Leadership

Convene Committee

  • Begin 14 months prior to reunion.
  • The reunion planning committee should be “owned” by those who have best contact with target population.
  • Representation on the reunion planning committee should include different ranks, geography, companies, sections, and MOSs.  Look to include organizations and similar with access to community opportunities (fundraising, resources).
  • Identify potential meeting places, ideally one that does not cost money. 
  • Consider using technology to enhance collaboration. Options may include a conference call number, Skype or other video conferencing tool, Google Drive, message board, group on a social media platform, or others.
  • Create a battle rhythm that is sustainable but sufficiently frequent to keep things moving.
  • Determine the Intent of the Event. Make early decisions on what the reunion will look like: formal, picnic, etc. This affects the ceremony at the event.
  • Assign specific roles, and encourage that member to solicit others to assist the members of the planning committee. 

Make Contact

  • Contact current Battalion Commander, SgtMaj and I&I, past and present, as they may be needed for command assistance.
  • Locate and engage members of Command from the time period or mission that the reunion covers.  This includes leadership, but also central “characters” who may be helpful in communication.
  • Make contact with Headquarters Marine Corps Marine and Family Programs at Quantico and provide them a single POC.
  • Reach out to ancillary organizations such as Marine For Life, the PHOP, the local VA, and key organizations to spread the word about you reunion, seek assistance, and network.
  • Engage a support agent/fundraising sponsor.Consider contacting one or more of the many Veteran Service Organizations and other charitable entities with standing offers to assist personal and events. Remember, services and support capabilities will vary, as do the pros and cons.

Engage Enablers

  • Organize specifics of fundraising with support agent/fundraising sponsor.  You will have to fundraise to support your reunion.
  • Plan for and invite your VIP guests. As an example, for the 1st Battalion 25th Marines reunion, this included Commanding General 4th Marine Division and Commanding Officer 25th Marines.  Your VIPs are “enablers” of your reunion.

Logistics

Make Initial Selections

  • Make tentative selections for your reunion location and venue.
    1. Consider centrality, each of access, and cost. Recognize that bigger cities may be easier to fly into for out of town attendees.
    2. Take into account the liability and risks associated with signing a contract.  Also, consider signing a non-binding Letter of Intent with the venue.  Remember reunions are not MWR, MCCS, or NAF authorized events.
  • Fundraising/covering the cost of the reunion.
    1. Engage the supporting agent/fundraising sponsor. Coordinate the specifics of the relationship with your supporting agent.
    2. Research and select your ticketing platform. Your supporting agent might be able to help you. Recent Marine Corps Reunion planners report that you do not want to manage this manually. 1st Battalion 25th Marines utilized their support agent, who created a ticketing site that did not charge a fee.
    3. Plan accordingly, as ticket sales will be a primary revenue generating source to support your reunion. 
  • Develop Reunion Swag Strategy
    1. It starts with a design.  Design should emphasize and brand to provide high-recall among target audience and frame the communication that it accompanies. It needs to be simple enough to leverage in multiple forms as well (electronic, print and apparel).
    2. Prior to using Marine Corps protected marks on marketing media or event swag coordination must occur with Marine Corps Trademark and Licensing Office (TMLO) for permission. 
    3. Swag is only partially about fundraising, and perhaps more importantly about awareness.  The return on investment is difficult to justify if for fundraising alone.  Ensure the planning committee is onboard with intent with swag, as it will guide on visibility versus profit. Include your swag strategy in the Communication Strategy. Encourage Marines to show off the swag items, and highlight the importance of committing to the reunion by purchasing tickets. 
  • Consider whether you will allow ticket purchases at the door on the day of your event and whether you will have swag available for purchase at the event.

Contract and Purchase

  • Contract with the venue. This step often has milestones you will have to meet. Schedule those into your plan, and ensure you allocate fundraising income to meet these milestones.
  • Order your reunion swag from the vendor or vendors you have chosen.
  • Consider how you want to sell your swag.   Some vendors have websites where attendees can make their purchases from (and you choose to use it-recommended). Recent Marine Corps reunion planners opted to use eBay linked from Facebook to sell their swag.

Execute

  • Continue fundraising and selling tickets to your reunion. Consider soliciting corporate sponsors but recognize that they may sometimes be difficult to secure.  If Active Duty, consider brushing up on the Joint Ethics Regulation as solicitation is not allowed. 
  • Continue to sell your reunion swag and fulfill those orders. Do not underestimate that effort required for fulfillment. 1st Battalion 25th Marines suggests thinking about volunteers outside of the committee to assist.  Someone with mailing experience will be valuable here.

