Ethical Solicitation, Marketing, and Promotion

The Federal Trade Commission recently entered into a Consent Agreement with the PSA to better help promote a competitive business market; the goal is to increase competition between coaches, reduce fees for skaters, improve the quality of services, and to encourage innovation.
To achieve these objectives, all coaches are encouraged to market and promote themselves directly to potential clients. Pursuant to our agreement with the Federal Trade Commission, restrictions that had previously prohibited a coach from soliciting the student of another coach are no longer in effect. Coaches can promote their background and credentials as they see fit, subject, of course, to the requirement that such marketing and promotion may not be misleading, as is discussed in greater detail below.

For example, coaches may choose to market themselves through information which can be posted in a public space at the rink, a dasher board banner, advertised in a flyer or competition program, or promoted in a newspaper. Flyers, business cards, apparel, direct mail, and mass e-mail are all excellent ways to promote your business to a wide audience. Coaches may take the opportunity to have a professional presence on social media, such as blogging, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or a website, being mindful of how they communicate specifically with minor children in regards to a literal or implied impression of abuse, bullying, or sexual misconduct. Many coaches say they market themselves through their work. Their student’s accomplishments are their "advertisement." That, unequivocally, is a great way to promote oneself.

The key to a successful marketing plan is strategic planning. Your plan should identify the tactics you will employ to gain new clients. Your plan should describe your business; a philosophy of your coaching style and technique, services performed, and other details related to the skating business.

More importantly, coaches must research their specific market to help profile their potential customers.  Gathering information on the demographics of your area such as economic indicators, social trends, and population statistics will help you understand your target audience. Identify their needs and plan accordingly.

As an example, an introductory private lesson can be given free of charge or at a discounted rate. This allows the coach to evaluate the skater, begin a relationship with the family, and identify talent. It also allows the coach to communicate their vision of short and long term goals for the skater to the parents. In certain situations, discounted lesson fees may be required to allow the skater to participate.
Recruiting students in an ethical manner says a good deal about a coach’s integrity and promotes a professional image to prospective clients.

Code of Ethics Rule #2: No member shall represent themselves using false or deceptive statements intended to mislead.

Making statements about the comparative desirability of offered coaching services or claiming or implying unusual, unique, or one-of-a-kind coaching abilities is acceptable as long as it is not misleading. 

However, misrepresenting your credentials or experience is not acceptable and will be considered a breach of Rule #2 of the PSA Code of Ethics. The Federal Trade Commission Act, Section Five: Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices, states advertisements in the U.S. must be truthful, not deceptive or unfair. The FTC defines deceitful statements as those that are likely to mislead consumers under normal circumstances and that are likely to affect consumers' decisions.

“Every skater has the right to believe his coach is the best and should not be interfered with by a high-pressure, fast-talking, snake oil salesman who promises stardom but by his own action, lacks the very qualities needed to develop championship caliber skaters.”

– Bob Mock, Past President, PSA

The FTC defines unfair advertisements as those that are likely to cause substantial, unavoidable injury, unless the injury is outweighed by the provable benefits. According to Section 5 of the FTC Act, “Substantial injury usually involves monetary harm,” but can also come in many other forms. Specifically the FTC writes, “Injury exists if consumers would have chosen differently but for the deception.”

According to the FTC Policy Statement on Deception written in October of 1983, practices that have been found misleading or deceptive in specific cases include false oral or written representations, or failure to perform promised services. The FTC also considers claims or omissions “material” if they significantly impact health or safety in which a consumer could be reasonably concerned.

Coaches should take extra care when promoting themselves to children, and refrain from using psychological tactics to encourage demand. The FTC places special emphasis on truth-in-advertising laws when applied to children. Again, the FTC Policy Statement on Deception reports, “False, misleading, and deceptive advertising claims beamed at children tend to exploit unfairly a consumer group unqualified by age or experience to anticipate or appreciate the possibility that representations may be exaggerated or untrue. ” 
Another important responsibility is to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for all skaters. Coaches should be respectful of any disruption in the workplace that may put a skater’s safety in jeopardy.

Code of Ethics Rule #3: In order to protect the safety and development of students, no member shall engage in any in person solicitation of a student while the student is actively engaged in a lesson or while “performing”. “Performing” means skating or preparing to skate in an event at an arena in a test, competition, or exhibition, and includes meeting with coaches, locker room time, practice skating, and warmup skating.

Additionally, for US Figure Skating registered coaches, SafeSport policies must be followed in order to provide a safe environment for its members that are free of abuse and harassment. While the PSA wishes to encourage the open recruitment of skaters, our members must understand the limitations required to protect minors. The SafeSport Program Handbook is available for download on the US Figure Skating website.

Ideal Toy, 64 F.T.C. 297, 310 (1964)