Cover: Going to the Mines to Look for Diamonds

Going to the Mines to Look for Diamonds

Experimenting with Military Recruiting Stations in Malls

Published 2003

by Ronald D. Fricker, C. Christine Fair


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In 1999, the Department of Defense (DoD) decided to develop a new type of military recruiting station. Called a marketing-enhanced recruiting station, or MERS, the station contained television and video monitors for playing U.S. armed forces’ advertisements, a computer kiosk enabling access to military web sites, and other "hi-tech" features. The MERS was designed to present an inviting image of the military to youth and those adults who influence them. The intention was to entice the youth and adults to enter the facility, to expose them to the positive aspects of military service, and to facilitate their exploration of the available opportunities. Hence, the new recruiting station was supposed to support actual recruiting operations while also promoting a positive image of the military and raising awareness of the employment and career opportunities in the U.S. military.

The DoD asked RAND to evaluate the performance of the Potomac Mills prototype MERS in northern Virginia. This report summarizes the results of that effort. It includes (1) statistical information about the performance of the Potomac Mills station; (2) information about how the services used the station, including employment of civilian administrators; (3) conclusions about the potential of the MERS concept in general, as well as ways in which this particular station might be improved; and (4) recommendations about how the services and the Office of the Secretary of Defense might utilize this prototype station to experiment with and learn about the effectiveness of various recruiting practices and techniques. Case studies also are presented of recruiting stations located in malls around the United States.

A main conclusion of RAND’s analysis is that the MERS concept, appropriately implemented, has the potential to be a cost-effective alternative to both certain types of advertising and the standard production recruiting facility — when the station’s potential recruiting and advertising benefits are fully exploited. Furthermore, by reducing construction costs and by mitigating operating costs, the DoD can implement follow-on marketing-enhanced stations for significantly less cost than that of Potomac Mills. A fundamental recommendation of this study is that the Potomac Mills MERS be converted from operation as a standard production recruiting station into an experimental facility for learning how to market and recruit today’s youth in a commercial environment.

This research should be of interest to numerous DoD organizations, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense; the services’ recruiting commands and commanders; the various committees and joint councils that oversee, coordinate, and manage military recruiting (including the Joint Recruiting Facilities Committee, the Midlevel Interservice Recruitment Committee, the Accession Oversight Council, and the Joint Accession Group); and individual recruiters and researchers interested in recruiting issues and initiatives.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in RAND's National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center supported by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the unified commands, and the defense agencies.

This report is part of the RAND monograph report series. The monograph/report was a product of RAND from 1993 to 2003. RAND monograph/reports presented major research findings that addressed the challenges facing the public and private sectors. They included executive summaries, technical documentation, and synthesis pieces.

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