First and foremost, establish your organization with consistent branding. Use the Internet to send the message you want contestants to hear. It’s fast and easy, and most of the time it can be free. It’s also a great resource for getting the word-of-mouth referrals ball rolling. The Miss Washington County pageant sends e-mails to former contestants, parents, and volunteers, asking for referrals. “Sometimes someone knows someone, and that sparks their memory,” said Jen Moser, local Oregon pageant executive director.
But beware. Remember that old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? The modern-day twist substitutes website for book. And guess what? People, including potential contestants, judge. Take a good look at your online marketing materials—your website, your social media channels, even the e-mails sent from pageant volunteers. Are they sending a consistent message? Does the mission of your organization shine through all of these materials? A potential contestant may begin her research of your organization online, and if she is confused by the content housed on your webpage or comes away with an inconsistent message, she may be deterred from finding out more or participating.
But even in a digital age, don't underestimate the power of snail mail. “I send a(n information) packet to each middle and high school in my local area, with a letter to the guidance counselor on the scholarship opportunities. I also send these packets to all dance, cheer, vocal coaches, et cetera, in our area,” Jen said. “I then include smaller letter packets for teachers in talent specific areas (cheer, dance, choir, band, drama). Each has ten postcards with information on them. I then ask the teachers to give out those ten cards to students in their classes that they feel have the best academics, talent, and need for scholarships.”
No matter what strategy works best for your pageant, know that you don't have to recruit alone. Take a page from Jen’s book and put your former titleholders to work enlisting new constants. “We have our titleholders give out cards to girls involved in their extracurricular activities,” Jen said.
Written by: Erika Rose is fourpoints magazine's staff writer.