Sunday 1 February 2009

It's time to protect our market

I've been thinking for a long time about how I can do justice to the subject of marketing AT services. My views on this subject have not changed since I first began my teacher-training in 2002.

The publication of the ATEAM study in August 2008 heralded a new era in the AT profession. At last we can put to bed the futile argument about whether AT is a therapy or a form of education. When used to help people with bad backs, it's educational therapy. The study showed that AT was more effective than other forms of remedial treatment because the educational element of AT extended the period of its effectiveness as a therapy for chronic lower back pain.

If we continue with the line that AT is purely education then we cut ourselves off from this potentially lucrative market of new pupils seeking treatment for their backs. Ask a random sample of the population why someone might book AT sessions and the vast majority will say something about improving their posture or about back problems. Ask them where they might expect to see AT advertised on the Net and they will invariably mention the words alternative and therapy. They might even use the words medical or treatment but I'm willing to bet that virtually none of them will say anything about education.

If we really insist on disabusing our pupils of the notion that AT is therapy, there is a time and a place to do it - and that's in a lesson, once the new pupil has committed, and absolutely NOT at the time where we are prospecting for new pupils.

So what's my point about protecting our markets I hear you say.

We are entering the mother of all recessions since the great depression of the 1930's. Thousands of people are losing their jobs every week and those who are still employed are getting anxious about their own particular job security. Whether or not there is any need for it, people are beginning to tighten their belts and economise, preparing for the possibility of bad times to come.

Those who may have been considering taking-up Alexander lessons or even training to be AT teachers will be having second thoughts. It's going to be tough for existing AT practitioners and for teacher training schools.

So when I read in the recent newsletter that new teacher training schools (heads of training) had been applied-for, I immediately wrote off an email to STAT to suggest that they refused permission - at least in the UK.

We are a private society of members who are each invited to join STAT, when we apply for training at STAT-approved schools. There is no automatic right to membership and, as a private society, we have the absolute right to refuse membership to anyone for any reason provided such refusal is within the remit of our constitution and represents the will of the membership.

I think the time has come for STAT to protect existing practitioners and established training schools from an over-supply of qualified teachers. In the current economic climate, I would be furious if STAT were to grant an application for a new teacher training school in my geographical locality. Business is hard to find and the prospect of a local school churning-out newly qualified teachers into an already saturated market would fill me with dismay.

Nowithstanding the possible new demand that may be stimulated in the medical sector by the ATEAM study, we should not continue to undermine our existing, limited markets by opening new AT teacher training schools.

As it happens, the current proposals for teacher training schools don't particularly affect my geographical area, so I'm therefore arguing my point from common sense rather that from a NIMBY attitude. Unlike many struggling AT teachers, I have my own alternative form of income that means I'm not dependent on an income from teaching so again, I'm not being self-serving by arguing for more regulation of the market.

You only need to look at what has happened to the acting profession to see the effect of over-supply. Most actors spend more time out of work than in-work because there are probably 10 actors (or more?) available for every one job. It's a classic example of an unregulated market. There is no framework to enable the supply of new actors to be stemmed, unlike in AT, where accreditation by a recognised professional organisation is seen by our customers as an important requirement, if not exactly a prerequisite.

We know from recent salary surveys of AT teachers that there is a crisis amongst those who are teaching AT as their primary source of income. Compare today's typical lesson fee of £30 to the 4 guineas charged by FM Alexander 90 years ago. His fee corresponded to around £200 by modern standards! It's my understanding that he expressed concerns about the dilution of the market by newly qualified teachers: fears which evidently were well-founded.

I therefore intend to propose a motion for debate at the next STAT AGM, providing I can find a seconder. At the moment, I'm thinking of something on the lines of the following:

"The membership feels that too many teachers are being trained at present and would like Council to explore a moratorium on new schools in the UK for 5 years. After this time, the granting of new heads of training will be strictly controlled having regard for the demand for AT lessons in the geographical location relative to existing supply in that location and to the will of the membership."

