Lessons from the NCMPR community college marketing conference

This week, I was at the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations (NCMPR) professionals for community colleges conference in Chicago, IL. Below are some of the main take-aways for me:

– If you can’t be number one in your market, redefine the conversation to give yourself an advantage. For example, McDonalds is number one in the fast food market, but Subway launched into the number two spot by arguing that fast food can, indeed, be healthy.

– When building new locations/buildings or renovating spaces, include environmental branding elements (wall murals, architectural elements, vending machines, etc.). Work with the build team from the beginning to incorporate these elements into the design.

– If people have a need to design marketing pieces in programs such as Publisher and Word, consider creating branded templates in these programs.

– Like the powerful poverty simulation workshops, is there some simulation you can do to get a better understanding of what your customer’s experience?

– “Advertising is paid for, public relations is prayed for.” – Dominic Calabrese

– According to a panel of five non-traditional students, the best way to position community college education is as a “career tune-up.”

– Utilize, to a greater extent, opportunities where parents are bringing their children to campus to also talk with the parents about education for them.

– Not responding to a social media post is like hanging up on [your customer] in front of a baseball stadium full of people. – Dave Kerpen, Likeable Media. He also emphasized that responding to positive social media posts is just as important as responding to negative posts.

– Engage with high school influences via social media, such as the football captain or the class president. They are most likely to pass your message along. – Dave Kerpen, Likeable Media.

– Use social media to “surprise and delight” your customers. – Dave Kerpen, Likeable Media.

– Social media is like a cocktail party. Not all of your conversations are going to be perfect as they aren’t in real life, so if you have a typo, don’t worry too much about it. Just keep going. Similarly, you can’t start off meeting someone at a cocktail party by trying to sell them right away. Develop the relationship. – Dave Kerpen, Likeable Media.

– I work in one of the best fields in the world with some of the most amazing people I can think of. For those of you I saw at the conference, it was a delight. I hope to see you again soon.

Lessons from sales series: Three-legged stool, leg #2, you have to love your product or service

When I was working at Adams Outdoor Advertising, they brought in Dr. George Pransky of Pransky and Associates to talk about what would make us successful.  One of the things he talked about was a three-legged stool. The three legs were: You have to love people, love your product, and be resilient.

#2 on the three-legged sales stool is today’s topic: love your product

It’s one of the oldest sales adages out there, you can’t sell what you don’t love. And, it’s so true. It’s really hard to convince someone else that you have the greatest thing since sliced bread if you aren’t convinced of that yourself.

Does that mean you have to believe your product or service is right all of the time?  No.  When I was selling billboard advertising, I knew my product wasn’t right for everyone. But, I targeted the customers I knew it was right for and shared my love with them vs. those it couldn’t help.  And, by the way, I’m still madly in love with outdoor….good outdoor that is.

A young woman at a table with a stack of CD's she is selling
It’s easy to sell CD’s for a band that you love. And, I bet that’s why this young woman has a smile on her face while doing it! From flickr mikecogh

This “love your product” advice is also why I work in higher education and particularly why I work at a community college. I believe to my core that education is the best way for our children to succeed. And, I believe community colleges offer the right combination of opportunities (small class sizes, affordable tuition, etc.) for a large majority of our population.  This belief makes my job of “selling” the college I work for, community colleges, and higher education in general, very enjoyable and easy (although a lot of work!). If you ask me to get up in front of a group and discuss my college, the hard part won’t be trying to get me to do it, the hard part will be getting me to STOP talking.

So, if you are going to be in sales, marketing, advertising, public relations, etc., find a product or service you love to “sell.” You will be amazed at how much more successful you will be at your job.

The Polarization of America, a Communication Perspective, Part 2: We No Longer Believe Evidence and Facts


I think almost all of us can agree that America is extremely polarized right now. The middle, the bipartisan, the moderate, whatever you choose to call it, is either gone or silenced. In the Polarization of America, a Communication Perspective parts 1 and 2, I’d like to add two of my thoughts on why we, in America, are experiencing an extreme polarization.

A couple of disclaimers:

  • My expertise is communications and marketing only. I also recognize that my expertise is limited and that there are people with much greater expertise than I in these fields.
  • If you read into any of this as leaning politically in one way or the other, you are reading something into it that I didn’t put there.
  • I believe, like most large-scale societal issues, that there isn’t one answer or two answers. There are a lot of contributing factors. Again, this is limited to my thoughts based on communications and marketing only. Other subject matter experts will have differing theories and views. I encourage them to share them as well.
  • I do not claim to have the right answers to the concerns I bring up. I offer my best at a solution and hope, by publishing this, that together we can come up with the right solution.

