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Marketing the Alexander Technique

Published in the winter 2008 edition of the AmSAT News - the quarterly publication of the American Society for the Alexander Technique. Copyrighted - all rights reserved

Recently, I completed and returned the marketing survey sponsored by the Marketing and Media Committee of the American Society for the Alexander Technique. The survey is billed as a tool to “help teachers become more efficient in their marketing efforts, thereby eliminating the tendency to reinvent the wheel in an effort to enlarge our practices.” The message also states that this study raises many of the same questions that appeared in a 2006 survey conducted among AmSAT members.

While I am not a fan of surveys, I do recall participating in the previous one and reading the results published in AmSAT News. I responded to this present survey when I received a plea from Donald Kieffer explaining that the deadline had been extended because of the 475 AmSAT members e-mailed the questionnaire, only 24 had replied. I wonder why if the ’06 survey was useful, so few members responded to the 2008 version.

Perhaps the lack of a serious review of what we are bringing to our marketing endeavors raises a thorny issue. The promise of enlarging our practices by making standard marketing efforts seems an end to be gained without the vital means. Maybe reinventing the wheel is precisely what is needed.

The survey reminded me of questions I posed to my sales force when I was working in marketing research: Make enough calls, pound on enough doors, and you’ll probably find people who will be willing to work with you. While some sales folks had modest success doing this, the real winners were the true marketing research professionals who knew, understood, and lived the business. And that seems to be the missing link with the present survey. Are we true professionals living by the principles we all care so much about or are we attempting to use standard marketing techniques just to make a sale?

In marketing research the most successful sales people are those who create repeat business rather than only a single project. In order to do this, sales people must stay involved, shepherd the projects through the shop, and make sure the client looks good to his superiors. In this regard, selling marketing research and marketing the Alexander Technique are not so different. To succeed at selling the Alexander Technique, we must live by the principles. If we’re going to teach and hope to establish a successful practice, we must do good work on ourselves, and help our students to find the best of themselves.

I disagree with much of the present marketing strategy I’ve encountered, and I am concerned that in order to sell the Alexander Technique, we are tempted to compromise. Prior to utilizing all the typical marketing tools, we need to consider whether we are sticking to Alexander’s principles and whether what we are offering is really the Alexander Technique or an end-oriented concession.

I base my concerns on the many questions raised by colleagues and by me regarding what we are telling the world about the Alexander Technique. I accept that it is challenging to describe or define the Alexander Technique and to get the point across without alarming or confusing the listener. Marketing the Technique frequently includes recommending a defined course of lessons. I can only assume that the motivation is to avoid scaring anyone away by revealing that the Alexander Technique is a life-long study. We are reluctant to bring to prospective students’ attention the need to reconsider previous education and perhaps even the way they live their lives. But no less a spokesperson than Walter Carrington said that "you can only introduce a pupil to the new pathway when they absolutely finally abandon trying to follow the old pathway….This isn't a short journey. They may reach that point after one hundred and fifty lessons, something of this sort." *

In the chapter “Education and Re Education” in Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, ** Alexander made clear how much reassessment of the entire educational process he believed was necessary. I suppose this frightened some people who were not willing to embark on such a journey. However, from his writings, it seems Alexander did not give up on his beliefs in order to “enlarge his practice.” His focus and emphasis were on what he truly believed, and, because he was not willing to compromise his principles, his reputation and his practice grew. If a prospective student was not willing to consider all that was involved in the study of his Technique, Alexander would not take him on.

Through my years of teaching, I believe I have been guilty of many compromises for the sake of growing a practice. During my first teaching year, I accepted a temporary assignment in New York City. I was at the early stage of creating a practice in San Francisco and was averaging about 10 lessons per week. This assignment sometimes required that I teach 10 lessons per day. Fortunately, it didn’t last long, and I can’t imagine what those students took away from their experience. My experience was memorable. By the end of most days I could barely stand. The temptation to take on this teaching assignment was so great that I obliterated my stated intention of gradual growth.

My previous professional experience was in marketing research. Without properly positioning our company, we could not hope to promote our expertise to potential clients. I was exposed to and participated in the half-truths, unfulfilled promises, and compromises that confound and confuse the world of advertising and marketing. It is not surprising that I brought this legacy with me as a tool to sell the Alexander Technique. In retrospect, I think my early group talks about the Technique were hideous. I was as uncomfortable and ill at ease as I had always been during presentations in my previous profession. I suggested that my audiences release tension and anxiety, but was at a loss to get rid of my own. I fooled nobody and no one signed up for lessons.

The most glorious talk on the Alexander Technique I’ve ever witnessed was Carrington’s keynote address at the Oxford Congress in 2004. Walter was not “selling” – he didn’t need to. He was doing what he always did – sharing himself with us. He was kind and gentle, knowledgeable about the Technique and full of excellent ideas and suggestions. His manner was soothing, and although the anticipation of having a lesson with him was highly charged, once the lesson started my anxiety disappeared. In my experience, Walter was the finest “marketer” and most significant inspiration for the Alexander Technique.

Other than dedicating myself to the principles of the Alexander Technique and being willing to share myself and my way of living, I have no magic marketing formula. A few years ago I agreed to give a talk on the Technique at a local YMCA in Palo Alto, California. I was not paid, but I considered this a return to the community that had been so generous to me. I thought I gave myself plenty of time, but did not consider the traffic from nearby Hewlett Packard. I was 20 minutes late, and by the time I arrived, there were only four people in the room. I suppose the 20 or so who had left had no particular investment other than time and had already given enough. My anxiety level was screeching and crescendoing by the minute. Talking to these four people was a nightmare; but I found a bit of composure and began to stumble through my usual dos and don’ts of the Alexander Technique. I realized this was going nowhere and I had nothing to lose, so I stopped, took some time, looked at four blank faces and said, “I’m not getting through to you, am I?”

It felt like the room took a collective sigh. Suddenly, people who moments earlier had been staring stone faced, begin to smile, and everyone (especially me) seemed lighter. The tone of the talk changed from one of lecturer to bored audience, to one of five people discussing choices and possibilities. Two of these people came for lessons for quite some time.

The Alexander Technique is an instrument for life; and in real life, things don’t always go as planned. All we can ask of ourselves is to not get in the way, so that the best of each of us is available to make required decisions. This is not a concept that can be “sold.” It is an idea that only makes sense to others if we are dedicated to living it. Marketing the Technique is available to all of us, and, if we choose to be living examples of Alexander’s principles, many people we encounter will want what we have to offer. It is our responsibility as teachers to speak with a clear and powerful voice.

*Saying and Meaning No – The Act of Living, Mornum Time Press, p 139

** Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, F. Matthias Alexander, Mouritz August, 2004 edition pp 69 – 82

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