Dan Tudor

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Developing Your Recruiting RelationshipMonday, April 28th, 2008

If you can’t recruit good athletes to your school, you don’t have a prayer for having a long coaching career. Plain and simple.

Just like any business, your primary concern has to be making "sales".  When I conduct one of our SFC On-Campus Workshops, I try to make the point that 80% of a coach’s time is spent selling or recruiting in some way.  You really only get to coach 20% of the time during an average year.  The challenge is, of course, you can’t force your recruits to sign with you instead of a competitor. 

Your prospect has the advantage. And if he or she wants to ignore your recruiting message and play for the other guy, you can’t stop them. But what you can do, of course, is give them a compelling reason to choose you over your competitors.

And here’s some good news, Coach:  You don’t need a lot of money or staff to find – and keep – great recruits. You just need a few easy-to-come-by strategies that savvy business professionals use on a daily basis.

In fact, being "small" can actually work to your advantage when it comes to one of the all-time best strategies: Establishing a relationship with each recruit. It can:

Get the recruit to trust you enough to take the chance of committing to your program and playing for you, instead of your competitor.

Build loyalty – so the recruit wants to continue to interact with you rather than your competitors.

As a bonus, get the recruit to refer you to other potential prospects.

You develop relationships with your prospects the same way that you do it in your personal life. In big part, that means caring for them.

Think about the people you consider to be friends. Aren’t they people you genuinely care about – and who seem to genuinely care about you?

And think about your relationships with companies – big and small – that you deal with on a fairly regular basis as a college coach. 

You must admit that it’s awfully hard to believe that the mega-corporations – General Motors, for example – care about you. They are nameless, faceless conglomerates. It’s a lot easier to believe that your local GM car salesman has a sincere interest in you. After all, he lives in your community. His kids go to school with your kids. You meet him face to face when you step into his dealership. That’s why, unlike General Motors, he can – if he chooses – establish real, caring long-term relationships with you and his other customers.

And that’s why you, too, will have an easy time proving to your recruits (and their parents, and their coaches) that you are concerned about them and their problems… and that you’re there to help.  Not just to sell, not just to recruit, but to help

If you want to differentiate yourself from most other coaches who will read this and then forget about it later today, try this classic three-step method for establishing those all-important prospect relationships:

1. Focus on a narrow niche market.

In the same way more and more businesses are focusing on a specific small market segment, have you ever considered doing the same thing with recruiting your prospects?  Recruiting from specific regions of the country other than your own?  Developing a story that tells your recruit something very specific, or very memorable, about your program?  Sometimes, a specific focus can help you tell your story in a much more compelling way, and give recruits a reason to listen to what you’re saying. 

2. Take the time to understand your customers and their problems.

Only by putting yourself in your recruit’s shoes – taking the time to figure out not only their wants and needs but also their worries, fears, and hopes – can you develop a message and an offer that will truly help them.

When you do that – when you give them something that will make their lives better or easier in some way – you’re sending a very strong message that you care. Our special report, "Inside the Mind of Your College Prospects" that many of you have used to create a better focus for your recruiting efforts.  If you haven’t read it, you should.

3. Make your recruiting messages personal.

Building close relationships with your prospects and their family is all about communicating on a personal level (as it is with your family and your friends). That’s true of any direct contact you may have with your prospects in person or over the phone – and it’s just as true of the indirect contact you have with them in your recruiting materials that you are sending them.

Here are a few suggestions for making your recruiting letter and e-mail copy more personal:

Write your sales message in a conversational tone, as if you’re talking to a friend. For example, instead of a sales professional saying "This business program can help you earn substantial profits," they might instead say "You know that new car you’ve had your eye on? Well, check out this program. It will help you get it."

Share information about yourself. When people feel that they know you, they’re more inclined to trust you and want to play for you, Coach. The more honest a recruit perceives you as being, the better the chance you will connect with them in a real and meaningful way.  By the way, coaches who are starting to write blogs are jumping ahead of everyone else who is sitting on the sidelines still trying to communicate exclusively by e-mail and letters (I’d give you some examples of coaches that are doing this right, but they’ve warned me I better not tip off their competition as to what they are doing differently to stand-out from the crowd…sorry!)

