Wednesday 15 June 2011

More on MRTs

I’m back home from a couple of good days with the Mountain Equipment team in Manchester. I was speaking in lecture at the ME store talking about trying to arrive at a confident state for heading back up to Orkney again for sessions on my project. To help with that I finally got a nice day to head out with Anna and do some tradding. This is the difficulty in Scotland sometimes - Although I feel quite fit now from Steall and board sessions, there’s no substitute for going out and leading a lot of long routes (if your training for a long trad route). So I made the most of it and did some of the lovely multipitch E5s on Dirc Mhor while watching the Golden Eagle soaring about at the other end of the glen. Wet holds at Steall defeated another new route from happening, but the main thing was that workouts were had...
My post on mountain rescue a few days ago attracted some attention as I thought it might. Most seemed to welcome or share my thoughts. I had one long comment that was rejected by blogger because of it’s length (addressed below) suggesting many of my suggestions for raising funds had been adopted, at least by some teams. Thats great. I hope it’s working well. My feeling is that it certainly could be given the strength of the resource. My underlying point with my post was that I hope the temptation to blame the outside world for not offering as much support as they could or noticing the products etc that teams produce for them is resisted. 
The difference between a campaign to raise funds that either falls short of a good result or does spectacularly well can be so subtle and dependent on countless aspects of how it’s presented, timed and mediated. In the case of mountain rescue the challenge seems clear to me which is to reach the vast majority who despite being very interested in climbing, are not interested in supporting mountain rescue, as harsh as that sounds. That majority are very unlikely to find themselves on an MRT site unless there’s a very interesting article or video taking them there. 
Some of the comments focused on my idea about books. If the book produced by the MRT isn’t on Amazon and that’s the only place you go to shop for books, then it doesn’t exist. And just being there is not enough, it needs to pop up beside those books you are searching for. Have you seen how popular the dramatic tales of climbing epics are on Amazon? It needs to be a ‘book’ not a ‘booklet’ (I’ve never bought anyone a booklet for Christmas) and the fact that the proceeds go to mountain rescue needs to be more in the background so as not to raise a question in the mind of the buyer about the quality of what they are going to get. And does the cover ‘work’ at 150 pixels high?
Here was Judy’s comments below in italics, with some responses to each point from me:
"Hi Dave
Great to see you talking about mountain rescue and coming up with some thoughts. Entirely agree with you on the tweeting and retweeting!
Just a few points though in response to your points.
The safety angle: both at team level and nationally, we spend a great deal of our time spreading the message about what to take with you (map, compass, correct kit etc,) what to do before you go (weather checking, training in appropriate skills etc) and how to stay safe whilst out there. You'll find info like this on any team's website and it's certainly contained on the Mountain Rescue England and Wales site. Team members spend a deal of time, every week, giving talks and slide shows about their work, including the safety aspect.
We also write and publish books on the subject. 'Call Out Mountain Rescue?' is available for £9.99 from - all proceeds to MREW.”
Its great that MRTs spread the word on safety. If MRTs could act as a catalyst for climbers at large to spread the word about safety, rather than having to shoulder the effort so directly, it might increase the reach greatly. What video or writing do you have or can get that climbers will want to show eachother? 
“Re the topos idea - although we DO count several MIs in our ranks, we're not instructors. Our job is to pick up the pieces, if you will, not be prescriptive to people about which routes they take or how they rope themselves.”
That’s unfortunate. Prescriptive maybe not, but advisory on where and how the accidents happen on specific spots would be most welcome. How else are you going to get that vast majority who aren’t interested in what you do onto your site?
“That said, we DO work with both the AMI and the BMC to promote safe practice.
Stories: yep we have them in bulk and they're sent to the press/radio and TV by all teams and nationally probably every day of the week. The problem is, we have no control over whether these make it into print.”
Yes you do. Present the stories well enough and the press can’t afford not to follow. Besides, you are the press now anyway. The internet leads the press. The variables limiting reach are the strength of the presentation of the stories and the best use of the channels to present them.
“Local press DO support their local teams but it's not easy to persuade the bigger fish to run stories. Nationally, it's stuff like floods, missing children or smartphone apps that make the papers and TV. That said, the last couple of years have seen an increase in mags and Sunday supplements, and documentary makers showing an interest in our work. It's a constant work-in-progress.”
This gives me two thoughts - are the subset of everyone who you need to reach (the ones who might buy a book about mountain stories, watch a video, read a good article etc) best reached using newspapers or TV? Do those media catch the right people at the right time, and make it easy enough for them to take one of the fund raising clicks you want them to take? I would have my doubts. For example, I’ve never taken my newspaper home and typed in a URL at the end of piece.
"Re the books, there's 'Mountain Rescue', by myself and Bob Sharp, which contains lots of anecdotes, history and details about mountain rescue in the UK. I look forward to your order via the MREW website!!”
I’m never on the MREW website. I didn’t know it was there as I’ve never seen anyone link to it.
“Mechanism for contacting those we rescue? You're working with it. The net. Teams will generally keep in touch with those they have rescued, and those rescued are frequently our best advocates and fundraisers. We also keep in touch with people through Basecamp membership, Facebook pages and in our Mountain Rescue magazine.”
“Many teams use Twitter, although I believe there are inherent problems with this as a medium as there may be circumstances where it is neither sensitive not advisable to post on-going details of rescues, for example in missing persons searches or fatalities, before these have been officially released.”
“And we're not really in the business of posting weather updates - there are Met Office and mountain weather websites and apps set up specifically for this. Many teams and MREW have links to these sites.”
That’s unfortunate. It seems a shame to send users away from your site rather than attract them to it using the one piece of information they need to check every time they go climbing. There’s an emerging massive gap in the web market for carefully aggregated local information for mountain users that’s presented in a useful way. It’s a web design and marketing problem. Someone will take the space, soon. If it’s not you it’ll be a gear retailer, or maybe even just some geek who also likes to climb. That would a shame. It comes back to my original point - MRTs will never be able to raise funds by appealing to fear or responsibility. It will have to deal in something that climbers want to have, do or experience. Chris Anderson’s book has a lot that would be useful for MRT fundraisers I think.
“Bigger business: Again, yes we DO have various sponsors in place as you describe. Not QUITE as easy to get big companies on board as you might think but those we have are very supportive of MR. They include Victorinox, btw. Many companies support teams and many clothing manufacturers work closely with teams and MREW in the ongoing development of kit.
Finally, we are always looking for ambassadors for mountain rescue who can spread the word and help us raise awareness. Fancy a job? The salary is good - £0 - but the satisfaction level is brilliant. Drop me a line if you do!
Judy Whiteside (Mountain Rescue Magazine Editor)”
Great comment. Thanks Judy. I understand my point of view might seem ignorant of the problems. That’s true - I am, because I have an outsiders perspective and it’s not my area. My points are two very general ones - that there is a resource there which could be used to greater advantage, and that there are new opportunities emerging right now because of how media is changing that make it a lot easier to raise funds if the right moves are made.


  1. Matt Spencer16 June, 2011

    Will you be taking the ambassador role on, Dave?

  2. Excellent response to the comments on the points that were already rightfully raised by Dave in his original post. ;)