Guard partnership with Mixed Martial Arts League pays dividends

Bill Phelan

ST. CHARLES, Mo. - If there is a match made in marketing heaven Master Sgt. Bradley Kohler believes it may be the Missouri National Guard's partnership with the Lake St. Louis-based Mixed Martial Arts Sports League.

Kohler, the St. Louis area's National Guard recruiter in-charge, says Guard sponsorship of league events is a great example of national marketing funds being spent at the local level. That sponsorship was highly evident at the Fight-Me MMA event Friday at the St. Charles Family Arena, where National Guard branding was everywhere, right down to the shorts of some of the competitors.

MMA bouts have become all-out National Guard marketing efforts with games for spectators and tons of free give-a-ways ranging from t-shirts to coffee mugs. National Guard vehicles are displayed in front of the arena and National Guard recruiters are on hand to accept "lead cards" filled out by recruiting prospects.

"Events like this put the National Guard in the spotlight," Kohler said. "This isn't a television commercial or a race car going down the track. This allows the folks to actually talk to a soldier in a relaxed atmosphere and it allows us to ask face-to-face if they want to be contacted by a recruiter."

Kohler points out that only 1-percent of the American population serves in the military and that competition for recruits requires unique approaches to recruiting and marketing.

Following a Fight-Me MMA event in January, the Missouri National Guard received enlistment commitments from six spectators. Those kinds of results do not go unnoticed by marketing personnel from other National Guards or from the National Guard Bureau, the Guard's governing body. At Friday night's event Guard recruiters and marketing specialists from six states and the Guard Bureau were in the audience.

And while Kohler was happy to show off the Missouri Guard's aggressive marketing efforts, he cringes at the idea of a Guard recruiter being too aggressive.

"We know military service isn't for everyone," Kohler said. "Some branches of the service are a little too aggressive in their recruiting efforts. I require honesty and trust from each of my recruiters. That means building a relationship, not just with the recruit, but with their parents and their Family."

Kohler believes Guard sponsorship of MMA events can also solidify relationships with community leaders he calls "centers of influence." For that reason, the Guard played host Friday to police officers, government officials, coaches, business leaders and school administrators.

"To me a center of influence is anyone who can help solidify the relationship between my recruiters and the public at large," Kohler explained. "This is all about building a relationship of trust - a relationship with people who know you and will support you. I am hoping to build a level of trust to where these centers of influence will be able to say, 'Okay, that's sergeant so and so and he's someone you can trust.'"

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