As I am preparing to set up a recruitment campaign at London’s educational establishments, I thought I’d share some of the thoughts and philosophy behind such a process. Students represent a tempting group to bring into the SCA, but present their own problems as well as opportunities.
First of all, I would recommend that you designate one of your activities as a student demo e.g. a revel. This would be used to show off your group’s activities and crafts. I recommend timetabling one for the autumn and one for the spring term. Avoid exam periods. Try to keep it free, and offer food and drink. This event will be key to whatever approaches you choose to make. If you’re creating a special event, try to book it close to the university.
Also, bear in mind that any significant increase in student numbers will put pressure on loaner costumes, so try to ensure a stock of basic kit up front to tide new members over until your costuming programme is in full swing – footwear in particular. First year students in particular will also be having space issues – especially in halls of residence.
Timing is everything, as universities hold a freshers fayre every September/October for their clubs and societies to recruit new members. Gone are the days where an organisation could just rock up and recruit. A lot of student unions will charge for an outside organisation, I have been quoted as high as £500. Even charities will pay that amount as they can afford it in return for visibility. You will find that you need to book in advance, anything up to four months in advance in some cases at popular/prestigious universities.
The fayre represents several options. First up is a stall. Ask the student union how much a stall would cost. The plus side is you’ve got space and are there in person. The down side is cost and you can also be subject to poor placing depending on when you applied for a stall and also the mood of the organiser. I have lost a previously strong society due to an officer’s prejudice against it.
If you go for a stall, invest in a decent backdrop behind your stall with eye-catching images and writing. Keep it simple. Have plenty of leaflets on hand, and also trinkets – spare tokens are ideal. If you plan of offering food, check first as a lot of Health and Safety rules came in following a food poisoning incident at a freshers fayre about six years ago.
Wear costume and try to have a mixed sex team for variety and appeal, youth and/or charisma also count. Ensure that you know what your spiel is and listen to what a person picks up on. The doorstep rule applies in that you have about 5 seconds to gain and hold someone’s interest. Questions are effective as the person usually answers rather than ignore you. Do not waffle on and learn to close the conversation politely if there are more people waiting to talk to you. If you have more people available, consider handing out flyers – Thamesreach has an A6 folded one that’s easily adaptable. This also helps counter-act a poorly placed stall. Don’t just sit quietly behind the stall and rely on it to attract people for you, it’s a tool to give context to what you say.
Should a stall prove expensive, ask the student union what its rates are for putting an advert in their freshers handbook. A lot of unions will have this policy, but some might not due to internal politics. Keep it simple and eye-catching, you are competing with everyone else’s advert. Point to a website for more information and include contact details. You might also see if you can put an advert on their website, though that too is subject to individual union policy.
Another tactic is to research what societies already exist at the university and approach them. This also works if you’ve missed the fresher fayre. This has the advantage of being a pre-selected group of students. Your student event would also appeal to them as they need to fill a term card of events. It also opens up the prospect of gaining a room booking within the university via a society. Examples of such groups to look for are gaming groups, drama societies, food and drink societies, craft and knitting groups, fencing clubs, archery clubs (if you already provide it). Also, do not forget to look for any departmental societies. Send invites to relevant departments and faculties and don’t forget the department staff too!
Another tactic, and also one that applies if you’re looking for publicity via your local newspaper, is to approach the union newspaper. Student newspapers are usually short of articles for their first edition so you might want to approach them to see if they would like to cover a story. Remember, they need a hook for the story, so if you already have student members, or have a local event that’s the sort of thing to look for. You should also send them a press release of your student demo. Find out their copy deadline and remember the Who, What, When, Where and Why, include contact details and invite people along. Also phone up to check if they’ve got it and answer any questions they may have. They are also liable to lift the entire press release into the copy, so make sure things are not ambiguous.
When you get your first couple of student members, it is probably more efficient to set them up as a deputy Chateleine, assist and develop them into sustaining the recruitment effort as they will have access to notice boards/libraries/email lists and intranet sites you won’t have. Also, don’t forget that postgraduate students are less likely to visit orientation/fresher fayres. They also represent significant additions to the scholarship of your shire, with their accumulated knowledge and could in turn teach your members on selected subjects. They are also more likely to be permanently based in or near the town of study.
When you do pick up student members, remember that they are often from somewhere else. Put them in touch with their home shire as well. A good and updated membership list of your shire will help keep track of them. Students might only be around for three years but they are worth recruiting and encouraging to stay in the SCA as it will benefit Insulae Draconis, or wherever they settle, and who knows, it might be your shire!
Guy de Dinan is a Breton mercenary in Byzantine service circa 1178AD
Adam Edwards is sometimes a civil service employee, and has spent over 15 years recruiting students for various societies at national level, including political and gaming groups. He formed his first officially recognised society aged 11.