Part 2: We no longer believe evidence and facts

We are in a digital age where anyone with basic Photoshop skills can edit photographs and information in a very short amount of time (Don’t believe me? See the How to Cheat on a Test video above), our figureheads decry everything as a conspiracy, students attempt to use Wikipedia as a source in their research papers, and someone is constantly challenging the credibility historical accounts and documents. And, in some cases, all of the above are true and happen. People doctor photos and documents, some things are a conspiracy, sometimes Wikipedia is right, and we are learning new things about our history every day.

The problem is, with so much uncertainty about the validity of evidence and facts, everyone is free to make up their own version of truth rather than accept a universal version of truth. The lack of agreement based on evidence, then, leads to our polarizing thoughts. If not everyone is playing with the same version of the rules, the game quickly becomes chaotic. Can you imagine if we all decided to come up with our own definition of how long an inch is? Don’t get me wrong, questioning and testing is how we progress and ensure that our information is true and accurate, but some conclusions must be drawn at some point and universally accepted or the polarity will continue.

So whose role in our society is it to be the fact and evidence police? Typically, it’s been those in journalism and higher education (disclosure: I work at a community college as an administrator). I covered pretty well how the Internet’s hive mind has, unfortunately damaged journalism’s reputation in Part 1: We Stopped Listening to the Other Side, so, for this post, I will focus on higher education.

It’s been the researchers at the top research institutions in our country and internationally that constantly challenge facts and validate evidence for us. The problem is, we don’t believe them and/or value them anymore. My thoughts on why that is are as follows:

  • People don’t fully understand the scientific process. One study published says that chocolate is good for you. Six months, later, a study published says it isn’t. This leads people to believe that they can’t trust either study. In reality, the conflicting evidence is part of the process. Now, the researchers have to try to isolate why chocolate is good in some cases and bad in others. Perhaps it’s that one study used milk chocolate and the other used dark chocolate. So, through a new round of research, the studies narrow it down further show that DARK chocolate is good for you, while MILK chocolate isn’t.
  • Cognitive Dissonance leads us to disbelieve evidence. Here we visit our friend again, Cognitive Dissonance Theory. When people are faced with information that doesn’t agree with their current beliefs. they will attempt to reconcile this difference. There are a lot of ways they can do this: form new beliefs, modify their beliefs, avoid anything contrary to their beliefs, or reject anything that does not align with our beliefs. In this case, I’m talking about the latter. However, there are times when, in fact, there is a conspiracy and the actions of a few make us question the actions of many.
  • Some researchers actually do manipulate evidence. There are legitimate cases where researchers, for a variety of reasons, have manipulated their research and evidence. Unfortunately, that reflects on all researchers and makes people question the validity of any research.
  • Research and higher education are losing their credibility and value. Mostly due to a combination of all of the factors above and the mixing of credible and non-credible information in our media, higher education and research are struggling to maintain their credibility and value. If you need evidence of this, go no further than this article, Is Reddit going to replace college for people who can’t afford higher education?. How anyone could think that popularity voting is accurate and proper vetting at a similar level to the research vetting done in higher education  is shocking to me, but there are many that are arguing just that.

The solution here is not one thing, but a combination of many. We must choose experts to believe, whether it be higher education or otherwise; we must hold those experts in high regard, we must hold those experts to the highest ethical standards, we must take the time to understand and explain the research process and where we are in it, we must be open to evidence that challenges our beliefs, and we must value those who have the expertise. How we do that, however, is the question we must now choose to answer.

National Council for Marketing and PR conference lessons

Me acting as a model for a lighting demonstration for a presentation on videography. Special thanks to Mike Johnson from Lake Michigan College for taking this shot!
Me acting as a model for a lighting demonstration for a presentation on videography. Special thanks to Mike Johnson from Lake Michigan College for taking this shot!

In October of this year, I attended my district’s National Council for Marketing and Public Relations professionals (NCMPR) annual conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Below is a brief overview of three critical conference lessons that can be applied to a variety of businesses and their marketing strategies.


