of drudgery. But every now and then—maybe once in a career—an opportunity presents itself that is at least career changing, maybe life-changing. Such was the case when the USO came calling at Williams Whittle.

They were under new management and the new folks were brutally honest about the perceptions of their brand. They were the “entertain the troops” folks, and the “Bob Hope organization” if they were remembered at all. When, in fact, entertaining the troops was only a small portion of their mission. Their own man-on-the-street interviews had a memorable outtake that summarized their plight. When asked if he knew about the USO, this guy responded, “I don’t believe in them things, but Ethel my wife swears she saw one the other night.”

So, together, we set about the task of reshaping the brand of the USO. We conducted benchmark research on awareness and favorability; we refreshed the logo and created a new tagline (“Until Every One Comes Home”), and created a strategy to get the word out. New collateral, new website, new elevator speeches…new everything.

Once we had the trappings of the brand in the right place, it was time to let the public in on the new and improved USO. We chose a PSA strategy that, over time, broke every PSA record for airings over a ten-year span, even eclipsing Smokey Bear! The secret to the PSA success was found in interviewing the TV station gatekeepers as to what they wanted. They pointed out that they received upwards of forty PSA tapes per week, but only had inventory for a few placements. They further told us that they looked for three traits in a PSA campaign: worthy cause (OK, everybody has that); excellent creative (it’s their air—they want to be proud of what’s on it); a local angle—is it relevant to my DMA? How to get to the front of the line? In addition to messaging directed at the public, we realized we needed a BtoB campaign directed at the gatekeepers at the networks and in the top TV markets around the country.

One memorable part of this BtoB campaign was creating our own national holiday—the Patriotic 6—which are the six weeks between Memorial Day and the 4th of July when Americans’ thoughts turn to matters patriotic. The appeal to the gatekeepers was, “if you’re only going to run our spots one time in a year, the Patriotic 6 is the time to do it”. We saw huge increases in airings during those six weeks.

By the end of our run, we had $150 million in airings in a single year, a record amount. A fun factoid: The New York Times crossword had a clue, “the Until Every One Comes Home” organization—three-letter answer. This without spending a nickel on paid media.

I’m also proud of the creative. Here is Aftermath:


and Good to be Back when we were focused on helping troops who have returned from conflict.


Our experience with the USO is the single biggest factor in reshaping our agency into one that exclusively focuses on nonprofits. And it’s a pretty good example of doing well by doing good.

For more on “Ideas that Generate Change for Nonprofits”, visit our website:

Williams Whittle is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

One Response

  1. John Anderson

    We at Black Watch Productions are proud to have been a part of every one of those great PSAs, working with Rich Park and the wonderful Williams Whittle team for all those years!


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