Be honest. Say what you really think, not what you think your recruits want to hear. For instance, instead of sugarcoating your recruiting pitch, come right out and tell your prospects to stop feeling sorry for themselves…to stop stressing over choosing the right school and, instead, to take responsibility for whether they will succeed or fail in the future. That might be a little bold for some of you, but the point here is to use your words to get your prospect’s attention. And those who see things your way and appreciate your honest and up-front approach will become profoundly loyal to you when it comes to committing to you instead of the other guy.

You can’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Your sincerity – or insincerity – will always shine through.  Kids today are smart.  They know when you’re telling them the truth, and when you are stretching it a little too far. 

These three steps will help you quickly establish real rapport with your prospects. And, you’ll do it faster – and in a more substantial way – than your competition will.

3 Mistakes You’re Making With Your Recruiting EnvironmentMonday, April 28th, 2008

by Rodger Motiska, Winning Recruits 

We hear a lot these days about creating halls of fame and transforming athletic facilities into “recruiting facilities,” after all it is the business we’re all in. With all this talk though, what we typically see are facilities that may look great after their “transformation,” but only have a marginal effect on the school’s recruiting efforts.  Heck, our early efforts were pretty much the same thing.  

Why?  Because the focus is on decorating to make an "impression" and not on creating an experience that influences a recruit’s decision.

Here are the mistakes we see being made when it comes to creating environments that have a positive impact on a school’s recruiting efforts:

1. Looking at making facility improvements as "keeping up with the Joneses" instead of looking at how to give themselves a competitive recruiting advantage.  Virginia Tech’s All Sport Museum project is a great example of an athletic department going the extra mile to create something unique and memorable for the athletes they are recruiting.

2. Seeing the improvements as a one-time expense rather than making a long-term investment in their recruiting program.

3. Not understanding the difference between "decorating" and creating a recruiting experience.  N.C.NC State State’s Finley Hall of Champions (pictured here at the right) is an example of doing something dramatic that creates an unbelievable recruiting experience for the prospects that visit the campus.

What’s the difference?  It’s the difference between a sleepy old history museum that has rows upon rows of artifact displays versus a dynamic “hands-on” interactive science center where the displays are engaging and focused on educating an individual about complex scientific principles.  One is a display the other is an experience.  Which do you think makes a more memorable impact?

Most people don’t think of utilizing their environments as a medium for communication, they concentrate on what the facilities look like rather than what they say about you.  Your athletic facilities should be an extension of your recruiting message.  Your facility enhancements should be used to set the stage for your recruiting efforts during an on-campus visit, creating a “selling environment” to persuade a recruit that your program is the best fit for them. 

Consider the following:

  • Why can Starbucks sell a $1.25 cup of coffee for $4.50?  Because of the value that a customer gets for the experience – the opportunity to “get-away-from-it-all,” if only for the time that it takes to drink a cup of coffee.
  • When a guy plans to asks his special girl to marry him, he usually plans to “pop the question” in a romantic setting.  Why? Because the environment is more persuasive (and more memorable.)

These examples demonstrate the fact that an environment has an impact on your ability to sell.  Making improvements to your facilities for the sake of “looking good” or keeping up with the competition isn’t going to have the same impact as creating an experience that helps sell your recruiting message. 

“Change” is the biggest factor in creating a successful recruiting environment.  By focusing on communication rather than decorating, you can create an experience that helps you connect with a recruit and makes a lasting impression. 

Or, are you just going to "be like the Joneses"? 

Virginia Tech Basketball’s Recruiting “Secret Weapon”Monday, April 21st, 2008

In fall 2004, Virginia Tech had a new women’s basketball coaching staff and an outdated women’s basketball lounge and locker room.  This space, which is adjacent to the basketball court at Cassells Coliseum, plays a key role in the life of the team during basketball season.

New Head Coach Beth Dunkenberger wanted an eye-catching, energizing facility that would reflect the history and tradition of the program.  DJS Design, the parent company of Winning Recruits, was chosen to undertake this transformation.

DJS Design worked closely with the athletics office and coaching staff to upgrade the space, creating stimulating areas for team meetings, study spaces and personal locker/changing rooms.  The design team was responsible for everything from color selection and impact graphics to carpeting and furniture choices.

"We gave them a general overview of our goals, and they produced innovative ideas to realize them," Dunkenberger notes.