If you have a view on this or would like to second such a motion, please Send me an email or comment on this blog.


  1. I have to disagree with your suggestion for protecting the market for a number of reasons. Here are 2 obvious ones:

    First, limiting the number of teachers would, in my opinion, harm the market. People find out about the AT from a teacher, tell their friends who may live far away, and they may then see a local teacher. So the more teachers the better for all.

    (Limiting numbers might make sense for a field like medicine where there is a well-defined need that most people are already aware of. The AT is certainly not in that category. The AT market is, in other words, not a zero sum game.)

    Second, limiting STAT membership does nothing about competing organizations - except encourage membership in them. With the arrival of the web, STAT membership means nothing more than any other organization just as in the States, AmSAT, ATI etc are all pretty much on an equal footing. Welcome to the internet!

    In my opinion, the main reason most teachers don't have all the students they want is extraordinarily poor marketing - but on an group and individual level. Poor marketing in the sense that most teachers cannot explain in commonsense words to ordinary people just what they're offering. Poor marketing in the sense that the majority of teachers don't have websites even today, despite the extremely low cost of having one and the proven cost-effectiveness of that form of promotion.

    I'm not saying there aren't marketing challenges for a field like the AT, but as a whole, the profession has failed miserably - and that's the main reason so many teachers have so few students.

    My rant has now ended!

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. I don't consider your comments to be a rant. In fact you make a very important point, namely that if STAT controls its market by restricting entry of new practitioners then this could, in a free market, open the door to competitor organisations.

    I have considered this possibility myself but I discount it as a serious issue because there are no credible competitors in the UK - which is the market I'm talking about - and STAT will become (if it isn't already) the de facto authority on AT in the UK.

    However, I seriously disagree with your contention that AT is not operating in a limited market (your "zero sum" game). You actually defeated your own point by stating the blindigly obvious - namely that AT has failed to attract a large following (such as is enjoyed by Pilates) despite 90 years of marketing.

    It's not as if we have a new product to sell! We are selling benefits that exist so far up Maslow's heirarchy of needs that there is a very limited number of people who will ever be attracted to it. I'm assuming that you are operating in the US, but even if you are from the UK, I hope you will see the point that, even in a potential market as large as the USA, AT marketing has failed to generate large numbers of customers. Your idea of letting loose a rash of AT teachers to spread the word and hence promote the technique is almost laughable - no offense intended.

    Personally, I am not afraid of the free market. Indeed, I make my primary living by selling B2B software on the Internet. BUT who will be the winners and losers if the market becomes saturated with teachers? My guess is that it will be those with the most business/marking capability - maybe the more Net savvy - rather than those who have the greatest skill in teaching AT.

    It is these people, I believe, who will derive the greatest benefit from my proposition.

  3. Good points. That running a teacher-training course has become the only way of guaranteed support for A.T. teachers makes A.T. too similar to MLM, IMHO.

    Times are changing - and the rarity of A.T. in the UK is coming to a close. Yes, skill in teaching A.T. is not necessarily coupled with marketing ability. I believe the societies needs to cover marketing for it's members as part of its service it provides. Perhaps the professional societies could provide individual web pages as part of its membership benefits?

    Perhaps better training inside teacher training courses in how to couple A.T. with other "niche" markets would allow support by being an A.T. teacher more effective?

    In an economic downturn (or saturated market,) both require creative solutions. Get your thinking caps on!

    For instance, there's a high demand in the field of changing one's accent, for instance, that many A.T. teachers have not thought to specialize in offering.

    There are still many areas of the world where people have no clue what A.T. can do for them. Just provide incentives to move somewhere else, and instruction in how to sell oneself in remote areas. My first idea would be to provide a one-way ticket to live in India or another country where demand for A.T. is high, sponsored by the Society for advancement of spreading A.T. around the world. There's quite a demand for A.T. teachers in India right now... Perhaps a ticket to India as a micro-loan...?

    Check out the Bodychance model solution in Japan with Jeremy Chance - train 'em and hire 'em after they're trained in the same organization. This model encourages people to move to countries where there is NO A.T. presence and make a good living.

