Monday, 9 June 2008

Practical advice wanted

Recruiting clients for Conductive Education

I have received a letter from two very dear people whom I have known for some years and whose heart and hard work I respect enormously They are arranging a summer school and have hit a glitch. You can tell from their terminology that they work in the United Kingdom.
Here is some of what I wrote in reply.

Hi and help please,

How are you? We are really good, although we are writing this email with a plea for help. As you know we are planning to run a summer camp this summer and everything is in place to run a fun and successful camp for children, except we have no children!!!

We have contacted all of the major special schools in town and in the surrounding areas, we have printed brochures and have met with the staff of all of the schools. Overall we felt that the response was positive – except we received a voice mail from the principal of the major school in the area, which basically said that she would not be handing out our brochures. We have sent an email requesting further information but our concern is that other schools may be doing the same and just not telling us.

We have also made contacts with social services and are waiting for a reply. We know that the cost was off-putting to many, but we also know that parents will try anything once and, if we can get the clients initially, we can prove what a good service CE is. There are other names we have been given but we know for a fact that they have a bad attitude to CE. We initially felt we should hold off until we could demonstrate the benefits if the program. It's one thing to explain what we do and another for people to see for themselves.

At the moment we are trying to think outside the box, looking up support groups etc., but they are few and far between, I'm afraid, and all appear to be websites. We did think of holding an open evening where people can come and meet us and hear more about CE but we can't seem to get hold of the parents. Professionals are basically blocking us.

Do you have any suggestions? Are we missing a key source of advertising? Any advice you could offer us would be great.

This is the general gist of what I replied:

Join the club! You have hit the perennial problem of many Conductive Education services in the UK (and in a lot of other places too, I guess). It was with me from the time that I started, it still dogs people and there is no simple answer to the problem. It's going to be a long, hard slog but here are some principles to guide you.

1. You are wasting your time going through public bodies. One background reason is that the public bodies and the professionals who work in them, be they health, education or social, are at best completely indifferent to the voluntary sector... and at worse actively hostile. This is nothing to do with Conductive Education, it's widespread and goes back as far as I do professionally (40+ years). They simply don't include them in their consideration and they don't pass on information. But there's an additional factor, particularly when it comes to Conductive Education. It's that they regard CE as the opposition, in competition for scarce and diminishing funds. They are not going to share their customers with you.

2. So ignore them. Do something that they cannot do (and will therefore dislike you for all the more when you do it). Go over their heads, go round them, use other channels to get to the punters.

3. Above all, you will have to learn to use the media. That's the local newspapers (both big regional ones and all those diddie ones in every little town). Make a list, get all the editorial emails and start by sending a press release. Then send another. And another. Make a similar list of emails for every radio and local TV station in the region and pester them with the same press releases. Be prepared to do interviews for press and broadcasting. Not just you, anyone associated with you.

4. You are interesting in yourselves, but the thing that really sells stories to the media, and sells the services to parents, is other parents. Identify some parents ready to say the good word about Conductive Education. Don’t worry about what they'll say, my experience is that they always come up trumps in this situation..

5. You have to realise that PR is an essential survival mechanism for conductive services. No PR, no survival. Don't waste your time 'advertising'. It costs money and who believes 'adverts' anyway? Get the media to report you. They are always looking for local interest stories. Kids + mums = human interest.

6. Nothing attracts attention like a good row. In your circumstances I would tell the local media about the local principal who refused to hand out your brochures and who, I am sure, would love to give an informed opinion on Conductive Education to the local media. ‘School principle denies disabled children holiday scheme’: great front-page local journalism.

You're two lovely people and probably think me a cynical old wreck

After I’d sent this letter, which is no more than the sort of advice that I’ve discussed with people in similar circumstances for years, I suddenly remembered that this in the twenty-first century, and banged off another quick note. Again, here is the gist:

And another thing... something you can get this up and running by tea-time today: get yourselves a blog.

No ifs and maybes. Get started and begin putting out what you are doing straight away. Include your triumphs and the problems (such as the present one over recruitment). At first hardly anyone will see it but you have to have something up there for parents and reporters to be referred to and, if it's interesting, to watch out for.

It costs nothing and even I can do it. Let me recommend Blogger to you:
www.blogger.com

Sign on and in a in a few minutes you will have a blog site. Think of a catchy title then it’s up to you what and how you write (the email that you sent to me is as good a starting point as any: just build on it from there as things emerge). Be as subjective and 'you' as you like. See
www.konduktorin.blogspot.com for an excellent example of a conductor writing a blog. See http://studentconductor.blogspot.com/ for something much different and more basic – but still her.

You wanted my advice. It's basically simple: GET OUT THERE AND PUT YOURSELF AROUND. And as far as a blog is concerned, you can start this afternoon.

All very easy for me to say. Is it right though? Can you advise these good folk on getting through to families who might benefit from access to Conductive Education?

3 comments:

  1. Andrew, I'd advise your friends to go for Point 6 and the Blog afterthought. (Can't better your advice).

    Point 6 needn't be a "row" - just a very strong story, as with this Head. Have they saved the voicemail? And I would name the Head.

    As for the Blog. In addition to my Paces blog, I have, since last summer, maintained an occasional blog about our daughter's treatment at the hands of a home care provider. I have no doubt that the blog has had a significant positive influence on events. I made sure that all relevant parties were aware I was posting our story on the internet. (http://www.typepad.com/t/app/weblog/manage?blog_id=1441826)

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  2. Andrew, the balm of Gilead, these words. I've somewhat forgotten myself. I'm sending my press release to four local papers tonight.

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  3. James, do let us have a sight of your press relese. Good luck.

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