The result?  Bold graphics and a new color palette incorporate both the legacy of the program andVirginia Tech Women's Basketball the current team’s spirit into a fresh, engaging space that enhances players’ pride and sparks the interest of prospective student athletes. 

"We have a great home for our current team and an excellent recruiting tool for prospects," says Dunkenberger.  "We get a ‘Wow’ response when people see the facility for the first time." 

An added benefit of the new look is its impact on team boosters.  "For example, we have honorary coaches for each game who visit the locker room for the pre-game talk.  I always see them checking out the facility," Dunkenberger adds.

What would Dunkenberg say to someone considering an athletic facility design project with DJS Design?

"Do it, absolutely.  You’ll find the results that you’re looking for."

The first step?  A design audit from the recruiting environment experts at DJS Design and Winning Recruits.  Call them at 704-376-0803 and see what they would recommend for your athletic setting.

How to Supercharge Your Recruiting QuestionnaireMonday, April 14th, 2008

Last week’s article on more organized recruiting got a lot of good feedback from our readers, and even got some additional tips out of a leading college sports communications expert Leidy Smith, founder of Front Rush.

In addition to keeping the paper questionnaire form brief, as we recommended in last week’s newsletter, Leidy came up with a great idea: "How about also giving them the option to fill out the
form online? Wouldn’t an option to fill out the information another way logically increase the response rates?"

He went to observe that something in short supply in most houses today is a postage stamp, so having an online option should mean one less hurdle to getting the information back to the coach.  "While the recruits are online filling out the form at the customized questionnaire web page, they can read more about the team, the coaches and the school," says Smith. 

The other major problem a web-based system solves is the time consuming task of entering in information from paper forms.  Once the responses come in, who on the staff has the time to re-key the data into whatever the coaches use to track the information – assuming the information is legible to start with?

Front RushWith Front Rush, all teams receive a custom online recruit questionnaire to give recruits this added flexibility of responding – and reading more about the program. And since it is integrated with Front Rush’s web-based contact management tool there is no data entry for the coach. Users just click on the notification of the submission, read the information and reply with a branded email with two clicks of the mouse.

What about our recommendation to make your questionnaire forms shorter?  With Front Rush, a coach can decide what information will be filled out and what information can be saved for later. And, if there are any required fields, those can be edited and added easily and quickly. In addition, some fields can be check boxes, radio buttons or drop down menus. The recruit can also upload a picture, transcripts or paste in links to their online recruiting sites, or YouTube videos.

"And what’s really cool is a recruit can come back later and update the information," says Smith. "So making a form short to increase response is a great idea, but also giving the recruits another way to send in the information that coaches need. 

Combining a short written form, which is something we help our SFC Premium Members develop, along with driving them to a branded online site that will give coaches more information on the prospect they are recruiting.

Turning Recruiting Obstacles Into Selling PointsMonday, April 14th, 2008

A resort owner named Butch Stewart is about to teach you how to turn an obstacle into a selling point.  And you should listen to him, because he’s an expert on the subject.

You probably don’t know Stewart, but you’ve heard of his business.  He’s the guy who has spent theButch Stewart last thirty years building Sandals Resorts, the all-inclusive beach destination that has built a multi-million dollar business out of making people’s vacation dreams come true.

But to get where he wanted to go, Stewart had to overcome some huge obstacles.  This is where the lessons come in for coaches, especially those of you who would say that you’re facing some recruiting obstacles that are preventing you from getting the kids you really want to get.

We pick up Butch Stewart’s story, highlighted in a recent Inc. magazine article, at a critical point in the life of his business very early on after he had opened his first small resport:

"Everybody thought we’d be out of business the first month because the hotel is very close to the airport.  So, we came up with the idea of everyone waving to the people that were leaving in the plane, and kissing the one you love when a plane flies by.  I don’t think we had five complaints after we came up with that idea.

"Then the Concorde started to flying to Jamaica once a week, and it made more noise than any airplane I’ve ever heard.  The buildings literally shook!

"So, we decided to turn all the beach lounges to face the airport, and that magnificent airplane would get right up in front of everybody on the beach.  Guests would come rushing in asking, "Has the Concorde taken off yet?"  We made a promotion out of it."

