Aspen Marketing

-- Exploiting Publicity About Abuses in the Field -- Attempting to Project the Image that Aspen Education is Uniquely Immune to these Problems
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Too often we hear of clinicians advising parents that sending their child to a therapeutic program away from home is only a good idea if it is an Aspen program.  Clinicians and other referring professionals who give that advice are likely falling victim to Aspen's aggressive marketing and are either being duped or are perhaps responding to Aspen's generous perks for referral sources. Of particular concern is the subtext in Aspen's message:  "With the publicity about dangers in these programs, all non-Aspen programs are suspect.  This kind of program really is dangerous, except for the ones we operate."   We don't suggest that anyone at Aspen/ CRC Health Group/ Bain Capital  is actually using those words,  but it appears to be what they want their more nave marketing targets to believe.  

Some Aspen programs are good programs. A few are truly outstanding.  However, people who speak as if Aspen programs are consistently better than all others  are at best misinformed and are probably not reliable sources of referral.  We note that the State of Oregon has taken licensing actions that have led to the shutdown of two Aspen programs operating in that state:  Sagewalk Wilderness in Oregon closed following the death of a participant. Then Mt. Bachelor Academy closed following license suspension. 

While we are not happy about the way Oregon handled these suspensions, we also believe that Aspen is the only brand that has had two major recent government enforcement actions against them in such a short period of time.  Even if Oregon over-reacted, Aspen is far from being above and apart from the activities that have come under the widespread criticism that surrounds therapeutic ventures for teens. 

We have little insight into the actual events at Sagewalk other than what we read in the media. In both cases we are concerned about the behavior of the State of Oregon, and do not wish to defend their procedures.  In this item, our interest is the behavior of Aspen Education and the relationship of the events surrounding these closings to the marketing claims that families are safer dealing with Aspen than dealing with others.   We do know that one face of Aspen, in dealing with accusations of an alleged pattern of abuse by schools and programs, has been to express solidarity with the industry as a whole in defending against these accusations. 

At the same time Aspen marketing has promoted the implication that Aspen Education programs are safe but you need to worry about all other programs.  And that particular bobbing and weaving has taken place while Aspen’s Mt. Bachelor Academy was shut down by Oregon authorities for allegedly maintaining in the first decade of the 21st century some of the very same abuses that have motivated the criticisms of the industry and  political pressure for tighter regulation. 

The word "hypocrisy" is among the words that occur to us.

Next Text on Aspen Marketing in Sequence: Aspen Marketing -- Web Advertising (Red Link)

Navigating the Aspen Marketing article:

1.  Exploiting publicity about abuses in the field, attempting to project the image that Aspen Education is uniquely immune to these problems.  

Too often we hear of clinicians advising parents that sending their child to a therapeutic program away from home is only a good idea if it is an Aspen program.  Clinicians and other referring professionals who give that advice are likely falling victim to  .   .   .   (more)

2.  Web Advertising.  A further example of where we would like to see improvement at Aspen/ CRC Health Group involves their web advertising. We saw temporary improvement about the time we previously called public attention to this, but it appears the problem is back, or maybe it never left and we just missed it.    (more) 

          2a. Documentation

3. Quid pro quo marketing.  Quid pro quo marketing is providing some incentive, often an item of value in exchange for business.  It is not like the “cents off” coupon from your neighborhood grocery store; it is more like paying someone who appears to be a neutral source to tell you that is the best grocery store in town.  We are not accusing Aspen or CRC Health Group of actual payoffs or referral fees to educational consultants.  We will let you decide whether or not what we describe crosses any troubling lines.  (more)

              3a. Exorbitant perks

              3b. Special Events

           3c. External Referral

           3d. Information for Referral

4. Misuse of outcome studies.

Aspen, to its great credit, commissioned an extensive outcome study blanketing its schools, excluding its wilderness programs. The problem arises when the study is used to convince others of the effectiveness of one school or treatment center, ignoring the fact that the results of many schools have been lumped together.   (more)

5.  Referral from one Aspen program to another.

When a person is referred to an Aspen school or program, upon completion of that stay Aspen generally refers back to the referral source, a common practice in their business.  When a person arrives at an Aspen program  .  .  .  (more)

Additional Links:  

Return to main article on Aspen Education

Blog entry on closure of Mt. Bachelor Academy

Official web site of Aspen Education

Official web site of CRC Health Group

Official web site of Bain Capital

Return to Major Providers Index

Return to Individual Schools and Programs Index

Woodbury Reports links to Aspen Education

Feedback is invited. We will publish selected feedback.  Email

Disclaimer: No  program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation.  When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree.  When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source.  We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance.  It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines.  Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.

Last revised April 12, 2010

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