by Terry Gibney
Surely Lanny Fred could have a career in advertising. But
he works in Montana, not on Madison Avenue, and his passion is
parenting. Fred directs the Parent Connection, the parent services
organization for the Billings Public Schools and neighboring
districts. A conversation with this marketing-savvy educator
reveal a blueprint for building a comprehensive parent education
"I think its very important to keep the program
out in front of the community at all times," says Fred,
noting that the Parent Connections extensive offering of
services is not worth much if no one knows about them.
In addition to serving as a gateway to social services and
health care agencies, the Connection promotes parent education
through the use of Active Parenting Today,
Active Parenting of Teens, 1,
2, 3, 4 Parents! and Parents on
The Parent Connection uses every possible mediumTV,
radio, print, live presentations, a citywide network of people
and materialsas well as old fashioned hospitality to invite
people into parent education. "Were very parent-conscious,"
states Fred. "When parents come through our door, were
on our feet to make them feel welcome."
Eliminating the stigma some parents feel when they seek help
is a challenge that Fred and his staff meet head-on. "Its
important to help parents over the initial fear that they must
be bad parents to need a parenting class," he says. "We
instill in the minds of our trainers that we are not experts.
We stress the smorgasbord approach to parentstake from
the program what works best for you."
So how does the Parent Connection actually get parents into
classes? Here are some of Lanny Freds tipsa sort
of Parent Education Marketing Primer.
1. Use the mass media...
Television and radio stations in Billings are required to provide
free public service announcements and programming that benefit
the community. However, this does not always translate into airtime
when many non-profits are competing for publicity. One of Freds
solutions was to become a member of the advisory board of "Friends
of the Family," a local TV stations ongoing promotion
of family-friendly activities and services in Billings. Now he
has the inside track to getting his organizations name
and number in front of the public.
The Parent Connection receives some of its best response from
human-interest stories in local newspapers. One of Freds
leaders recently facilitated a group attended by an older couple
struggling with the challenges of a teenage daughter. The couples
participation in the Active Parenting of Teens program helped
turn the tide, and the family wanted to share its story. The
resulta prominently placed article and picture in a local
newspaper that raises new interest in the teen program.
Fred also heavily publicizes the telephone number of the Parent
Connection, making sure it is used whenever possible in stories
and promotional materials. "People dont always understand
what the Parent Connection offers," he says. "But if
they have the phone number they can always ask."
2. Pound the streets...
When the Billings parent education program began eight years
ago, Fred and his staff made 45-minute presentations to the parent/teacher
organizations in all the city schools. "We used Active Parenting
preview tapes and taught some easily-learned parenting skills,"
he says. That was enough to get classes started, and within a
year and a half, 1,000 parents were trained. "Having that
many leaders out there made a big difference," says Fred.
"It was at that point that word-of-mouth started having
Presentations at schools are still regularly employed, with
a large part of the time devoted to promoting 1, 2, 3, 4 Parents!
and Parents on Board. "Were targeting parents
who have preschool kids," says Fred. "We want to give
parents good information while their children are still very
The Parent Connection makes classes easily accessible by holding
them not only in their downtown office but also in schools, churches
and business sites. "We are willing to facilitate classes
at any place and any time," laughs Fred. Parents must pay
for classes but the United Way and the Billings Breakfast Exchange
provide a scholarship fund, so no parent is ever turned away.
3. Create new avenues for parent education...
The Parent Connections main office houses a Family Resource
Center with books and tapes for parents. Fred is in the process
of establishing satellite resource centers in all twenty-four
elementary schools. Seventeen are already up and running.
In addition to providing learning resources to parents, these
centers also welcome parents into the schools and engender a
feeling of belonging. Parents no longer go to school just for
special events or when there is a problem. The part-time coordinators
at the satellite centers are parents themselves, furthering the
idea that parents do have a place at their childs school.
In February of this year on two consecutive Saturdays, the
Parent Connection held its first "Parent Fairs" for
preschool parents. These three-hour fairs put a packet of information
in parents hands and gave them a brief overview of parent
education opportunities. The result has been increased enrollment
for 1, 2, 3, 4 Parents! classes, a program that is proving
very successful in Billings.
4. Work Your Contacts...
"Weve trained about 400 facilitators over the years,"
notes Fred. For a creative administrator, these trainers form
a community-wide network of helpers who are a great source of
referrals, resources and advice. Freds office sends updated
information packets to "alumni" every year so the Parent
Connection is always on their minds. These people are "a
tremendous referral base." Freds advice: keep them
in the loop.
5. Dont Rest on Your Laurels...
Measuring the results from parenting classes is never easy, but
Fred believes that follow-up questionnaires are an important
tool for gauging success. The last Parent Connection survey was
sent out to 200 parents who had attended a parenting course.
Over half of the surveys came back, and 97% of those respondents
answered "yes" to the question "Have you seen
a positive change in your family as a result of attending an
Active Parenting class?"
While acknowledging the many successes of the Billings program,
Fred is cautious not to view it through rose-colored glasses.
"Its a continual effort. If you dont keep working
to get the message out, enrollment will plateau," he observes.
With an educator/marketer like Lanny Fred at the helm, its
hard to imagine that happening.
Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 1998 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.