There are several important lessons for coaches who face tough recruiting challenges at their schools.  If you can learn from these lessons, and from the "can do" attitude of entrepreneur Butch Stewart, you might see those obstacles actually become selling points to your recruits:

  • No complaining.  Don’t whine about the facilities.  Don’t moan about the lack of scholarship money.  Instead, focus on the creative solutions that are right in front of your face.
  • Believe your own story.  I just spent two great days with one of our best groups ever for our "Building a Winning Recruiting Message" workshop.  A big part of our time with this large group of coaches was the necessity of having a great story, and telling it to their recruits.  One big part of that strategy is to believe your story, and tell it to your prospects with passion.  That’s what Stewart did, and he turned a liability into something that his customers got excited about.
  • Do the unthinkable.  Stewart’s solution to the noisy Concorde taking off right next to his visitors on the beach?  Instead of apologizing for it, or ignoring it, he did the unthinkable…he actually forced his customers to see the airplane take off.  After a short time, it became the center of attention.  It became the cool thing to do, and people actually were disappointed if they missed the noisy take-off!  How did Stewart turn this liability into a selling point?  By doing the unthinkable. 

The lessons from this short business success story are really applicable for coaches facing tough circumstances when it comes to overcoming a less-than-desireable aspect of their college or program.  You have to find ways to turn around the perception of your prospect so that they can get past those weaknesses and start seriously considering your program.

Take a page from Butch Stewart’s story, and get busy saving your "business" by turning-around the way your prospects look at your program’s recruiting obstacles.

How to “Design to Recruit” Instead of Just “Decorate”Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

by Rodger Motiska, Winning Recruits 

Winning Recruits was recently invited to a school to take look at their facilities and make some recommendations on improvements to the interiors of their athletic facilities.  They had attempted to make some "improvements" to the décor on their own. While they had the best of intentions, they made some of the classic mistakes we see time again in the enhancements of athletic facilities.

The school had just hired a new head coach, someone with the credentials to take their program from years of mediocrity to fame. The facilities had a dated Hall of Fame, locker room and a weight room that were anything but state-of-the-art, the corridors and team areas were awash in photos from the past.

The new head coach immediately set out to upgrade two of the most important areas to his program — the weight room and locker room.  The next thing he demanded was to get rid of the existing photography and graphics that pointed to the past, an uninspiring one at that. This coach wanted to create a favorable impression on the new recruits that would be touring these facilities.  His instructions to the staff were to fill the halls with photos of recent game action photos, creating a sense of excitement for impressionable young high-school athletes.

The coach’s intuition was right on target!  But, unfortunately they ended up creating the exact opposite of what he desired.  Why?  They were focused on decorating rather than designing to recruit. 

Coaches are experts on coaching, and in our experience we have found that they have little or no knowledge of recent trends integrating marketing and branding into the built-environment.  Often, they lack understanding of how these same techniques can greatly benefit their recruiting. 

Our research has revealed that the real secret to gaining an edge in recruiting is to differentiate your program for your competition. What sets your program apart needs be incorporated in all of your recruiting communications – from what you say to electronic communications to your architecture and interiors.  You need to create an atmosphere that connects with today’s young people, an environment that communicates the unique attributes of your program and your school.  We call this integration of architectural design and communication techniques "experience design." If you’ve been to an Apple store, to a Nike Town or a Disney theme park, then you’ve experienced what we’re talking about.

Here are the specific mistakes we observed at this school and why the coach failed to accomplish his objectives:

There was simply too much of the same thing!
The photographs were all of the same subject matter and similar in size.  The result is that nothing stood out because everything “looked” alike and had equal emphasis. Which means that there isn’t anything that is memorable about the place.

Nothing communicated what is "different" about this program.
With the exception of the school colors on the uniforms, the photographs could have been from any school.  The result is a "missed opportunity" to reinforce their recruiting message and more importantly, to distinguish themselves from their competition.

The architecture does nothing to create an atmosphere that is reflective of this school’s unique "personality."  There isn’t any special lighting to enhance the photographs or graphics. The paint and wall finishes make the interiors look older than the building actually is.  The result was that rather than reflecting a "new beginning," its just more of the same thing that they see at most schools they visit (probably with similar records and promises.)

