The Rise and Fall of the Narconon Internet Marketing Empire (Part 1)

This is the beginning of a 10-part series on Narconon’s Internet Marketing. Join “SEOlogy” as we explore the history of Narconon’s internet marketing and use of referral sites, how they’ve been affected by factors beyond Narconon’s control, and how those methods compare to those used by traditional rehab centers. Find out how sales and marketing for the Narconon program may change in the future.

This paper seeks to explain the some of the various Narconon marketing strategies in comparison with traditional drug and alcohol rehab facilities, with a primary focus on the internet as a tool and also to explain why the Narconon marketing strategy is failing. In this paper we will discuss some basic Search Engine Optimization techniques (SEO), Google algorithm changes that have affected internet marketing, sales techniques, and marketing approaches. In addition we will discuss how the internal workings of a Narconon Sales Division’s usage of the tech of Scientology is actually worsening their situation. Although not a complete paper outlining every marketing and Search Engine internet strategy, it will provide a basic overview for the reader, especially in regards to Narconon.

Common Drug and Alcohol Rehab Marketing Strategies.
Prior to the advent of the internet, drug and alcohol rehab facilities relied upon a variety of different approaches to increase admissions into their individual treatment facilities. It is important to understand that prior to the internet, treatment facilities with few exceptions focused primarily on local business rather than national business. In the 1980s, rehabs such as Charter and Gateway were exceptions and advertised nationally, but they were also rare as they were a national chain of rehabs. Most rehabs were local and here’s what they focused on:

  1. Traditional Advertising: This includes newspaper articles, radio ads, billboards, and television commercials.
  2. In-network insurance referrals: Many treatment centers sought to be included “in network” with various insurance providers and when families would contact their insurance provider would be referred to a local treatment center within their list.
  3. Therapist, clinician and medical facility referrals: Over time, a treatment center eventually developed a small network of local clinicians, hospitals and organizations who would refer clients to the local drug rehab facilities. It is considered illegal or unethical to gain referral fees for these referrals and such referrals were generally done as a part of the overall treatment with a particular client. In other words, a therapist who had a client that continually used drugs would refer a client somewhere to stabilize them as a part of their ongoing therapeutic treatment.
  4. Business Development or Marketing Representatives: Generally, these were paid employees of a treatment center that would travel to various organizations, clinicians, etc. and promote their own treatment center in an attempt to increase referrals and make themselves known.
  5. Local word of mouth: Over time a treatment center began to “self generate” referrals just from being in a local area.  Clients that finished treatment returned to the community and began attending support groups or therapy sessions, and the treatment center’s “reputation” grew in the recovery community, the clinical community and the local community as a whole. In addition, many rehab facilities hosted support group meetings on-site at their facility and became a common place to go for those seeking recovery.
  6. Branding: Certain larger facilities became well known at a national level and their name becomes associated with treatment. Hazelden or Betty Ford are good examples of this.

Now prior to the late 1990s, Narconon struggled with marketing because many of the above local marketing strategies didn’t (and still don’t) really apply to them. Narconon doesn’t usually develop relationships with therapists in their local community, Narconon wasn’t in any insurance networks, and many clients don’t return to the local recovery community to spread the word. With a lack of aftercare, support groups, and therapeutic referrals, Narconon did a rather poor job of becoming a valuable local community presence in their local arenas. In the early days, Narconon relied on newspaper ads and some attempts to mail out information packets to various lawyers and therapists across the country. Other attempts by Narconon included Drug Education programs to promote awareness of their programs in schools, churches and other places. In addition, referrals from various Churches of Scientology also brought in clients. At this time, the internet as a marketing tool didn’t exist as it does today, and little was known about internet marketing. 

In a nutshell, regular treatment facilities could basically open up in a local community, create relationships with local professionals, become in-network with an insurance company and they would eventually begin to grow. They had no need to attempt to market at a national level. They generated enough business locally to prosper.

However, Narconon generally doesn’t mesh well with local treatment professionals. In addition, their failure to be covered by insurance meant that all clients were “private pay” clients. Also, local word of mouth can be an intake-killer for a controversial rehab such as Narconon. Narconon clients return home with reports of the weird approaches, Scientology practices, lack of professional training among many staff members, lack of actual therapy and aversion towards 12-step principles. At a local level, Narconons could not, and would never be, more than a handful of beds in size.

Ironically, Narconon’s philosophy somewhat protected their reputation. In other words, if clients are recommended to avoid traditional 12-step meetings, therapists, and psychiatrists, then these peer groups and/or professionals would never hear about the oddities that occurred at a Narconon.

And then came the internet.

Read Part 2 of
The Rise and Fall of the Narconon Internet Marketing Empire.

M e m o s

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  1. From the Desk of...
    Miss Fortune

    Fabulous! Looking forward to parts 2-10!