Dan Tudor

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Telling a Recruit Story About What You’re NotMonday, November 5th, 2018

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).

Tiger Woods’ Comeback & Your Recruiting StorySunday, September 23rd, 2018

On the night Tiger Woods won his first tournament in five long years, following his very public personal setbacks and injuries, I was at the airport.

Every television was tuned to his final few holes, and crowds of people were clogging the aisles, gathered around to watch Tiger finish off his comeback.

Why?

Tiger Woods has won before, no big deal there. I seriously doubt every person watching was an avid follower of the PGA. So why all the interest in Tiger Woods winning (another) golf tournament?

Because of the story.

Because when it comes right down to it, we’re a sucker for great stories. And it seems like all of us are in agreement that Tiger’s comeback is a great story. But what exactly makes his story such an interesting one? Some of the same things that absolutely terrify college coaches when they’re faced with telling those parts of their stories to recruits.

Here are some examples:

The rise. Was there anything more awe-inspiring and exciting than watching Tiger Woods absolutely dominate professional golf in those first few years? We were watching him redefine the game, and add a glitz and glamour to the game that hadn’t been seen before.

Now, granted: For college coaches, the rise is probably the easiest to talk about with their recruits. But what I often see, in the language and approach that a coach who is leading his or her program to new heights, is humility that is almost crippling. The same “work-hard-but-don’t-call-attention-to-myself” approach to life that fueled you to greatness when you were an athlete is, ironically, now handcuffing your efforts to parlay that rise into better recruiting results.

There is a time to clearly state why you are a program that should be a destination for prospects, and why they should want to be there. Confidently, unapologetically, and enthusiastically. Don’t aw-shucks your way through your program’s rise. Talk about it, and let your prospect feel the energy of everything that’s going on in your program. That’s what drew us to Tigers’ rise, and that’s what is going to attract your recruits to your story, as well.

The struggle. Remember when Tiger started to slip a little? By then, aside from die-hard Tiger fans, we were getting a little tired of all the winning. In fact, there were plenty of stories at the time of other golfers (and fans, and the media) who were actually a little excited about him slipping a little and starting to struggle.

When college coaches and their programs struggle, or slip a little bit in their performance, you need to answer the question that we were asking about Tiger when he was struggling: “What’s going on?”

More than nine out of ten coaches I talk to would want to shy away from answering that question for a prospect, hoping that it gets overlooked in their decision making. It doesn’t. The only difference between what’s going on with them compared to Tiger’s is that we had non-stop 24/7 news coverage about his struggles, so it was easy to have the conversation. Your recruits, in case you haven’t noticed, tend not to spill out their every concern and question about you and your program – especially during your struggles.

My recommendation: Identify the struggle, lead with it in your conversations with your recruits, and explain it. As we talk about frequently during our on-campus recruiting workshops, it is your job as their recruiter to tell them how to think about something related to you, your program, or your college. They don’t have SportsCenter to explain it to them and offer in-depth analysis; they’re left with their own thoughts, which frequently don’t give you much slack in trying to come up with a logical reason you’re struggling. Fill that gap for them, Coach.

The fall. Your worst finish in the last ten years. You just took over a program after the last coach was fired. Your athletic department just dropped two sports. Five of your upperclassmen just quit the team, and their opinionated parents are talking to the media about why their sons or daughters decided to jump your sinking ship (spoiler alert: They usually pin the blame on you, Coach).

True, on the scale of public humiliation, it’s not stories of your spouse chasing you down the driveway with a golf club smashing the daylights out of your car before filing for divorce as you’re in the middle of a substance abuse problem…but in your world, it’s still feeling pretty awful.

What do you do? Most coaches get back to putting their head down, and working hard, never addressing the fall. Or, worse, they come up with lame excuses that recruits and their parents see through.

Just like during the struggle, it’s my strong advice that you acknowledge the fall, dissect what went wrong, and then explain your vision for how you see your prospect being a part of the comeback. That’s what they’re looking for, Coach…a reason to say yes. If you don’t give it to them, their own reasons to say no usually speak to loudly for them to take the risk and sign-on to your rebuilding effort.