The irony is that instead of creating an exciting, memorable recruiting experience for campus visits (and especially in light of what we know their competition has) recruits visiting their facilities probably leave uninspired!  Worse yet, instead of signaling a bright new beginning for the program, their facilities are sending the exact opposite message… "we’re mired in the past."

Here’s what we would recommend to anyone that wants “to do it right."

1. PLAN
First and foremost you need to define what the message is that you’re trying to send to recruits.  This message needs to be communicated with consistency in all your recruiting tools, which includes your facilities.  Think through a typical tour of your facilities with a recruit, and plan appropriate points along the way to emphasize through the use of displays, graphics and multi-media those things that emphasize your recruiting message and distinguishing attributes of your program.  In this particular case the interiors, displays and any interactive media need to reflect the coach’s vision of a new legacy, that this school is no longer satisfied to have the reputation as a powerhouse in just one sport, that a recruit has the opportunity be an important part of building this new legacy.

2. DEFINE "WHAT MAKES YOU DIFFERENT"
Step back and look at your recruiting message, what in that message differentiates you from your competition (not just your conference, but the primary schools that you compete with for talent)?  Incorporate graphic displays and, if affordable, multi-media presentations into the environment.  Communicate your points of distinction and recruiting messages into these displays. For example Southern Cal Football’s current slogan is WIN FOREVER.  It’s a message they incorporate into all their recruiting tools.

3. DON’T "DECORATE", CREATE AN EXPERIENCE! 
To keep things interesting you need to have variety in the subject matter displayed and position visuals for maximum impact.  Architects often cite the adage "less is more" for a reason, it focuses the eye on what is important and therefore it becomes memorable.  Use colors to enliven the environment and finishes (such as carpet and trim) that enliven the interiors and at least signals that you’re living in the present.  Add lighting that creates drama and therefore a sense that this is someplace special.

The ultimate misfortune is that for the same amount of money that this coach spent on upgrading his facilities, he could have created a powerful recruiting tool.  In today’s competitive recruiting environment, even the little things mean a lot.  You may have good intentions, but if you don’t have the right execution, it may be wasted effort. 

Fixing the Problem of Unorganized RecruitingTuesday, April 8th, 2008

Jim and his staff are like most other college coaching staffs: Lots of travel, and even when all of their program’s coaches are on campus together, they don’t seem to be in the same place at the same time for very long.

He saw a problem developing when it came to their recruiting efforts.  They were trading voicemails and text messages with each other, swapping files back and forth, and keep track of new progress with their prospects by a series of Post-It notes stuck all over the folder.

“We knew that this wasn’t the best way to track recruits and assign recruiting responsibilities, but we just didn’t have the time or the know-how to come up with another way to do it,” recalls Jim.

For their program, Front Rush was the answer they had been waiting for. 

“When we heard about Front Rush at a coaching workshop that Selling for Coaches did at our school, we decided to give it a shot,” says Jim.  “I figured it couldn’t be any worse than the system we had in place already.”

Once the web-based system was in place, and Jim’s coaches had beautiful graphic rich e-mails to send to prospects, they stumbled upon something that they ended up loving:  Front Rush’s ability to assign tasks to various members of the coaching staff that were involved in recruiting.

“That was huge,” says Jim.  “Now, no matter where each coach is I can assign them a specific task that everyone can see and keep track of.  And because the Front Rush system is web-based, they can login in from anywhere – at home, on the road, in the office – and update a prospect’s file so that the rest of us know what we need to do to keep the process moving forward.”

Cost and the ease of use were the other pleasant surprises about the system.  But for Jim and his staff, the challenge of keeping each other updated on the latest conversations and commitments is the feature that has them sold on an easy-to-use, feature rich prospect tracking system like Front Rush.

Why It’s Not Always About the MoneyTuesday, April 8th, 2008

It isn’t always about the money, Coach.

Your athletes – the kids you are recruiting – will choose you even if you aren’t offering a full ride scholarship.

I bring this up because I’ve had a string of e-mails and phone calls the past few weeks from coaches at schools I have had on-campus training sessions with, as well as some of our SFC Premium Members, who are worried about situations at their programs that are becoming all too familiar:

  • A D3 college just raised tuitions and cut the amount we can award them.  How do they compete against other schools that can offer them more?
  • The D1 track program that can only offer partial scholarships and academic awards, and is struggling to compete with their better-funded rivals.
  • An assistant Athletic Director who is about to tell his coaching staff that their school’s tuition is going up by $7,000 next year and they can now only accept student-athletes with a minimum 3.4 grade point average.
  • A Midwest D1 football program that can offer full ride scholarships, but recruit athletes that are getting other full ride offers.  Their scholarship offer is “nothing special” to the recruits they are trying to sign, according to their recruiting coordinator.

