Every new Peace Corps administration tries to reinvent the agency with a new tag line. Remember, the ’70s line that went “Not Your Father’s Peace Corps?” And most recently the Peace Corps is saying: “Life is Calling? How far will you go?”
In the first years of the agency there were no need for a selling line for the Peace Corps, but there was certainly a need to tell people what the agency was. Warren Wiggins, in an interview I did with him in January 1997, credits Bill Moyers for getting the word out to the world. Moyers had come to the agency as the Associate Director for Public Affairs early in 1961.
“His (Moyers) role in the creation of the public service advertising campaign for the Peace Corps created a nationwide citizen constituency,” Wiggins told me. “These achievements were of unparalleled importance. Moyers got Young and Rubican to create ads. Moyers interpreted the Peace Corps to them. And those ads meant that all Americans read or heard on the radio or saw on television three or four good sentences about the Peace Corps. The sentences were that Volunteers worked hard, spoke the language, weren’t paid very much, and represented America overseas.”
Wiggins went onto say, “We didn’t know it at the time. We thought the ads might help recruitment. We knew we needed public relations, but we never anticipated the ads would produce a fundamental sea change in building the acceptance of the agency in the minds of Americans. This was critical for the Peace Corps.”
In her book on the early days of the agency All You Need Is Love,Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman quotes Wiggins as saying that 50% of all Americans could correctly answer the question, What is the Peace Corps?”
The Peace Corps still didn’t have a tag line. And by 1964, ads were beginning to reflext a more accurate picture of what the Peace Corps experience really was: Do you recall the ad with the stark photograph of single inch on a rule, and the message: “This is how the Peace Corps measures change.”?
By the end of the ’60s, the war in Vietnam was changing the way people thought of the Peace Corps. Young & Rubican developed a new series of ads, one focusing on the Third Goal.
You might recall…a young white woman holding an infant Nigerian in a maternal embrace, and ran alongside it her statement, which ended: “I never seriously thought I would change the world. Does anyone believe it any more? Then I came back. And I’m a teacher. And I’ve been seeing this guy, Ronnie. He’s a teachers. We teach at P.S. 201. It’s in Harlem.”
I wonder where she is now? And did she marry Ronnie?
By the Carter years (after Nixon and his gang tried to deep-sink the agency) the Peace Corps needed a fresh paint job. Joe Blatchford had successfully hidden the agency under ACTION. Again Fat Boy Pat Buchanan (Nixon’s yes man) had spend most of his career trying to get rid of the agency, and now the Republicans were burying the agency in the catch-all bureaucratic nomenclature, ACTION. Buchanan would advice Nixon on how to get rid of the Peace Corps and Vista. “I would not counsel….drastic action….the Kennedyites would create a real storm.” Senator Dole told him to get hold of some “Peace Corps blunders” and then “…turn them over to our Republicans on the Hill to investigate.”
But we know what happened to Nixon and Fat Pat, and for that matter, Dole.
Then in November 1977 Carolyn Payton was appointed the Peace Corps Director. An African-American, she was the first woman to hold the post. The Peace Corps was still under the ACTION banner, and it would be two years, in 1979, when Richard Celeste was confirmed as the Director that President Carter issued the Executive Order granting special independent status to the Peace Corps, but still within ACTION.
However, it was when Payton was Director that the Peace Corps came up with its most famous selling line, “The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love.” Her administration asked a PR firm in New York (and at the moment I can’t recall the name of the firm, sorry) and they coined (no punt intended) the phrase. I remember at Howard University, at the 20th Anniversary celebration of the agency, some woman got up and declared that it was her husband (who was working for the Peace Corps) who came up with the famous line. Sorry…Not!
In the mid-nineties when I returned to work at the agency, and Carol Bellamy had taken over as the first PCV Director, there were a series of focus groups held about the agency and what came back from these groups was the positive identification of the phrase, “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”
It is a tag line that has weathered many administrations, though still people say, “Is there still a Peace Corps?”
However, the other day my good friend Dennis Grubb, who was the very first Peace Corps Trainee to report to training for Colombia I at Rutgers University in New Jersey, (but not the first Peace Corps Volunteers to arrive in country, those were Ghana I) but clearly Grubb, for having arrived in New Brunswick–he drove down from Connecticut on the 24th of June 1961– must now be known as the “oldest living former Volunteer” was telling me that there is a new tag line for the agency: ‘The Peace Corps Since 1961’ and that The Peace Corps since 1961 may soon be part of all Peace Corps PSA ads. Not that there are many!
The tag line is already on the agency’s business cards and in print publications.
How ’bout saying, The Toughest Job You’ll Ever Love It’s still true.