Seven, Volume 1 Issue 4, Wed, 8/1/01
Steps to get people to join your drum corps
1. CREATE AN IDENTITY. Step one is to conceptually decide what your drum corps is going to be. This sounds easy, but a significant number of new corps start out trying to be just like _________________ (fill in the name of your favorite top-12 corps), and end up being a pale comparison of the original. Not only is this not a particularly fun or creative way to put together a new organization, but it is generally not productive, and rarely results in a viable corps. Here is a hint -- No one, repeat, no one, is ever going to out-Vanguard the Vanguard. Ditto for Blue Devils, the Cadets and every other quality corps with a strong identity. Forget them for now. Your mission is to create a corps identity that might borrow a few characteristics (or songs) of a great top-12 corps or two, but that does not come across as a wanna-be corps. There are not just 12 potential successful identities for drum corps -- there are hundreds (literally). So be creative, invent one of your own, and make it work. (Disclaimer -- please note, this step is not 100% relevant for feeder corps, such as the Blue Devil B/C corps or SCV Cadets).
2. SELECTIVELY PICK THE STAFF. Step two is to be as selective as possible in picking the staff. Keep in mind -- performing, teaching and show design are three different skill sets entirely, and although they are often related, this is not always the case. Key qualities to look for in your new staff are: (1) Quality teaching and/or show design experience. This might seem counterintuitive, but it is much easier, and better, for someone to learn how to teach or write with a larger established corps. If your corps is new with only a few members, it is absolutely critical that you have people with experience and refined teaching skills running your rehearsals. At the early stages of a corps formation, you will only generally only get one or two rehearsal opportunities (at most) to sell new potential members on the idea of staying with the corps. If they are bored, or don't think they will learn much - you won't see them again. (2) The "maniac factor" must be present. From Day 1, your new staff member must being really excited about teaching the corps, no matter how small it is at the time they are hired. Anyone can be hyped about stepping in front of 64 brass players -- you need the man (or woman) who will stand in front of 5 horn players and get them really excited about being there, and make the kids (or adults) leave the rehearsal feeling like they have accomplished something. You want the person that will walk up to those 5 horn players and tell them, "we are going to be great, and we are going to get much bigger quickly. Period." You want the type of person that is so excited they will be calling you at all hours of the day with ideas of how to improve the corps. If you have to talk someone into being on the staff, the investment will NOT pay off, no matter how talented they are. Forget 'em. (3) No egomaniacs. An important key in putting together a staff is that you get friendly, professional and dedicated people that enjoy working together and who can agree to disagree, but who will be on the same page when a final decision is made re: a particular design or performance issue. The prima-donaperson that is too much of an artistic genius to hang out with the rest of the staff, or who likes to talk behind other staff member's backs might make his or her caption great, but will only hurt the corps in the long run.
3. FIX YOUR WEB SITE -- Let's face it. We are in the Internet age, and your web site represents the only 24/7 marketing and sales vehicle your corps has on earth. It amazes me how many corps neglect this facet of their operations and have bad web sites. To attract new members, it is crucial at the beginning of a corps formation that all pictures and content on the site represent a positive and exciting image for your corps. Think about it -- if you have a horn line of five members, and display a wacky picture of the "whole" horn line on your site, with no maps to rehearsal or statements about the corps future plans -- who will show up to be horn player number six? I wouldn't. However, if you have action photos of individuals, great and positive content about the corps future plans, and easy to follow maps and schedules to each and every rehearsal -- you will get people to show up (and with the right staff in place, they will stay ... and membership in the corps will start to "snowball"...). While we're on the topic of web sites -- every corps must have their merchandise for sale on the web site. PayPal is nearly free, and it is negligent to limit your souvie revenue stream to a few shows every summer. Think of it as a 24 hour a day store that is open to the entire world, where people will pay money to wear items that promote your corps to other potential members and fans.
4. VISIBILITY -- The fourth step to getting people to join your drum corps is visibility. This is key. Typically, when a corps takes the field for the first few times, you will hear comments from audience members like -- "Who the heck are they? I didn't even know Hoboken had a drum corps?" You mission is to surpass this unpleasant step, and to ingrain the identity of your corps onto the minds of potential members and fans everywhere. How? As a small first step, you create souvie items that people will want to wear. If no one has ever heard of you, you might want to consider picking shirts and other souvie with funny, catchy or general (i.e. about "drumming") phrases, that will be bought by audience members, even if they have no idea who your corps is -- however, the shirt MUST contain the corps name and web site URL somewhere. Why? Well, if you sell a shirt that simple says "I Love Drum Corps," the only purpose that item fulfills is to raise a small bit of revenue, and it does absolutely nothing to promote the formation of your corps. End of story. Why the URL? Because your web site represents the only 24/7 marketing and sales vehicle your corps has on earth (read that 1000x). If someone sees the name of your corps only - "Purple Knights," for example, they may or may not remember the name, they will learn nothing further about your corps, and will have zero opportunity or motivation to purchase more souvie items. However if you have purpleknights.com on the back -- not only will people see the name of your corps, but a significant portion of them will eventually visit your web site -- which, if you have done it correctly, will instantly put them in front of the best marketing and informational material you have to offer -- and suddenly they have the opportunity to join or learn more about the corps, and maybe even purchase more souvie items. MORE VISIBILITY = MORE MEMBERS + MORE REVENUE = MORE VISIBILITY = MORE MEMBERS + MORE REVENUE (ad infinitum....). As an aside, one great idea to help move this along in the early stages is to encourage corps members to wear their corps jackets, shirts hats or whatever to as many public events as possible. There are many other facets to achieving visibility for your corps, which will be addressed in a future column about marketing. Remember though, visibility is KEY to a drum corps growth.
5. RECRUIT LIKE MANIACS -- Recruiting is not the job of the corps administration. It is the job of EVERYONE (period). To be successful, you must make this perfectly clear to each and every member of the corps. If your members want to be in a 135 member drum corps, they are going to have to make it happen. DO NOT, under any circumstances, accept the argument that "kids (or adults) have many more opportunities these days than marching drum corps ... there is soccer, video games, key club..." That is a bullsh*t argument, and is nothing more than rationalizing the lack of a successful recruiting effort. There is absolutely no reason (other than if your corps is based in Afghanistan) that you can not field 25 members your first season, 50 your second, 100 your third, and a full 135 the fourth and successive years. The first 25 members are typically the most difficult to recruit. However, if you have done the above steps correctly, you will be successful.
6. NO STRESS. The key here is to realize that you are going to make a few mistakes along the way -- in recruiting, in fund raising, in show design - whatever. If you have the attitude that everyone will always try their best, and get right back up again when they fall down, so to speak, everyone will have a lot more fun, and the corps will grow faster. If you have a staff in constant fear that they will be fired if they write a part that doesn't work or the members constantly fear being cut if they miss a roll or whatever -- you are creating a miserable work environment, which will not result in substantial growth or happiness for your corps. If you are not having fun (and making a few mistakes along the way) -- you are not doing it correctly. One does not have to be having a miserable and stressful time to be in a great or "winning" drum corps -- that is a fallacy.
1 Issue 4, Wed, 8/1/01