Ready – Set – Recruit; Rebuilding your program after a pandemicChris Frick
Recruiting has never been more important than today. Driving down any interstate will guarantee three things: potholes, reckless drivers and plenty of billboards. From Big Macs to big rigs, hospitals to school corporations, the advertising world is fighting for your attention and your attendance. More than one year after the shutdown of every school activity, students are feeling the doldrums of too many meals at home, not enough social life and way too much parenting. Now is the time to up your recruiting game in the community as you work on rebuilding your program.
Current members have had months to relax, unwind and forget about the great times they had with their peers on a parking lot, on the stage or in a gym. They’ve also found new friends in their neighborhood that may not participate in music activities. Your best advertising agent is your current member. Engage them and encourage their help in growing your numbers. Also, do what you can to incentivize their hard work.
Fundraising companies learned long ago that if they wanted the students to sell more, they needed to give their reps, the students, rewards. Incentives like, “sell 20 or more items and get a giant bag of gummy bears,” increased their return and was sure to give the seller belly aches for at least a few days. Try a bring a potential member to the call-out party and get a music department hoodie. Or coordinate a donation with a local fast-food joint and pass out $5 gift cards to your members for every new candidate that comes to the meeting.
Back to School
It’s no secret that parents can’t wait to send the kids back to school after a holiday or at the end of the summer. Obviously, that anticipation increases with each passing distance learning day. Get the parents involved in your efforts to get their children signed up and capitalize on the new smaller groups of neighbors.
Our communities, as we once knew them, have changed from widespread across the county to several houses in the immediate neighborhood. Have your booster parents in housing additions host a meet and greet barbecue to let neighbors know they too are an important part of the program. The bond in local neighborhoods has never been stronger than it is today.
There really is no need to sugar-coat the number of rehearsals and time spent away from the home during the week or on weekends. The students are ready to get out and going about as much as the parents are happy to get them moving. Travel to a contest city or other destination has a brand-new appeal. Alleviate the challenges of transportation to and from the school by organizing a carpool on your Facebook page or website. Take every step to remove obstacles in the process of rebuilding your program.
Many children fall in love with sports at a young age. It’s no wonder we can’t get them to drop those loves for a new activity when they turn 13. Starting feeder and youth programs will impact your ability to build. Lynsey Tyson, Guard Director of the Miamisburg HS (OH) Scholastic A and Sweethearts has been involved in these programs for more than 30 years, “first watching my older sister perform, then as a performer, then instructor and finally director,” she said. Sweethearts will perform 6-7 local shows while the A Guard attends 5-6 and one or two WGI Regionals in a typical season.
The youth program, Sweethearts, was started in the early 2000’s by former director, Cathy Barnes-Miller. Miamisburg A Guard is mainly for middle school students grades 6-8, but sometimes they do get high school students who are not ready to for the World Guard program or do not want the time commitment associated with the top tier group. “Miamisburg Sweethearts is our elementary program. We take students in grades 1-5 into this program,” Tyson said.
The Miamisburg program thrives on members learning life lessons, even from a young age through color guard. Tyson said, “We talk about teamwork, hard work paying off, dedication and much more. We expect a lot from our performers and every year, they rise to our expectations and usually pass them.” She continued, “It’s pretty amazing that a group of 20 elementary school kids can learn a three-minute show and perform it with the confidence they do.”
The Sweetheart program is truly about falling in love with guard and gaining the confidence to perform. They learn skills but the skills are kept age-appropriate. “We’d rather see them throw a single on rifle with technique and confidence than push them to a higher toss at their age. As our members grow into the A Guard, we start focusing more on the technical and detail-oriented sides of color guard,” she said. “Starting in a feeder program helps the members know the basics. The World Guard staff can then push the performers straight into intermediate and advanced level skills,” Tyson said.
“We talk about teamwork, hard work paying off, dedication and much more. We expect a lot from our performers and every year, they rise to our expectations and usually pass them.”
Lynsey Tyson, director, Miamisburg HS (OH) Scholastic A Guard, Sweethearts
Engage the Community
Offer community color guard, dance team and percussion ensembles for the youth. It’s never too early to start dancing, spinning a flag or tapping out some notes on a drum or practice pad. Current student leaders can help teach these young performers and encourage them to be a part of the group as they grow. These beginner groups don’t require a lot of hours of commitment. Both Miamisburg groups rehearse four hours a week during the fall switching in the winter season to 5-7 hours a week for the A Guard and two hours a week for the Sweethearts.
Once you develop a learning plan for these ensembles, your regular rehearsal schedule might include summer camps. Once they’ve gotten started, get them out in the public at summer festivals or parades. Recitals are a perfect way to show off what the students have learned while perpetuating the cycle of recruitment. Miamisburg charges fees that are appropriate to cover budgets but that are still less than those charged by dance or gymnastic groups or little league baseball teams.
Social Media Matters
Insta, Snap, Twitter! Sounds like the next popular sugar cereal. The students use social media and love seeing immediate updates, vibrant with photos and lots of faces. Young adults stay up all hours of the night huddled under their covers watching 30-second videos of kids just like them in sports, playing games, performing the latest dance trend or singing songs. Search for the responsible students in your organization that understand the platforms the best and get them involved in rebuilding your program. Make a committee to plan your media blitz and flood your target audience timelines with the benefits of your ensembles. Your students will be excited to be a small part of the attention and will love having more students in their groups.
Advertise Your Product
For years I would chuckle at the yard signs, posters and banners hanging in rural downtown areas mentioning callouts or sign-ups for youth softball, soccer and baseball. How many families would even be interested in such a group? As my children reached those ages, it took only one Saturday to witness hundreds of hopeful Olympic athletes running from their parents’ cars to join other school friends to kick a ball around a field for an hour. Like a home power washing placard on a highly traveled corner of your cul-de-sac, you don’t realize you need the service until someone makes the suggestion.
Posters, flyers, door hangers and even yard signs keep your organization in the public eye and encourage decision makers to discuss the after-school group options with their children. Local and shopper papers are happy to get content, especially with photos, that they will run for free. Find a sponsor advertising company and show off your department’s accolades with a billboard in the community. Promoting your students and their accomplishments will produce amazing dividends in the process of rebuilding your program.
Get on the Road
As you are working on rebuilding your program, now is the time to announce a trip. Consider taking your group to the theme park under three hours away with an overnight stay and a water park the next day or, find an invitational competition in a different state and include a pizza party with another performing group. Perhaps it’s time to schedule a Disney Performing Arts Workshop or performance opportunity. Whatever you decide, students and parents alike are ready to enjoy a destination outside of the confines of their home and city. With rapid testing options, therapeutics on the way and the release of the vaccine to the general population in May, safe group travel is now viable and will continue to be even better in the very near future.
As we see the end of the pandemic on the horizon, you and your organizations have an opportunity to recreate the landscape of your programs. Be the louder voice in the recruiting game and gain membership numbers while cultivating the performance art lovers in your community. You already know that rebuilding your program will have an amazing impact on the lives of those who join.