So next weekend on the 30th, my dojo will be demonstrating at the local Cherry Blossom Festival here. This will be the 2nd year that we’re at this event and I fully expect this to be fun since I was present last year and I had also gone to this festival in the past as a visitor.
Even since appointing me as the “Community Liaison Officer”, Sensei and the dojo have been receiving a steady stream of beginners both in the adults and kid’s classes since April of last year. I remember when I started, we didn’t have another beginner until almost 5 or 6 months later. When assigned my wonderful title I was given the task of recruiting new members (“You’re the fresh face we need to get the word out!” ~ Sensei) and also to do some advertising (“Young people are attracted to young people like yourself, not so much to older guys.” ~ Sensei). Still wondering how lucky I was, I set out to put up an advertising campaign from scratch for the dojo.
In the past 10 months, we’ve had over 20 new beginners come through our doors that I can remember and almost the same number of kids. The kids tend to stay longer, not so much the adults. I’ve also been in touch with organizers of local cultural events, festivals, and even schools. The demonstration on the 30th I had originally asked the head organizer last year, and was brought back this year.
I’m by no means a public relations guru, nor do I have any professional – paid – experience, but what I guess what I do have is my brains and balls. So now I thought I’d share some of my insights, experiences, and tips on how to get the word out.
1. Most public libraries have what is unofficially known as “community boards” or “sections” where people advertise their services, usually academic tutors, yoga gurus, etc. Go around to these and place your school flyers here. Be sure to get permission from the head librarian or whoever is in charge of these as to not to have your material(s) taken away immediately or confiscated. Each library usually have different policies regarding these.
2. Coffee shops. I use to consider myself a coffee shop nomad because whenever home got too boring I’d go “coffee shop exploring”. Anyway, most independently-owned shops usually have a section of the store appropriated for local businesses to advertise their services, and most are more than happy to help the community out.
3. Speaking of coffee shops, Starbucks! (I’m actually writing this in one at the moment). Like their non-corporate counterparts, most (but not all) Starbucks stores have community boards you can post a flyer or too. Be forewarned however: they only accept non-profit advertisements so you might want to do
some smooth talking some research into what your dojo considers itself – or you can always ask your teacher. I’ve been able to post some of my dojo’s materials on some Starbucks and some no.
4. Knowledge of local events. Cultural events that pertain to your art’s culture and history is a bit obvious but I feel that I don’t feel that schools aren’t “getting back to their roots” as often as they should. My dojo has a wonderful history and relationship with the Japantown here and has an annual demonstration in October, continuously keeping in touch with the locals here. But not so much outside of the area. That’s why this Cherry Blossom festival is exciting because it’s outside of the area in a different side of town and so far the reception has been positive. If your martial art is culturally tied in some way, you can also around community centers or your local athletic clubs. It’s just a matter of walking up to the front desk and asking for the information of the person in charge. If they are busy email is the preferred way of communication. I was a newspaper editor while in undergrad and this was the way of getting in contact with business owners who were busy.
5. Persistance, yet patience. It helps that you are in the presence of the areas and people who you wish to make connections with, and this goes for any of the places that you advertise. I happen to have gone to and am a regular customer at the places that I place my flyers. I don’t know whether the owners/employees like me, but I can only speculate that they like me enough to the point that they allow me to put my dojo’s stuff. Ask politely, don’t be a space hog, and be sure to let them know that you’re appreciative of their cooperation. Personally I just buy my favorite coffee.
6. Word of mouth. Ah the oldest trick in the book. Unfortunately I usually don’t tell strangers that I practice martial arts. Usually when you’re handing out flyers selling classes it’s a dead give away. My close friends do know of my life style and have invited some to a try-out class in the past. Use this sparingly and only use it when someone “throws you a bone” – inquires what you are doing.
7. Know your audience: These days MMA is the craze and every other martial art under the sun is compared to it in terms of “martial effectiveness” and “street effectiveness”. That being said Aikido – in my case – is not MMA and I realized early on that comparing Aikido to MMA would be fruitless – and dishonorable – endeavor. Instead I chose to highlight the strengths of Aikido in several short blurbs (see my “about Aikido section” at the top). People my age (20s – 30s) are drawn more the rough-and-tumble MAs and therefore realized I can’t advertise Aikido as such (though I have received my fair share of injuries from the art). What I’m saying here is tailor your message to put out the strengths of your martial art. That way you allow the reader to make the decision – and judgements – of you and the other MAs that they’ve encountered. Once you start comparing it becomes are war of words, egos, and worst case scenario – fists.
8. Flyers & other materials: I have some working knowledge of Adobe Photoshop so when I was building the campaign from scratch I set out make flyers that reflected this. After 5 prototype designs I got one out that was 8×5. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, but often when you have a bigger flyer the reader can see more material, you can put more information, and the readers get drawn to your flyer just by the shear size of your flyer. Bigger flyers usually are the ones that grab the attention of passerby-ers.
9. If any of you don’t have anyone who have the tech know-how available to create custom-made flyers, here are some suggestions. I’ve only used one but just so that the audience here has some variety I’ve also dug up some others at the last-minute.
Vista Print – This was where I got my business cards for my free-lance position. 20 bucks gets you 250 business cards, though you can’t create your own. They also do calendars, brochures, mugs, and almost every office advertisement material on the planet.
My Brochure Maker – They look pricey but there is an option where you can use it for free. 10 MB of free storage of pictures is more than enough for the flyer that you’ve been wishing to put into the public domain.
MS office flyer templates: I remember seeing these in my MS office 07 version. I haven’t tried these but I have to say that MS office has come a long way since the dull and uninspiring days of Windows XP.
Advertising for your school is an ongoing process – a journey (*laughs). It’s something you have work on constantly and consistently and where the message is just as important as the messenger. I only hope that I’m doing a good job at the meantime and that I’ve been presenting myself an honorable and truthful representation of my dojo and for the martial art of Aikido. So far my journey has had few glitches; my dojo is frugal (I’m not getting paid for this) so my journey had been one of getting the most returns will the least amount of materials as possible. It is also a constant process, I can only imagine a year from now, I will headed to bigger and better things with the skills and experience that I’ve acquired here using different strategies.
With that said, till next time ladies and gents.