Dan Powers/Appleton Post-Crescent via USA TODAY Sports

AMVETS clears up questions about their media tactics

#PleaseStand ad riles up Twitter

January 24, 2018 - 10:32 am

American Veterans (AMVETS) came under fire after screen shots depicting their media strategy for their #PleaseStand ad, surfaced on Twitter, Tuesday afternoon. AMVETS proposed an ad to the NFL asking players to stand for the National Anthem for the Super Bowl. The ad was rejected by the NFL.

One twitter user named “The Warax,” known for his tweets on veterans’ issues and national security, posted screenshots of comments made on Facebook by AMVETS National Communications Director John Hoellwarth.

In the Facebook conversation, Hoellwarth posed questions to to other public affairs personnell trying to bring the story to the news media, specifically Fox News.

ConnectingVets reached out to Hoellwarth who confirmed that he did in fact make the comments.

The conversation occured in closed Facebook group called “Public Affairs,” for military public affairs professionals or those who used to be, like himself, Hoellwarth said.

“I posted there initially in the morning because I had asked some of my colleagues--and I address them as colleagues—I had asked some of my colleagues to--if they had any better contact information for Fox News in particular. I lacked that contact information,” he said.

“So I was asking my colleagues to help me out.”

One comment by Hoellwarth that was screen shot said: “I’m about to own a big chunk of the news cycle this week, with/without a government shutdown taking a bunch of air out of the room.”

A commenter replied: “Why not just disseminate the information as widely as possible? What’s the agenda with having Fox break it? What’s the value there?”

Hoellwarth replied: “I’m going to release it everywhere. But—and just bear with me for a few hours until I can tell you  all what this is about—I expect Fox News in particular is going to eat it up. It’s right in their wheelhouse. It’ll get play in a lot of places, and I’m going to actively engage everyone I can, but for Fox News specifically, It’s got a flippin’ bow on it.”

When asked what he meant by the story being in Fox News’ “wheelhouse,” Hoellwarth said that “Fox News had just that morning done a segment in their morning show about the NFL and about protests.”

“And they have covered it extensively for a bit, so Fox News as a network has already shown a lot of interest in the topic at hand,” he said. “And I anticipated that they might be interested in what I was about to release. But, what I lacked is good contact information to get a hold of them.”

Hoellwarth also confirmed that the NFL had offered AMVETS a chance to change the wording on the ad.

“They wanted to change it from ‘Please Stand’ to ‘Please Stand with Our Veterans,’” he said. “And while that seems like a minor change, it actually totally changes our message. It turns it from one we meant literally, please literally stand, to one that could and probably would be taken figuratively,” he said.

“’Please Stand with Our Veterans’ says please generally support them. That’s not the message that we’re trying to portray,” he added. “So, it represented a significant change in our message. We weren’t willing to change our message for the NFL.”

When asked what the message AMVETS was trying to get across with the campaign, Hoellwarth said, “American Veterans prefers that people stand for the national anthem. But it doesn’t demand that they do, and it doesn’t vilify them or judge them if they don’t. We recognized and respect the fact that this is an individual choice and it’s a right. We just want to ask them to choose to stand.”

After asking if he felt that the NFL rejecting their ad prevented them from having the chance to ask the audience to stand, Hoellwarth said “yes and no.”

“It prevented us from having the opportunity to ask the Super Bowl audience. But this is an ad that was already accepted and will be run by the NHL and the NBA. So it’s really just the NFL saying that this is an unacceptable thing to communicate.”

When asked why this ad campaign is important to the organization and its members, he said “This campaign directly supports our Americanism program, which we’ve had for many, many years across the country. And our Americanism program is geared toward spreading patriotism, respect for the flag, and service to your country. These are ideals and values that we believe in.”

“And we think that standing for the flag is consistent with those ideals. So, that’s what we’re really doing here is showing our values but doing it in a respectful way, not a pushy way, and being true to what our organization believes in,” Hoellwarth said.

When asked if AMVETS was surprised that the campaign as it was originally written was rejected, he said “We were very surprised.”

“Because the NFL has not really wanted to take a position on some of these things that are going on and we understand that,” Hoellwarth said. “The NFL wants to respect the rights of its people to make their choices and exercise their rights and they don’t want to take a position.”

“But we think that the act of not taking a position is to let us say ‘Please Stand.’ We think that kind of the NFL took a position by not allowing us to make that simple request.”

Other than the Americanism program, AMVETS has several other programs including volunteers in VA medical centers, fighting veteran homelessness, and veteran job placement, according to Hoellwarth.

“We’re engaged daily in a number of programs to directly help veterans. Americanism is just one of them. We think it’s important for the future,” he said.

When asked why the Americanism program was picked over the other programs to be put in the campaign for the NFL Super Bowl program, Hoellwarth said that “it just made sense.”

“We were offered an opportunity to advertise to sports fans in a sports venue. And it was an opportunity to demonstrate the values that our Americanism program represents by politely asking please that people stand for the national anthem.”

Hoellwarth said that what he saw on Facebook by Monday night was “a lot of vitriol there.”

“I wanted to talk a bit more to that group about what I was doing from a professional stand point because it’s supposed to be a professional group of colleagues—I address them as colleagues—but it really didn’t turn out to be like that,” he said.

“The group turned out to be much less professional than I would have liked,” he added.

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