Mailboxes all over the country are getting stuffed with recruiting letters going out from you and your competitors to talented prospects.
Here’s what’s scary: A lot of those letters haven’t changed much in the last five years (or has it been ten years, coach?). That’s why I hear from coaches who have been noticing a steady drop-off in responses and prospect interest. They’re desperate to change their recruiting fortunes, starting with what they send out to their recruits.
And that’s one of the most interesting parts of working with a coaching staff, or athletic department, is sitting down with them to actually evaluate their recruiting letters. Most coaches agree that a good letter, or e-mail text, is essential in getting a prospect interested in their program early on. Yet few coaches take the time to really analyze those letters for what kind of message they send recruits, and even the "readability" of those letters and e-mails.
It’s very important that the material coaches send to recruits be simple and straight-forward. You may have heard that most Americans read at a 7th-grade level. Sounds pretty scary to me, but it does show us why we should keep our writing clear and simple.
Here’s a great tip for your office computer to help you quickly and easily determine the readability of your outgoing recruiting message, coach. If you use Microsoft Word, you can test the "readability" of your writing by clicking on "Tools" then "Options" and then "Spelling and Grammar." Then click the check box at the bottom that says "Show readability statistics."
After you spell-check your document, a box will pop up showing the number of words you used, the number of paragraphs, the number of sentences, the number of sentences per paragraph, the number of words per sentence, and the percentage of passive sentences. It will also give you two indicators that are based on the Flesch-Kincaid formula for readability. These indicators measure reading ease (based on 100 points, with 100 being the easiest) and grade level.
I aim for a readability score of around 65 or higher when I’m communicating with coaches, although lower numbers are acceptable when I communicate with all of you because you’re college graduates. But you need to remember who your letter is being read by: High school students, some of whom tend to be most comfortable when reading at or below their grade level. Keep that in mind as you’re crafting your messages out to student-athlete prospects.
- E-mails need to be very short and to the point, with an easy to follow call to action. Never write long, detailed e-mails…especially at the start of the recruiting process.
- Have a specific subject or "theme" for a recruiting letter. Don’t be too broad, as it tends to let the reader drift off and not finish the entire letter. Sticking with one central theme will let you drive home a single, clear message to your recruit.
- Use bold and underlined text to highlight important points. But don’t go overboard with it! The more it is used, the less effective it becomes in drawing emphasis to your message.
- Tell great stories in your letters: How a recruit came in from the other side of the country and found a home at your school. How an athlete realized their dream of being the first from their family to graduate from college. What your athletes did during their off-time on that trip to the tournament in Hawaii. Stories highlight specific events or people, and you can use those people and events to drive home a clearly defined message to your recruit.
Make your recruiting letters effective by making them more readable, and more message-driven. Be focused when you’re creating them, and make sure that each and every communication with your prospect has a purpose behind it.