(A quick note on these last two phases of a great story: First, very few great stories don’t include a struggle and a fall. Unfortunately, years of Hollywood movies have conditioned us to look for those elements in a good story. So, they’re necessary. Don’t bemoan the fact that you’re going through a struggle and/or fall; instead, embrace it! You’re about to be able to tell a great story for your recruits).

The comeback. Why was everyone gathered around airport televisions during Tiger’s final round that I described earlier? It helped complete the story. We all knew the first three parts of the story, but we were missing the end. Ever have to leave a movie unexpectedly 3/4 of the way through it? It feels like you got ripped off…you were sitting through the struggle and fall in order to get to the comeback. We’re a society addicted to comebacks.

Your recruits are, too. They want to be a part of one, but you have to explain why they should want that. And, you have to tell the story of how they fit into your overall plan for accomplishing it. That’s how you get good athletes to say to yes to playing for bad programs: They have bought in to the story. But you absolutely have to start telling it, Coach. With enthusiasm, confidence, and urgency.

We now know the latest chapter in Tiger Woods’ story. What are your recruits waiting to hear from you so they fully understand your story, Coach?

 

Why Smart Recruiters Should Stop Combining Their Restaurant FoodMonday, July 2nd, 2018

I like Mexican food.

I also like Italian food.

So why is it, when I see a sign like this one, do I automatically discount it as something ‘less than special’?

Or, maybe it’s just me. Maybe you like businesses that combine two completely separate categories into one convenient location. Perhaps the chef, showing off his or her versatility in the culinary arts, would be a draw. After all, going to eat a Mexican-Italian restaurant would mean an almost endless variety of food options. You could dine there every night for a year, and you may never repeat the same combination twice.

So what’s my problem?

It’s this: We are a culture that is geared towards specialties. Precise definition.

Online dating sites, like eHarmony? Not precise enough. We needed FarmersOnly.com and ChristianMingle.com. Want to buy a mattress? You don’t go to a department store, you go to Casper.com or get a Sleep Number bed (because we need our own personalized “sleep number”, of course).

So, when we run into businesses that have weird combinations, we pump our brakes a little, right?

It works the same way with recruiting. Your recruiting message, specifically. When you, or your college, tries to present itself as all things to all people, it increasingly fails as a marketing strategy. Coaches that send out information to their recruits which presents everything at once, or makes the case that their college is perfect for every student-athlete, are finding that it’s a message which struggles to gain traction.

What I’m suggesting is simple:

Define yourself as specifically as possible.

In fact, define you, your program, and your college so well that you actually are able to verbalize who isn’t right for you. That’s right, explain to your prospect who isn’t a good fit.

If you do this, at the same time you define yourself out of one prospect’s picture of their ‘perfect school’, you define yourself into another prospect’s picture of their perfect school. In contrast, when you try to describe yourself as perfect for every potential student-athlete, you sound like everyone else. You look like everyone else. And, you are compared to everyone else.

When that happens, how is your recruit left to decide between multiple schools that all sound, look and feel like all their other choices? They’ll gravitate towards the least expensive. Or, the closet to home. Or, the farthest from home. Or, the school at the highest division level.

(Note: This concept also applies to your actual messaging that you’re sending to recruits. Coincidentally, in an earlier article, we used a restaurant comparison to make our point, too!)

They’ll break their own tie, somehow, and experience tells me it doesn’t work out well for most schools.

Unfortunately, that’s where my advice stops. It’s impossible to determine what approach, story or definition is the “right” one for you (shameless plug: we can do that if you’re a client). But you can do it on your own, by answering these four key questions – and then using those answers to craft the core part of your story.

  1. What is our one sentence definition for the perfect student-athlete for our program?
  2. How would I describe a student-athlete who would be completely wrong for me, as their coach, and our program?
  3. What are the three biggest distinctions about our college, location, campus or program that is completely different than most of their other choices?
  4. How can we describe these three distinctions in a way that sounds confident, inspiring and positive?

If you choose to continue to present a bland message which sounds like everyone else they’re hearing from, it’s going to become harder and harder to get their attention. Simple as that. This generation needs a reason to reply to you and take you seriously; the mere fact that you offer degrees and have a sports program isn’t enough any longer.

Begin to find ways to separate yourself from your competition way, way before you get your prospect on campus. You’ll notice much more interest sooner, with better yield results in the end.

