Tuesday, July 5, 2016

If you build it, they will come. Won’t they?

I’ve had a lot of conversations lately with many different people about the Native Programs, and other various programs in the Order of the Arrow and within our Lodge and Section.  For years, I have witnessed the belief or philosophy ‘if it’s on the calendar, that’s enough notice’. 

The problem is, it isn’t enough.  Just because you know it is an event you should attend, doesn’t mean the rest of the lodge does.  Just because you’ve been going to said event for 15+ years doesn’t mean the event is known to new members.  And Just because you mentioned said event in a new member orientation at 9pm doesn’t mean those same new members will have any recollection of those announcements.

So, how to we rectify this issue?

A very wise man - my mentor, one of my Chapter Advisors, a Lodge Advisor, a former Lodge Chief, and all-around good guy – once told me the following magical phrase while I was trying to drum up attendance for the 1988 NOAC trip to Powell, WY:

                "Advertise, Advertise, Advertise"

Wait.  That’s it?  Advertise, advertise, advertise?  You may think that isn’t so magical.  But, I’m here to tell you, it is. 

But, why?  Well, no one in Scouting advertises anymore.  We apparently believe that ‘if you build it, they will come’.  This goes from pinewood derby relays to Jamborees.  The advertising is word-of-mouth, at best.  There may be websites where information can be obtained about those larger events.  But, who is talking about them?  Who is driving recruiting and attendance?  Who – or what - is driving desire for the event?  And how are they learning more and helping drive interest in that event or program?

I recently started working for an advertising company.  In the year I have been here I have learned one vital thing – if you don’t advertise your product no one will know about it.  Or, at the very least, your brand will fall out of public knowledge in a short time.  Of course, I don’t mean that scout events need Highway Billboards, national ad campaigns, and social media sweeps.  But, if you want people to come to your event, why aren’t you advertising?

It’s simple.  Flyers, tri-fold boards, announcements at every meal at Lodge events, announcements at every lodge Executive meeting, Facebook posts, and updates to the lodge website will help immensely! 

But, the even simpler – and probably better – option is to just reach out your hand, introduce yourself, and invite someone personally to the event.  A personal touch will go a LONG way to encouraging someone to attend.

I leaned something else once – if there aren’t people getting sick of hearing from you about this event, you aren’t reaching enough people.  Let me rephrase that: if you are not aggravating at least someone with your advertising, you are not getting the word out enough.  Think of the advertising on late-night television – Billy Mays Hayes, Sham-wow, Oxy-clean.  At first there is some notoriety about those products, and then after a time, there is a bit of annoyance at seeing the ads.  That’s because the advertiser wants to make sure their product is visible by as many people as possible.  There is a car dealership in my locale whose ads my children despise, because the owner is on the TV almost constantly.  But, he is driving business.  He is getting his name and brand in front of thousands of customers a day, and they are going to him to purchase vehicles.  Aggravated or not, he is getting people to his location to buy his products. 

Another advantage to getting the word out often and continuously?  After a while, those same people who have heard your spiel a dozen times can begin advertising for you – reciting the spiel by memory.

Now, here’s the real secret.  This is hush-hush, so keep it to yourself.  Then, you ask that person to help you will a small task at that event.  I mean s-m-All, small.  Ask them if they would help judge a dance contest – no experience necessary.  Ask them to help ensure water gets to the ceremony sites (notice I didn’t say they had to take the water, just ensure it was delivered – oversight).  Ask them to help a boy lead by just being his backup for the day, whether as an elangomat, or as a registration advisor – the boy can do the work, but we need someone to assist in the event he is overwhelmed or needs guidance, or helping in the Trading Post from 1-2pm.  Anyone can do anything for a short amount of time.  Right?  Once they realize their obligation is small, and they were successful at it, they will realize what fun they had and volunteer for the next event.  And then THEY advertise (or advocate!) for you!

I was the lodge’s Dance Team Advisor more than a decade ago.  I had a great salesman in the team’s youth lead.  He was charismatic, personable, friendly, and loved to dance.  He was the best sales pitch a product could hope for.  With his drive, and some guidance, and the backing of some very interested adults, we were able to get dance team participation up from nearly nothing to over 50 dancers at the next lodge dance we had.  And that same event had over 400 attendees, before we stopped counting!  We did this by visiting the various chapters and showing a video and talking about dance styles, and doing the same at lodge events, and talking about our plans at LEC meetings, and so on.  We advertised what we wanted to do, and people got excited.  It took having that ‘cheerleader’ up front continually telling people about what was going on and how we could use their help to have more fun.  We took a Native Dancing and Music program of 13 people in 2000 to more than 60 people in 5 years.  Better than 300% improvement in 5 years.  Because we advertised.

I will tell you this, it works.  It takes time, you don’t see changes overnight.  But, we need to think of our events and programs as sales opportunities.  If you want more sales, you have to encourage people to buy, no matter how good a product is or how long it has been on the market.  Coca Cola has been around for over 100 years, and they have spots on nightly TV, print ads, and more.  We can learn something from that. 

If you build it they may come.  But, if you want growth, you must advertise, advertise, advertise.