Promoting Education Benefits

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Informing Veterans About Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration wanted to promote the education benefits available to veterans through the Post 9/11 Veterans Assistance Act, but needed to reach the target audience quickly before the start of the upcoming spring semester. Sage Communications designed and implemented a cost-effective advertising campaign that targeted campuses where the highest numbers of veterans were enrolled.

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Situation:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration wanted to let veterans know about the education benefits available to them through the Post 9/11 GI Bill Veterans Assistance Act, but needed to reach them quickly before the start of the upcoming spring semester to ensure timely payment of benefits. Sage Communications designed and implemented a cost-effective advertising campaign that targeted campuses where the highest numbers of veterans were enrolled.

Objectives:

To increase awareness and understanding of the education benefits available to veterans through Post 9/11 GI Bill Veterans Assistance Act; and to promote applying for these benefits prior to the start of the spring semester through a cost-effective, time-sensitive advertising campaign aimed at veterans on college campuses.

Our Process:

Given the tight timeline, Sage immediately assigned an account director/project manager, a media director, art director, designers, and writers to the project and met with the client in their offices to review the vision, objectives and challenges for the campaign. We developed a Creative Brief to ensure a consistent message for the campaign, as well as a project timeline and action calendar that captured each deliverable with specific milestones and due dates.

Within three days of the kick-off meeting, Sage presented its first round of creative comps. With only minor edits, the print and online ads were approved, and the agency began developing scripts and identifying music and voice talent for the radio spots. With the client’s approval, Sage recorded the spots.

Because Sage knew the project was time-sensitive, the agency took a financial risk and actually researched possible media properties before the contract was awarded. As a result, Sage’s media planning team was able to present a first draft of the media plan for client review within a week of the initial meeting. Once the plan was approved, the media team negotiated the best rates and value-added services on behalf of the Veterans Benefits Administration.

Two weeks after the contract was awarded, Sage started an integrated campaign that included print media in college newspapers, posters on select college campuses, both search and display advertising online, digital PSAs to relevant blogs and websites, paid radio spots in targeted national markets, and PSA radio spots blanketing the country.

The online buy included search marketing on Yahoo and Google (through Google AdWords). Sage also purchased display ads on social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace, and worked with Burst Media, an online ad network, to serve display ads to college students on various websites, including gaming, blog, and shopping websites.

In addition, given the target audience demographics, Sage recommended including text messaging as a response mechanism in all of the advertising. By texting “GI Bill” to the appropriate number, Veterans were able to get information about their benefits sent directly to their mobile phones.

Results:

The purpose of the campaign was to inform on the actual steps (simple though they were) to apply for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  To that end, prior to the campaign VA’s call center reported anecdotally, that about 15 to 20% of their calls/inquires were related to "what are the steps" to get benefits.  By the end of the campaign, those dropped to near zero.

From its inception, Sage monitored the performance of its online campaigns and made adjustments to optimize response. As a result, the online search campaign was averaging a remarkable 5% click-thru rate within the first few weeks.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill campaign ran on Google for two months, averaging a .57% click thru rate (CTR). However, the portion of the campaign just on Google Search achieved a staggering 7.54% CTR. On Facebook, the campaign ran for a month and a half, delivering 101,715,834 targeted impressions at mere $0.16 cost per thousand (CPM). On Military.com, the campaign delivered more than 500,000 impressions and achieved a .18% CTR, which is well above industry standard.

Donna Shalala, President of the University of Miami, referenced the “You Served. Get Benefits.” campaign theme as part of her guest Blog posting on Voices.WashingtonPost.com, where she explained the educational benefits offered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

“We were really under pressure to make sure that Veterans knew exactly what they needed to do to take advantage of their Post 9/11 Veterans Assistance Act of 2008 education benefits,” said Nathan Naylor, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Sage understood our mission and rose to the challenge by getting our message out to the right target audience, quickly and professionally.”

The campaign is still running on VA's website more than a year later. There are plans to retire it eventually, but VA has reported that its usefulness far exceeded their expectations. 

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