There are some things I really love about my work. In a world with a lot of “have to,” I am fortunate with a whole lot of “get to.”
For example I occasionally “get to” be up in front of a room of people and show them 200ish images of good and bad examples of work—mine and others, higher education and not—and get them to laugh and cry over what they’ve seen.
They always learn something, and I, in turn, always love that. Imparting opinions and observations that help them change their thinking about how they approach creative thinking and doing—that’s a pretty great gig.
At the core of this presentation and its many versions is my not-so-subtle message—RAMP UP YOUR MARKETING MINDSET. Some sample lessons:
- For the most important messaging, do you have to tell your story with a) so many words and b) those words? You aren’t reading to senior citizens (well, unless you’re doing some donor communication) or writing a children’s book; you’re making the case for something notable, emotional, and—to many—powerful. I show examples of compelling storytelling, often linked with images (see next) but always with few words. My all-time favorites include judicious captions (in 100 words, one learns a college’s freshmen can do on-campus research that will save lives); simple, direct headlines (“Why I Chose X Over Yale”); and billboards that actually mean something.
- You are going to use images. Images are critical. Why do you SETTLE? Past crazy, I show some egregious choices for which I sometimes have the backstory. Best ones: “Picture Yourself Here” campaign led by a shot of windswept kids on a gale-warning gray day barely making it through the photo shoot; all forms of “engaged learning” posturing in copy supported by empty classroom or campus images (true story—one designer once defended to me during an audit that the chairs being “such a vibrant blue trumped the lack of people”); and an assortment of laughing lab students at schools where THE barrier to enrollment in data and practice is “no one takes us seriously academically.” So, let’s reinforce that…right.
- Simple and elegant. We need far more of that. Most things I show to illustrate this are not higher education, both because our category is risk-averse and because examples are just not prevalent. Humor tends to work in higher education only if you have a strong brand; if anything, it is clever that we need more of. USC turned its negative (University of Spoiled Children) into talk about “spoiling” as in exceptional financial aid/scholarships; Harvey Mudd had its “Junk Mail” direct marketing campaign; several schools with bird mascots have played with chicken-and-egg rhetoric. Played, please note, not overplayed.
Finally, RAMP UP YOUR APPROACH TO MARKETING requires an emotional anchor. Everyone talks about making a difference, their caring community, and a dozen other truisms held by numerous colleges. Think about finding a chord, telling your version better than anyone else. Make the masses see yours is the real deal.
Don’t think of it as “have to” do it better. You “get to” do it better.