There’s a danger in playing what I call “the money game” with your prospects.  For one thing, you reduce their decision to a price tag.  That’s never a smart move when it comes to selling (or recruiting) because it’s easy to say no to if you’re the prospect.  “Your school is $3000 more expensive than the other guys down the road?  You won’t (or can’t) match it by coming down in price?  We’re signing with them.”

Secondly, you take the emotional reasons someone would choose your program out of the equation.  If it’s all about price, the look, the feel, the friendliness, the ideal athletic fit…all of it goes out the window.  Now it’s a dollars and cents decision on their part: Great if you’re the school that can offer the full ride no matter what the situation, not so great if you have limited funds (or no funds) to offer.

Lastly, you cheapen yourself by becoming a true blue died-in-the-wool salesperson that’s going to focus on the price.  Picture yourself on the car lot when the salesman asks you with all the slickness he can muster, “So tell me, what is it we’re going to have to do so that you can drive this beauty off the lot tonight?”  Do you have that mental image burned in your mind?  Great.  You are “that guy” when you focus on price with your prospect and their parents.

Look, I’m not naïve.  I know that a full ride scholarship is a powerful tool, and if you’ve got that weapon in your arsenal than you have a tremendous advantage.  But don’t think that other less-funded programs can’t steal your best prospects away from you.  They can.  In a growing number of cases, I’ve taught them how to do it. 

If you don’t have a full ride to offer, or have limited financial resources to offer your prospects that you want in uniform at your school, here’s what you should do:

Believe that your product is the best choice for your prospect.  Sounds basic, I know, but when I lead On-Campus workshops at colleges it amazes me how many coaches don’t want to present their programs as the best possible choice for their prospect.  In some instances, I get the sense that a coach almost has guilt over the thought of convincing an athlete that they would love the school and the program.  Snap out of it, Coach.  Believe in where you’re at, what you can offer (instead of what you can’t) and be passionate about your program.

Focus on what you can offer them, instead of what you can’t.  Our study of this year’s top prospects showed you that many other factors rank ahead of money in terms of top factors for how they choose a school.  How your team treats them on their campus visit, what their parents say about the program, and other non-monetary factors play a huge part in choosing a school.  Are you directing your conversation with athletes back to those factors?

Frame the decision making process for your prospect.  If you are a SFC Premium Member, I’m going to go into more detail on this one aspect of this strategy later this week.  But in summary, what I’m talking about doing here is making sure your prospect and his or her parents aren’t using money as the final determinant of where they will compete in college.  I think it’s fair to ask them, for example, “Is it smart to make a decision that will effect the next 40 or 50 years of your professional life on who has the lowest price tag?”  Or, “If I could show you why we’re more like a BMW instead of a Ford, and why that should be a huge part of the decision for you, would you think seriously about playing and going to school here?”  (Disclosure: I drive a Ford, so no angry e-mails complaining that I’m bashing that make of automobiles!)

Focus on the feeling.  Whenever you read about athletes who have signed with a school, you’ll usually hear them say something like “I just felt comfortable there with coach so-and-so and her team” or “They made me feel great on my campus visit.”  It’s never “Dude, Coach Smith just totally out-bid everyone else.  They broke the bank for me!”  The school that does the right things to create positive, memorable feelings for the recruits that visit their campus, talk to their coaches, and see their program in action will win the athlete.  Maybe not every time, but certainly most of the time.

Ready for some more tough love, Coach? 

Here it comes:  The money excuse is a crutch.  It gives some coaches an excuse for not recruiting with passion for every possible athlete, every time.  It’s permission to quit trying.  Meanwhile, just in the last three months I’ve seen smart, positive coaches from under-funded schools at all division levels beat their big school rivals for D1 caliber recruits that they should have no business signing.

How are they doing it?  By not playing “the money game.” 

It’s a game that’s hard to win, and one that most of your recruits don’t want to play anyway.

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