We focus on unique ways to tell your program’s story every year at the popular National Collegiate Recruiting Conference. The next conference is happening this summer, so if you’re looking for fresh ideas presented by fellow coaches, make sure you attend! All the details are right here.

Sister Jean Isn’t a Good Luck Charm, She’s a StoryMonday, March 26th, 2018

Sister Jean isn’t a good luck charm.

The nun who prays and cheers at every Loyola University-Chicago men’s basketball game didn’t become the focus of the 2018 NCAA Tournament because of ‘luck’. She doesn’t think so, and I don’t think so.

She became the focus of the tournament because someone told us about her in the form of a story. (And a best-selling bobblehead didn’t hurt, either)

That’s normal, by the way. The media covering any event is always looking for interesting, compelling or inspiring stories associated with the sporting event itself, because they want to make it more than just about the game. It makes for entertaining television. The 2018 tournament has become all about the story that nobody wants to stop talking about: Sister Jean.

The thing is, how this whole story unfolded (and stuck) offers some pertinent lessons for college coaches. For years, we’ve preached that telling your recruit a story is one of the key aspects to getting them to seriously consider you as one of their options. When I make the case that Sister Jean isn’t a good luck charm, that wasn’t a knock against her as a person, and the inspiration she provides her university’s team. I’m pointing out that she has been made a central part of an inspirational story we’ve told ourselves about the team, their amazing run, and the role she plays in the story that has evolved around the team’s play in the NCAA Tournament.

So if I were going to give you a roadmap of how you should tell that story, there’s no more perfect example than the story of Sister Jean.

You have to decide to tell your story. It starts there. The reason most recruiting plans don’t work? Nobody tells your story. Coaches most often revert to a list of statistics, facts and data that they relay to their recruit. Worse yet, most coaches stop telling their story way too early in the process, thinking (mistakenly) that once they actually begin speaking one-on-one with their recruit, they don’t need to continue telling their story. That’s an incorrect assumption that has cost coaches more than they know. Make a decision to tell your program’s story, tell it beginning sooner rather than later, and keep going.

There’s always more to tell. Like I mentioned, Sister Jean now has a popular selling bobblehead. Word is, she’s been a ‘thing’ all around the Loyola-Chicago campus for years. She regularly prays with students, and her pre-game blessing on the team her college is about to play includes her exclusive who-to-watch list for the other team.

My point is this: You can’t just tell one aspect of your program’s story. Just like Sister Jean’s story, your program has a lot of layers to it. In one exercise we regularly take athletic department coaching staffs through during our On-Campus Recruiting Workshop, we have coaches take one of their top objections they face in recruiting, and turn it into part of their positive story. Each campus is different, of course, but most staffs come up with eight or more topics, or answers, to the objection that they were convinced was going to stop them from getting the athletes they want – usually in a matter of two or three minutes. Don’t tell just one story, and don’t think for a second that I’d accept an excuse that ‘our program just doesn’t have that much going on.’ You do.

Look for the emotional connection. Just like Sister Jean at Loyola-Chicago, your program’s ’emotional connection’ might just be something simple that you experience every day on campus. That connection could be right under your nose. When you’re telling your story, ask yourself what the emotional connection is when you are about to write your message to your prospects. I’m not saying you need one every time (Loyola-Chicago does actually play basketball games, and they have to outmatch their opponents, and win the game…that’s factual and practical, not emotional) but it does require you focus on a central theme that ties into your recruit’s emotional motivation for putting you on their list and, ultimately, choosing you.

We look for emotion in today’s culture as a way to assign value to what we want to align ourselves with. Whether its a political cause, what brand of coffee you drink, or whether your favorite team has a 98-year old nun cheering and praying for your team. Emotion draws us towards something. The lack of emotion causes us to lose interest.

That’s bad for television ratings, and it’s bad for recruiting.

Sister Jean isn’t good luck. She’s a great person, with a big heart, and a great story.

Looking for creative ways to weave your unique story into your outgoing message to recruits? Make plans on attending this summer’s National Collegiate Recruiting Conference. You will be treated to some of the most creative ideas available, and come away with a new sense of mission and purpose when it comes to telling your story the right way to your next class of recruits. Click here to get all the information, and to register!

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