Speaker: Andy Goodman, The Goodman Center

  • If you have facts that you want people to remember, put them in a story.
  • What makes a good story? The following formula is a good start:
  1. Protagonist
    1. Introduce them and tell us something about them
  2. Inciting incident
    1. What happens to start the story
    2. This gives them a goal
  3. Hero has to run into a barrier or obstacle.
    1. Find way around barrier then run into another one. The action continues to build with the number of barriers overcome.
  4. Finally reach a conclusion/resolution (whether they reach their goal or not).

Virtual Community

Speaker: Anthony Juliano, Asher Agency

  • Your social media is a success when the community starts having conversations with one another instead of with you.
  • Social media is free in terms of hard costs, but costs organizations significant dollars in terms of employee time (yes, I know we as marketers know this, but sometimes others in our organization don’t).
  • You actually need three social media documents (Employee use policy, Marketing strategy, and Community standards posted on the social media pages).

Visual Messaging

Speaker: Susan Kirkland, Propeller Communications

  • Have someone unfamiliar with your brand look over your branding materials. Using only the materials, ask the person to give you adjectives to describe your brand. It they don’t match your brand, you may need to look at redesigning your materials to better match who you really are.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with the experts above?

What burning toilet paper and high school teacher reminded me about marketing and pr

We, as marketers and public relations professionals, need to promote our organizations to the best of our ability through traditional advertising, press releases, digital media, etc. But we must never underestimate the power of interactions with employees of our organizations. An advertising campaign may bring someone to your organization, but whether or not you gain a customer, is all about the interactions that customer has with employees.

 A couple of months ago, I was rushing to a local food place at lunch to grab some food before heading back to the office. On the corner of the block right before the food place sits a local high school. When I rounded the curve, I noticed that students were filing out of the high school and heading to the other side of the road.  I stopped at the corner while student after student came filing out which teachers encouraged them to be calm, but move quickly.  And that’s when it dawned on me; they were evacuating the school.   

Burning toilet paperI wasn’t sure what had happened, but  I  assumed from their pace that it was a false alarm or something minor. The next day, I learned from the local paper that it was because some students were burning toilet paper in the bathroom and set-off the alarms. In any case, I had a lot of time just sitting there watching student after student come out. Like watching a cargo train when you are late for a meeting, it seemed like the stream of students would never end.

But at that moment, what my eyes and ears were drawn to more than anything else was a young male teacher interacting with the students.  He was the one assigned to stand in the middle of the road and coax reluctant students across the road. He was energetic, he was encouraging, and he seemed to have respect for each of the students in the line. There was no yelling or even a heightened sense of stress. Instead, all I could hear was “Great job guys. Keep going. You all are doing awesome. We really appreciate you helping us with this. Keep going.” 

Finally, as the last student emerged from the building and started to cross, another teacher came up and said something to the male teacher in the middle of the road. His shoulders dropped with a sigh. I could tell immediately what the news was; they had been given the all-clear. The students needed to come back in.

After a second of frustration, like a wind-up doll that gets rewound, he perked back up and immediately went back to his work with the same energy and optimism as he coaxed the students back in the building.  By now, many of us had been stopped at this intersection for quite a while and some were getting very frustrated.  As the last few students crossed the road, the male teacher, recognizing this, did an amazing thing. He walked a few steps closer in the direction of each car on the intersection, looked each driver in the eye, waved and shouted “thank you!” When it was my turn, I smiled and waved back.  I was late, and frustrated, but that melted away with that simple gesture.

Before that day, if you had asked me what I thought of the instructors at that school, I’m not sure I would have had positive things to say. But after that interaction, I couldn’t stop talking about that young teacher and how he interacted with his students. A smiling teacher in front of a class of students He reminded me of a simple marketing and public relations principle that sometimes gets lost in our quest to utilize new digital media tools and creative expensive advertising campaigns. At that moment of burning toilet paper, a high school teacher was the face and the marketer for the school.  Had he behaved inappropriately in front of all of those cars, it would have been disastrous for the school.  Instead, he behaved in a way that left a long-standing impression on me about the quality of the teachers at the school and the quality of the school in general.

We, as marketers and public relations professionals, need to promote our organizations to the best of our ability through traditional advertising, press releases, digital media, etc. But we must never underestimate the power of interactions with employees of our organizations.  An advertising campaign may bring someone to your organization, but whether or not you gain a customer is all about the interactions that customer has with employees.

So I challenge you to ask yourself: Are the employees at your organization doing a good job being spokespersons for your organization?