Communication

Develop Communication Strategy

  • Design a Logo and a Theme.  Get this done early.  Consider including the year of the anniversary in the logo design, especially if it is a significant number, since it should be a reminder about the both the unit/battle and the specific event.  Don’t forget to check with TMLO.
  • Design a social media strategy.  What platform(s) will you use? Be realistic about the time it will take to effectively use those you select and select only those you believe will yield the greatest reach to your target audience.
    1. Have one person on committee coordinate the Facebook effort.
    2. Create a public Facebook group, and encourage “thought leaders” to join early, and frequently promote.  Share stories as they come up. Look to link to ECP 1A site, and similar cross-battalion sites, as well as existing sites, even private sites. 
    3. Use the reunions designed logo, and create a recognizable version to use on the profile.  Over time, Marines will come to recognize this logo on their timeline. This type of recall is important to 1) drive their participation and 2) encourage them to execute on ticket purchase.
    4. Link in to other private groups.  1st Battalion 25th Marines reunion planners chose to reach out to the 1st Battalion 25th Marines site, and also other Groups and Pages such as ECP 1 (a cross-battalion group), or sub-units like Weapons Platoon Charlie Company, 1st Battalion 25th Marines (it does exist, and it is strong!).
    5. Have your Facebook leader post regular, interesting posts. Include some funny posts, some in remembrance of fallen brothers, and some as sales. Maintain a steady rhythm of communication. Work with “thought leaders” and ask they share the Group and use the Group to solicit participation.
    6. Don’t forget to publicize sales opportunities! Post links frequently for Electronic Ticket site. Post links on a regular basis for various swag, and have “thought leaders” wearing/using the same as a promotion opportunity.
    7. Design “viral” campaigns, such as clever videos, to gain attention. Post some of the great videos and photos of the event.  Remember to hit all Companies, sections, AOs and the like. Include junior Marines, NCOs, Officers, and others.
  • Launch an email campaign (via bcc to maintain the privacy of your target population).
  • Designate a committee member to be the Gold Star contact in order to assemble family lists and serve as a point of contact for your gold star families.
  • Develop snail mail strategy (post cards)
    1. AARs of prior reunions reveal moderate success with snail mail. Many postcards came back undelivered due to outdated or inaccurate addresses. 
    2. You can print four post cards per page, using “card stock” paper, then cut them using a paper cutter.  Print these 2-sided on a color printer.  Most computers come with installed software that supports this capability, and there are several online free programs available. Many corporate printers can print two-sided color on card stock.  These are expensive, so reduce mailing list as much as possible.
    3. The IRR Recall Roster from Marine and Reserve Affairs can be used here.  You may need to do this with a member of the current command, as this list cannot be distributed (but can be used to print labels).  Note, this is only to be used if the Reunion is an officially command sponsored event.
  • Swag Strategy
    1. What swag will you make available? T-shirts? Patches? Coins?
    2. Purchase. How will your target population purchase swag?
    3. Fulfillment. Don’t underestimate the burden of fulfilling orders.  This takes time and effort.  Reach outside of the committee for help on this.

Implement Communication Strategy

  • Execute your social media campaign(s). Be aggressive about it.
    1. Encourage fundraising efforts.
    2. Encourage commitment to the event by buying tickets early.
  • Launch email campaign. Use historic chains of command (Company Commanders, Company 1stSgts, section leaders, etc.). Follow up on the above campaigns.  These require regular vigorous attention to succeed.
    1. Encourage fundraising efforts.
    2. Encourage commitment to the event by buying tickets early.
  • Launch snail mail campaign. After a couple of months of ticket sales, execute a snail-mail campaign of postcards to the IRR recall roster.  This is expensive, so you will want to reduce the mailing, excluding those you know you have contacted, or who have already purchased tickets.
    1. Encourage fundraising efforts.
    2. Encourage commitment to the event by buying tickets early.

Sustainment

  • As time progresses, use the announcement of “special guests” and the Guest of Honor as further solicitations for ticket sales and donors. 
  • Continue to encourage fundraising efforts.
  • Continue to encourage commitment to the event by buying tickets.

Ceremony

Design Ceremony

  • Know what the priority of the event is.  If connection is important, consider limiting the formality, or accommodate a post-ceremony rally process.
  • Have pictures of deployment around venue. Consider AV solutions such as computers with slide shows, etc.
  • Have memorials for our fallen brothers, and leave space around them.  Group by Company, as these will be important rally points.
  • Have  behavioral health professionals  at reunion,  at designated locations and also in crowd.

Sustainment

  • Coordinate with local I&I for COMREL support of the event.  Recommend discussion with I&I SgtMaj for input on ceremony.
  • Contact agencies who can set up tables in the lobby, or if a picnic, in tents at the picnic.
  • Battalions and Regiments may be able to support outdoor events with tentage.

Follow Up

  • Have a place where attendees can enter their emails and contact information.  This opt-in can be saved by the committee and used in the future.  Keep this contact information separate from work, as to not inadvertently create government records and trigger Privacy Act requirements.
  • If you use an online ticketing process, save the emails and mailing addresses from that effort for future contact.
  • Schedule your next “Annual Anniversary Reunion Event,” and publish during the Reunion.

Thank you to the planners of the 1st Battalion 25th Marines Reunion in 2016 for their significant contributions to the content of this article.