    Meanwhile, some of us A.T. teachers around the world have taken advertising matters into our own hands. Have you heard of the A.T. Twitter project? Join us!

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Francis.

    I have tweeted the reference to your project

    Join me on Twitter at

    I've never heard of AT being used to change someone's accent! I wonder whether you are Indian? How exactly does AT bring about changes in people's accents? Which accent would you choose to convert them to? Let me tell you that I wouldn't wish my (UK) Stoke-on-Trent accent on anyone :-)

    It's a fanciful idea to suggest that STAT should help to finance individual AT marketing initiatives, let alone fund a life-changing trip to India! That's not really the purpose of a profesional organisation IMHO. STAT's finances are only just sufficient to be able to fund general marketing after covering its own costs.

    I had not heard of the "Bodychance" model, but I could see that model being workable here in the UK once the "AT in healthcare" model is established within the NHS and accepted by the health insurance industry.


  5. Franis: Apologies for referring to you a "Francis"

  6. I think there are two issues here:
    1) Yes there shouldn't maybe be two or more training schools in one city, unless it is a big capital. This is true, at least for the moment.
    2) But in the long run there should be far more AT teachers overall. The problem is that not many people know about AT, the problem isn't that there are too many teachers. Imagine the AT being well known suddenly; there wouldn't be enough teachers to teach everybody who wants to. especially in the small villages. I think there should be as many teachers as physiotherapists in the end.
    Maybe we have to focus on getting the AT better known, not on reducing the amount of teachers?



  7. I the long run, there will always be more AT teachers than the market can bear unless the growth of people wishing to take lessons outstrips the the growth of new teachers by a large factor or the supply of new teachers slows.

    There is no similar market that I'm aware of where over-supply of services leads to increased demand. All that happens is that the price goes down. 90 years of marketing the Technique has not stimulated enough demand to maintain in real terms the prices that were being charged by Alexander in the early 1900's

    Since the results of the ATEAM study were published, the healthcare market represents the main prospect for new clients: providing the AT world can overcome it's ridiculous insistance that AT NOT be called a "therapy".

    A recent survey of salaries of AT teachers in the UK showed that very few of them made enough money from teaching such that they didn't need secondary incomes.

    The UK is a small market with over 800 teachers most of whom are clustered around the teacher training schools. I have 5 other teachers within a 10 mile radius of my rural home. Soon to be 6.

  8. Jeff, you say:

    "We are selling benefits that exist so far up Maslow's hierarchy of needs that there is a very limited number of people who will ever be attracted to it."

    It seems to me, the benefits of the Technique can be summed up as:

    1. Lessening of pain or discomfort
    2. Increased awareness of self

    Although these benefits do intermingle - after even a few lessons, an increase in awareness is inevitable, because it is that that leads to a lessening of pain or discomfort - isn't it your experience that most people are attracted to the Technique by (1) rather than (2); and only a few become enthused enough by (2) to want to continue for its sake alone?

    Considering Maslow's hierarchy of needs, wouldn't avoidance of pain or discomfort be found close to the base of the pyramid, in the sections marked 'physiological' or 'safety', and therefore be greatly in demand; even though increased awareness, as a primary interest, might be restricted to the apex, marked 'self actualisation'?

  9. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with Maslow here is a diagram

    I think when I originally made that comment I was trying to make the point that AT is almost the last thing that anyone on a tight budget would pay for. However if you want to take it literally then I would put AT at least on the third tier "Esteem" but my personal experience is that AT is the most profound thing that's happened in my life in terms of level 4 "Self-actualisation".

    I understand you putting pain relief as your no.1 reason for having AT lessons given the context of this post: the ATEAM study. It's not the no.1 reason in my personal experience: posture and stress relief would be higher on my list.

    I can't say why pupils continue with lessons - mainly because I never ask them! One thing you can be sure of - they feel they have gained benefits. Exactly what those benefits are may be different for different people and may actually be different from what they themselves expected to gain.