How Queen Mary Sailability Pushed The Boat Out – by Terri Pilgrem and featured in RYA news
More than 40 people tried sailing as individuals or as part of groups at Queen Mary Sailability’s Push The Boat Out Open Day in May.
So how did they engage with new groups and individuals so successfully that many have or are planning to return to sail at QMS again? QMS Open Day Co-Ordinator, Terri Pilgrem, has their 10 top tips…
1. Our Open Day as part of a wider marketing plan
We didn’t start off planning an open day. Instead, we were looking at how we could make QMS more visible to local people and groups. We decided to offer free ‘taster’ sailing sessions, which could show people what a fantastic facility and activity we have at QM.
2. Professional appeal
We wanted to have a distinct identity so people and organisations would immediately recognise and remember us. We created a central QMS email address for all incoming queries. I designed a new QMS logo and stationery and produced two flyers – a generic ‘Let’s Go Sailing’ flyer and one promoting the Open Day.
To save on printing, we created a low-resolution version of the PDF that could easily be emailed or posted to social media. I also set up a QMS Facebook page. For all the promotional material it made sense to use photos showing good weather and happy participants. We were then ready to start promoting QMS.
3. Think creatively about how to reach people
Back in January I compiled a target list of about 50 groups and organisations to contact, coming at it from all angles and really thinking about where disabled people go and where they find their information. This included researching local disability groups and partnerships, UK-wide charities and organisations, disabled sports organisations and businesses providing services to disabled people.
I entered our event on search databases that the disabled community uses, such as “WhereCanWeGo.com”, Open Sessions, Active Surrey, etc. The list also included, for example, sport/event venues where there is a dedicated Access Officer who can display promotional material in the disability access areas of these stadia, as this presents an opportunity to put your name in front of lots of people.
4. Find your champions in organisations and groups
You need to reach the key workers, therapists or clinical practitioners, the people making decisions about the care of or looking for things to do with their clients, or the people who deal with communications/social media.
Once I had my contact list I started at the top and just started ‘cold calling’. I kept my message short, simple and clear; saying who I was, that we were running an open day where people could try sailing for free and could I speak to someone who might be able to help share our flyer. I found people were really happy to help. The telephone may be the old-fashioned way of contacting people but it works. It’s an opportunity to inspire a response with your own enthusiasm for your subject.
5. Other people marketing you is very powerful
Some organisations kindly offered to put our flyer in their membership newsletter or on their website or Facebook page. It’s helpful if a disabled individual or group can see the information is coming to them from an already trusted source. Even the big national organisations and charities have local branches and groups, and the communication channels within these organisations work very effectively. Sharing on their social media enabled people from our area to learn about our event, but raised wider awareness of sailing in general too.
6. Keep in touch
Follow-up but don’t chase. Like, share and comment on what organisations are posting on social media to gently remind them about you, or tag them in activity you’re doing that might be relevant to their audience.
7. Relationships can be mutually beneficial
Be conscious a reciprocal arrangement can work between you and another organization. For example, organisations like Gwennili Sailing Trust, Access Adventures or Sportability provide adaptive outdoor/sport adventure programmes so, with that in common, we can promote their opportunities to our members too.
8. Advance booking is preferable
Know in advance who will be taking part on the day. We wouldn’t have turned away individuals who turned up to the Open Day without booking, but knowing who was coming ensured their expectations were met and we had enough resources, including catering, available on the day.
We organised the day into hourly sailing slots between 11am-4pm. When an individual or group contacted us, they were assigned a slot of their choice. This was their sailing time – they could stay on or come early and have a look around and some lunch, which we had set up beside the water, which kept everybody together and made it a very social ‘buzzy’ day.
9. Set expectations
Pre-event communication was key for participants and volunteers. If a participant was unsure about what boat they’d like to sail in, I sent them a sheet with photos and short description of our three boat types to choose from Longboat, Yeoman or Hansas, with a proviso that they could change on the day if we had the boats free.
Once people began expressing an interest I set up a Master Schedule which contained the following… Time Slot, Name, & Contact Details, Name /
Disabled Sailor, Boat, Helm/Crew, Disability Hoist, Disabled Parking Source
I initially spoke to the participant, and followed up with an email confirming the details they had given me, and the time slot they had chosen, reminding them the event was weather-dependent and we would confirm everything closer to the day. Our next contact with them was two days before the event with a weather report, map/directions, confirmation of time slot, clothing to bring, etc.
It meant they were clear what to expect and we were clear we had the resources and capacity to manage the day successfully. All the boats were in the water by 11am, ready for the first participants to arrive and go sailing in their pre-assigned boat with their pre-assigned crew, followed by lunch organised by our Secretary, Dee.
10. Investing for the future
The positive outcomes of organising and hosting an event like this are not simply the people taking part and their return to us, but the relationships formed with other people/ organisations throughout the process, relationships, which no doubt will be fruitful in the months and years ahead.