Dan Tudor

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November 5th, 2018

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Telling a Recruit Story About What You’re Not

More college coaches, athletic departments, and admissions departments need to do what the state of Nebraska is doing.

They’re owning who they are (or at least who many of think they are).

It’s their new national ad campaign promoting their state by stating a warning: “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.”

I love it. For years, I’ve been begging coaches to tell their recruits who they’re wrong for. In other words, what type of prospect wouldn’t do well on your campus, wouldn’t fit in on your team, and wouldn’t feel completely at home on your campus. It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? I mean, shouldn’t coaches want to do everything they can to only tell recruits the wonderful aspects of campus, and their program?

Actually, I think Nebraska gets it right. In an article from AdWeek reporting on the state’s new campaign, they bring up the fact that “the Nebraska Tourism Commission felt that it was essential to disruptively step out of the shadows of the previous slogan, “Visit Nebraska. Visit Nice.” and work its way out of being dead last on the list of states that tourists are interested in considering for their next vacation. “To make people listen, you have to hook them somehow,” John Ricks, Nebraska Tourism executive director told the Omaha World-Herald. “We had to shake people up.”

Many college recruiting campaigns could use the same jolt. Can you imagine? A college program actually poking fun at themselves a little?

Here’s why taking this approach is going to work for Nebraska, and why I feel strongly in taking a creative approach that radically defines your college, and your program for this generation of marketing-savvy teenagers.

They desperately look for differences. The goal of most colleges? To make their campuses attractive to just about everyone. Certainly, different schools have varying focuses and niches, but overall they tend to not want to push away potential applicants. According to our research, not defining your campus (or sports program) causes a lot of frustration for recruits, because they’re busy trying to figuring out which one of their options is better. As you communicate with them, how are you achieving that?

They demand that you get them to pay attention to you. It’s a competitive landscape for their attention. If you sound the same as everyone else, how is that helping you? One of the biggest questions we get from college coaches is, “how can I get these recruits to pay attention to us?” I think a better question would be, “what are you doing, as a coach, to earn the right to have their attention?” Think about it, Coach.

They want proof what you’re telling them is true. The magic of the new Nebraska campaign is that once it gets you to pay attention to what they’re saying, they prove that their good-natured ribbing is actually showcasing a lot of good stuff when it comes to erasing stereotypes, and showcasing what Nebraska has to offer. You can (and should) find ways to try the same thing for your audience.

Don’t be afraid to be different, Coach. Define yourself, tell a creative story, and watch what happens after that.

(But honestly, that proven recruiting strategy probably isn’t for everyone).

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