I’d like to pull our focus into a particularly noisy part of the online discussion.

It was in the last half of 2014 that I noticed this particular noise. For a while there, it was all I ever seemed to read on the LinkedIn forums.  To be honest, I got really frustrated by it.

That frustration came from a number of places. Firstly, this ‘noisy topic’ is something that every RTO does – has to do in fact – to survive. Secondly, and probably the most frustrating part, is that I have been directly involved in this RTO task many times (and copped my fair share of ‘noise’ for it, too).

I’m talking about the constant stream of commentary around other RTO’s marketing and advertising. I say “other” RTO’s, because I’ve never seen anyone put up their own ads, or drawn attention to their own practices.

So, what I noticed is that people are going onto online forums (LinkedIn mostly) and posting links to, copies of, or explaining an RTO advertisements. From there, there is usually commentary about how bad the ad is, all it’s faults and often all of that is accompanied by a criticism of the ad as a whole, completely categorising the ad as just ‘bad’ overall, ignoring any part of the ad that is indeed well done.

One particular example that springs to mind is an ad for a Certificate IV course, that was offered over a period of six weeks.

The commentary that flowed from this was all about a few little compliance things that were absent from the ad, but mostly focussed on the short nature of the course (6 weeks).  Essentially, this RTO was being completely roasted for their ad, but in my mind, the commentary wasn’t nearly well enough informed to be making the assumptions and comments that it did.

Here are a few thoughts I had about this situation….

  • We don’t know if funding was involved. The commentary talked about these types of programs being run by profit hungry, funded RTO’s out to make a quick buck from the government subsidy.
  • We don’t know from the ad if the 6 weeks refers to the whole program, or just the face to face, for example. If the course was structured so that the face to face component was 6 weeks, followed by some self study or online study, maybe that would be ok (and maybe the commentary might be inappropriate).
  • A range of assumptions were made – about the course quality in particular. The commentary was quick to intonate that this course couldn’t possibly be high quality. How do we know that from the ad?

Then the conversation went to a broad discussion about all the ‘dodgy providers’ out there. In other words, it went off topic.

Most disappointingly of all was that, when I asked the thread commenters to consider what was good about the ad (and there were good aspects – and in my opinion, even clever aspects), there was not a single response. Not one.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I still make the odd mistake with my ads and promotion. There’s so much to think about when creating the ads – logos, TOID’s, course codes, statements required by funding contracts, regulators, brand guidelines etc.

I, like the people who made the ad in question, am human after all.

Human and prone to mistakes.

And let’s not forget that the standards allow us to make mistakes as long as we have systems to address them when made.

No regulator expects us to be perfect.  They expect us to do the right thing, and improve when we realise we aren’t.

So what’s my point?

My point is that very little of this noise around advertising and promotion actually helps RTO’s to improve practice.

And before you say “well, they got feedback about their ads, so that’s good” think about whether you’re more likely to want to improve when being openly and widely criticised in front of your peers, or when you are being provided positively composed, constructive feedback.

Think about how much better we could be as a sector if we collaborated and supported each other, rather than publicly ripping each other to shreds.

Imagine if the person who posted the ad up and said something like “Guys, look at this ad. It’s got some really clever bits about it that we could all learn from.  It looks like they have forgotten to put a few things on there (insert list here), but apart from that, I like it!”

This is a completely different conversation. One that is focussed on the positives, whilst not ignoring the negatives, - rather than focussed on negatives and completely ignoring the positives.  If I created the ad, I’d be open to hearing the improvements I could make – in fact, I’d be really appreciative.

Appreciative of negative, uninformed, potentially slanderous commentary? Not so much (read, not at all).

I’m not saying we shouldn’t hold each other accountable, I’m saying let’s do that in a constructive way.

I wonder what an outsider looking in would think of our behaviour in this regard? What are your thoughts? Are you an outsider looking in? What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Until next time, follow me on twitter @avetmess. You’ll find AVETMESS on Facebook too! If you’d like to contact me, go ahead and email nick@avetmess.com.au