Conclave Theory – Promotions

Promotions – Conclave Theory

As a young Arrowman (far too long ago), conclave promotion literally began at my Ordeal.  The leaders in my chapter spoke extensively about how amazing the Conclave was and that it was an event I did not want to miss.  The conclave they mentioned was the legendary 1990 Area 4 Tri-Clave.  I would not get my opportunity for 11 more months, but their enthusiasm stuck with me.

Luckily, the 1991 Section W4B Conclave delivered on my expectations and it was a significant influence on me becoming a lifetime Arrowman.

Passive vs Active Promotion

There are multiple layers of promotion.  Passive promotion occurs when you wait for your customer to come to you.  Things like updating a website, putting up a post on Facebook, and putting a flyer in a turn-style are forms of passive promotion.

Passive promotion is necessary and can be effective.  There is a drawback though, and the biggest issue is that it passively waits for potential attendees to find the promotion.  In many instances, the people who are reached through these methods are often the people who would attend the event anyway.

Active promotion goes a step further, and seeks to augment passive promotional strategies with outreach to people who may miss or not know of the opportunity, for instance, to attend a Section Conclave.

This is where real gains can be made.  Reaching the people who may not have had the chance to evaluate attending a Conclave will yield better improvements in attendance than simply reaching the people who are already set to attend.

Active Promotion:  Training The Promoters

For an Order of the Arrow Section comprising many Lodges over a large geographical area, it simply isn’t realistic to except to reach every prospective Arrowmen.  Think of the traditional membership pyramid from chapter members to people on the National Committee and apply that vision to your Conclave staff and attendees.

At the top, is the Section Council of Chiefs.  These Arrowmen are generally self-motivated, excited for the event, and will almost certainly attend.  The next level is generally the Conclave staff.  These Arrowmen often mirror the C.O.C. in motivation, excitement, and attendance.

Now, consider the bottom of the pyramid, which must be said, comprises the largest number of Arrowmen and the largest potential audience.  Where does an Ordeal member, who may not be in an active chapter, may not be connected to the Lodge as a whole, find out about the Conclave?  In the same respect, how does the Section find them?

There is a disconnect that is a challenge to fill.  Indeed, even the Lodges find it challenging.  Yet, these Arrowmen represent the biggest opportunity for a Section.

The missing link comes in the form of a training pyramid.  The Section should produce passive promotional material.  A good-looking and engaging website, social media posts matched with an actual social media strategy, and engagement via tools like Mailchimp are great.  But the Section can also improve their promotional position with a carefully considered strategy of promotional training.

After building the basis for promotion, including theme, message, program, and other elements, the promotional training should be built.  The Section should agree on the messaging, and roll out this training to the next level of the pyramid:  the Section conclave staff and leadership in each Lodge.

The Old-School Phone Tree Rises Again

During my time as a youth (back in the Dim Ages), there was much talk about having a “phone calling committee.”  The idea was that a couple Arrowmen could spread a message quickly by calling a set number of other Arrowmen (something like 5).  Then those Arrowmen would have another set to call, and so forth.  Through a few iterations, a huge number of people could be reached.

It was a great idea, and to my knowledge, almost never used practically.  My only recollection of a successful massive phone calling campaign occurred when the 1992 Section W4B Conclave was cancelled due to the L.A. Riots.  When the Conclave was rescheduled, there was no matching promotion campaign, and attendance suffered.

The old phone calling committee struggled to scale, but in a modern age, it is much easier to reach these Arrowmen.  Imagine if each Lodge had a team that worked together as a Section to work off membership lists from their Lodgemaster database and personally reached out to Arrowmen through social media.  Not just a bland invite to “Follow the Section,” but a personal, well-written message about how much they enjoy the Order of the Arrow and Conclaves, and why they should too.

A True Call To Action

No promotion works without a call to action.  Just telling a young Arrowman.  The Section needs a Call To Action as well.  Instead of focusing solely on an attendance number, perhaps the Section should focus on tracking the number of Arrowmen they reach.

Handling Objections

You can’t handle objections unless you actually hear them.  Far too often, those objections are imagined and never heard.  Reach the toughest Arrowmen, and find out what is keeping them from attending.

Is the event too far away?  Recommend their Lodge set up bus transportation.  Offer to pair them up with an adult who is driving.

Are they too busy?  Explain to them that is only an annual event, the best local Order of the Arrow event they can attend.  It only happens once a year, and if there was one fun event to attend, this is it.

Is it too expensive?  Find out if the Section offers scholarships.  Are there adults who can help defray costs?

Being Realistic

Conclave attendance is down Region-wide, and perhaps, Nation-wide.  As a youth (again back in those Dim Ages), I remembered when we were frustrated when we struggled to get 500 people to our Conclave.  Now, it is tough to draw 300 Arrowmen.

I learned while working on the Area 4 History project that old Area conferences often drew 850 people.  Old-timers would tell me about piling many kids in the back of the truck and driving en masse to the conference.  The conclave attendance drop needs context; it is a 50-year phenomenon that also mirrors the BSA’s loss in membership.

At one time, it was possible to put together a very inexpensive Conclave.  Those days are over.  For most Sections, BSA insurance and food for the weekend comprise $ 25.00 of the budget alone.  And those costs will not be going down.  Transportation is much more expensive, and depending on geography, many youth Arrowmen are faced with the prospect of missing school on a Friday just to attend the Conclave.

Youth are busier than ever, with a multitude of extra-curricular activities inside and outside of Scouting.  Competition with sports and school activities is fierce.  There will be good Arrowmen who are just too busy or have too much going on to attend.

It is important to be realistic.  You are not going to double your Conclave attendance.  Other factors like the Conclave location and distance will have a big impact.  You may struggle just to keep attendance up.

But doing nothing will only ensure the attendance slide continues.  It is important to fight for every attendee, but equally important to understand the larger factors that can’t be changed.  Make goals that are reasonable, reachable, and pragmatic.