I’ll say right at the start that I may not be qualified to write about anything related to “Jersey Shore”, the popular MTV reality show about a group of misfit New Jersey young adults with way too much time on their hands.
That being said, I’m going to give this a shot…because from what I’ve seen and heard of the show, there are some good recruiting lessons to be learned from the show (even if you, like me, has never actually watched an episode).
So, why did over 8 million people (many of them your recruits, by the way) tune in for the season premiere in January?
Why are fascinated with a girl called Snooki?
And, how does somebody re-name himself The Situation – and manage to pull it off?
Those are the brilliant, hidden marketing secrets of “Jersey Shore”, Coach. And if we can ignore the fact that this show is probably the greatest sign of the apocolypse that I could point to in our modern culture, there might actually be some great recruiting lessons here:
1. Make sure you recruit with your big picture in mind. We can laugh at the girl named Snooki and roll our eyes at The Situation and how proud he is of his abs, but here’s something that we can’t ignore: Snooki wrote a New York Times best-seller (o.k., someone wrote it for her…but you know what I mean). The Situation earned over $5 million dollars in product endorsements, and has his own line of vodka.
What’s my point? I think the show has been built around a bigger picture goal of creating a brand around the people and the show. That adds to their bottom line, financially. College coaches usually ignore creating that bigger picture story that ends up strengthening their recruiting bottom lines because it takes a long time to develop, and is tough to do (unless you get help doing it).
There are examples of college coaches and program who have done a great job doing this: Boise State football, with their “little engine that could” attitude over the years as they’ve been building their program and their odd blue turf, is a great example (believe it or not, it wasn’t always a D1 football destination like it is now!). Duke, with their Cameron Crazies and camping out weeks at a time for tickets, almost fired Mike Krzyzewski early in his tenure. But over time, Duke has built a legendary program built around a great story.
The question to ask yourself is simple, but the answer might not be all that easy: “What are you doing to build a big picture program?”
2. Your recruits want, and like, a little drama. Now, there is good drama and bad drama. Stay away from the bad drama.
By “drama”, I’m really talking about compelling storylines within your program in the day to day life of your program. “Compelling” to your teenage recruit might be rather ordinary in your eyes: What happens when you stop at McDonalds after a game, running through the airport to catch a tight connection at the airport, your funny pre-game rituals, or even running around your college town looking for Mel Gibson on a film set…all of those things are pretty compelling, according to our research, in the eyes of your recruits.
The reason is simple: They’re looking for reasons to choose you over another competitor, and it’s those compelling, personal, unscripted moments that make the most impact.
Find ways to give them a little drama from time to time. It’s what they want, and what they need to help differentiate you from the rest of the crowd.
3. It’s always good when they either love you or hate you. Maybe not “hate”, but it’s good when your program is easily distinguished from the rest.
A good example of that was the way BYU handled the situation when a star player confessed that he had broken the school’s “honor code”. Immediately, the national media reported – with a good degree of fascination – how the school would actually stick by their rules and risk seeing a storybook basketball season come to a premature end.
But BYU did stick to the letter of the law within their honor code, and has removed the player from the team’s active roster. The result? Not much gray area in the eyes of their recruits or fans around college sports: You either love the fact that they didn’t compromise their school rules, or you can’t believe they’ve put together such a conservative list of rules that they expect young adults to live up to.
For their recruits, there’s little doubt that they know exactly what they’re getting if they’re considering BYU. No mystery, no double-speak, no dishonesty…BYU is either going to be right for a recruit, or something that they aren’t looking for in a college program. There’s an excellent chance that will be a net gain for them over the next few months as they tell their story to recruits.
Does your program have clear, black and white definitions in the eyes of your recruits? If not, ask yourself how to create those distinctions…if you want to make your recruiting life easier, get out of that squishy, vanilla middle ground that confuses your prospect who is looking for bold, passionate characteristics to align themselves with.
4. Embrace your quirks. There are a few college coaches reading this who know I would define their campus or program as “quirky” or “unique” after conducting our On-Campus Workshop on their campus. That’s a good thing!
Back to the “Jersey Shore” example I’ve been using: Snooki is odd. Actually, the whole group is odd…but from what I’ve seen, Snooki is the oddest. Maybe it’s the nickname. Maybe it’s her voice. Maybe it’s the way she dresses. Heck, maybe it’s all three! Regardless, she’s not afraid to be a little…shall we say, “original”. And it’s paid off professionally for her.
The good news is that you probably don’t need to go to Snooki’s extremes to be an effective, original, unique story-teller of a program.
The question you’d want to answer for yourself is this: Are there quirks that you can utilize to help tell your story?
All four approaches are original ways to approach re-tooling your recruiting strategy for this next class. No need to go to the extremes of “Jersey Shore”…or, you never know…maybe that’s the secret to excellent your recruiting next time around?
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