This post is part of a series that already includes conversations with:
Chris Norton: Veterans are social and connected
Lance Sapera: The service is a long version of University
Caleb Fullhart: An army recruiter changed my life forever
Arron Daniels: I Can Knock It Out of the Park!
Brenda Bell: Veterans will help your company succeed
Max Dubroff: Ten recommendations to veterans.
Fred Wellman is the founder-CEO of ScoutComms, a social enterprise communications, advocacy and philanthropic strategy firm supporting veterans, military families and organizations committed to their well-being.
How did you get into the military? What did you do and for how long?
I “rebelled” as a teenager and instead of going to the University of Missouri like the rest of my family I got crazy and went to the United States Military Academy at West Point. I graduated in 1987 and was commissioned as an Aviation officer and eventually found myself as a Scout helicopter pilot in various units around the world and in Operation Desert Storm. I served 13 years before leaving the Regular Army for the Reserves only to be mobilized on 9/11 and return again to the active force. I deployed with the 101st Airborne Division for opening year of Operation Iraqi Freedom and while in Iraq found myself supporting the local population and eventually in the news. The division commander was then Major General David Petraeus and he decided to make me the division public affairs officer when we returned. I later served as his spokesman in Iraq as well as then Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey who is now the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I attended grad school at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and was assigned to the Pentagon. After my third Iraq tour in 2008 I decided to retire after 22 total years of service.
If you don’t find a job, create one! Right?
Yes! After leaving the military, I joined a small firm but soon found out that it wasn’t a good fit. Then I interviewed for jobs, but no one was hiring me in November of 2010; so I struck out on my own. I saw there was a niche for someone who understood the military, defense and veterans’ worlds at larger PR firms. So, I started my own firm essentially as a professional sub-contractor to larger PR firms. Gradually we just grew on our own merits and kept picking up unique opportunities and partners. Our big break came when The Home Depot Foundation decided to focus on veterans housing issues and brought us on to their team for the launch and program three years ago and since then more and more of our work has focused exclusively on veteran’s issues. For the last year or so, a significant part of our work has focused on veteran family issues, on military caregivers for our wounded and disabled veterans, and on supporting the Get Skills to Work program bringing veterans to work in the advanced manufacturing industry. We also got involved in supporting the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, which does a lot of the thinking on these issues and focuses on entrepreneurship and job training. So really, that’s our thing.
ScoutComms, my company, which is based in Virginia, has now been around for three years and at the beginning of this year we turned it into a social enterprise ‘Benefit Corporation’. So we now have a structure as a benefit corporation with social mission focused on veterans and military families.
We’re really a weird little company. It’s foundation are communications-based initiatives; advocacy, being experts in our field; helping craft philanthropic strategies and reach veterans and military families. It’s just sort of a unique niche, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. A lot of people first hire us as PR, but also look to us as a military expert, if you will, even though I hate that term – “expert.” Then, when we grew, since all we did was veterans and military families, we thought we would go out and meet non-profits for them, we’d vet them for the client, we would look for opportunities for them to apply their mission to new ways, sniffing out fakes or poorly run non-profits. I think we’ve done it all, as far as being people who understand the veteran’s space and help our clients navigate this unusual sector.
As a PR firm, what do you exactly do?
We are specialists in focusing on the military and veteran’s media and target audiences. Take The Home Depot for example. On the corporate side we’ve quite a bit and won awards for our work with them. Our biggest project was the Mission: Transition campaign last year. We partnered with the MSLGroup on that one and we were brought in by The Home Depot to serve as the military focused extension to the campaign. We handled the military focused media, government media, and outreach to the military transition programs to reach potential attendees. We did a lot of outreach to the Army, for example the Army’s Soldier for Life campaign and the Army’s community relations program to get as many soldiers as possible to attend the workshops with postings in every Army transition office around the world. We also leveraged our extensive relationships with the veteran’s service organizations and non-profits to get the word to their members and reach more of the veteran population. In the end every workshop at over 100 locations were filled and the campaign won several awards including two Silver Anvils from PRSA.
Tell me more about the Get Skills to Work program
We have been very fortunate to be part of supporting GE’s leadership of the Get Skills to Work program. Just over a year and a half ago, GE recognized they faced a skills gap of employees in the manufacturing industry. To address it they decided to focus on bringing veterans into the industry, but they wanted to go beyond just a hiring program – they had that already. So they partnered with the Manufacturing Institute, which is a part of the National Manufacturing Association here in Washington and several other companies and non-profits. Now they’ve built a coalition of now over five hundred companies, ranging in size from twelve-man operations here in Fredericksburg, VA to GE, Alcoa, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, the founding partners. And they’ve also built a coalition of over fifty schools, where veterans can go Get Skills to Work training, at community colleges and technical schools, to get advanced manufacturing certifications and qualifications. We’re talking CNC Machine Operator, Machinist, Welder, Logistics Analyst’s there’s some eleven specific career fields, and then these guy and girls find jobs in the manufacturing industry. The program is growing every day and is really just getting its legs and making a difference in the community.
What are your top recommendations to organizations?
I apply the “kitchen sink” approach to working with the veterans and military family communities. In other words the challenges for these communities is that they don’t have just one solution so we need to throw everything and the kitchen sink to solve the problems. I tell organizations to look for areas that aren’t being addressed. For example, while young veteran unemployment is finally coming down to manageable levels we continue to see our military spouses struggle to find work and it impacts the military community. I believe organizations should seek opportunities for impact giving instead of throwing out “cardboard checks” where possible. In other words, find quality non-profits that are making a difference in the communities and ensure your money is making as big an impact as possible. I believe giving should align with a companies core principals and priorities. If your company is oriented on the health and wellness of its employees then seek out organizations like Team Red, White & Blue which use physical fitness activities to bring veterans and their communities together. Don’t believe the hype about veteran’s challenges fitting in companies and especially all of us having PTSD or other problems. The overwhelming majority of veterans in poll after poll are well adjusted and better for their service. There are clearly those in our community struggling but don’t assume all veterans are in that place.