Aspen Marketing -- Quid pro Quo -- Special Events
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It as been Aspen’s practice to provide one or two major events each year for their best referral sources and for referring professionals they are trying to attract.  (We hear that during the recession this has been cut back to one event).   These tend to be situated at resort hotels, and feature educational events with world class speakers.  For their educational value, we see no problem.   For an opportunity to describe their offerings to potential referral sources, we have no problem. 

Our, consultant, Tom Croke, has attended two of these events, one in Park City, Utah; the other in Asheville, North Carolina.  We were targeted for the Park City program as a potential source of greater volume of referral than we were offering up until that time.   We were targeted for the Asheville program because of the events described "Information for Referral" below.  At the time, we did not fully recognize the pattern of activity we are addressing here (and probably should have been wise enough to do so), and we probably should have declined the invitations. 

In our defense, one thing is clear: the invitations could not have been extended as a reward for our referral pattern leading up to those events. While we do refer to Aspen programs when we believe they are genuinely the best choice, we are not likely to be confused with a referral source having the volume of referral that Aspen would like to reward. 

In each case the educational value was tremendous, and the exposure to the nearby Aspen schools and programs was appropriately informative.  But we aren’t sure the chamber orchestra providing dinner music was entirely necessary to the educational value of the event (Asheville).   Tom did hear Senior Vice President Patty Evans announce that the event was “thank you” for referrals.  Oops.

Even if all of the events were entirely appropriate to an educational purpose and/or to informing potential referral sources about Aspen facilities, we are still not convinced that it is within Principles of Good Practice of NATSAP or within our guidelines for this kind of educational opportunity to be offered specifically in reaction to a referral pattern, as Ms. Evans specifically indicated.   

That means we are unsure that NATSAP member programs owned by a parent company that offers lavish “thank you” events as rewards are in compliance with NATSAP’s Principles of Good Practice and we are not sure  that IECA member consultants who attend such events pursuant to strong referral patterns to Aspen are in compliance with Principles of Good Practice of IECA.  We also doubt that the question will ever be resolved unless someone brings a formal complaint. 

While president of Aspen, Jim Dredge told us that these events were his idea, intending to create an opportunity for people with professional interest to have an opportunity to hear world class speakers in a relaxing setting without being exposed to marketing pressures.  That would be fine if Aspen were to announce credibly a rationale for selecting invitees that is not dependent upon referral patterns, was not so directly associated with tours of schools and programs and onsite presentations, and was affirmatively divorced from marketing interests.   

We do not believe we are in danger of being invited to these events any time soon, but we would not be comfortable attending such events, if invited, until Aspen takes the step of clarifying its invitation pattern and subsequent activity according to our suggestion in the previous paragraph.  We would have greater respect for Aspen / CRC Health Group / Bain Capital if they would take that step.  We would have greater respect for referring professionals if they were to decline invitations until that change occurs. 

Next Text on Aspen Marketing in Sequence -- Quid pro Quo -- Power of Referrals (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 (red link)

           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 FamilyLightResponse@yahoo.com

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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