As the 2015 Presidential primary season started heating up, one of the largest – and, to date, most watched – candidate debates took place. It featured 16 men and women running for the Republican nomination.
And while I don’t want to parse the political messages that each candidate brought to the table, I do want to make this case to you today:
What each candidate was trying to do effectively is the same thing that each college coach is trying to do in winning the “vote” of his or her prospect.
Think about it…in this debate, you had sixteen different messages from sixteen different candidates who were desperate to make an impact with a potential voter, and with a limited time to get that voter’s attention so that he or she might be interested enough to take the next step with them.
Sound familiar, Coach?
There are lessons to be learned by savvy college recruiters from political campaigns. But instead of breaking down a candidate’s message and creating some kind of cheesy “who won and who lost” list based on their performance, I wanted to ask you some important questions. Questions that you can ask yourself now as you develop your next recruiting campaign for your prospects, and questions to keep in mind the next time you hear political candidates making their pitch as to why they should receive your next vote:
What are you going to say in the first ten seconds you have your recruit’s attention that will make you stand out from the other fifteen coaches you’re competing against?
That’s the foundation of everything else you’ll build a message on. Have you defined it? As a client, we help you craft that message loud and clear. But if you’re crafting it on your own, ask yourself: “What am I telling my prospect that nobody else is?” If the answer is ‘nothing’, then it’s time to re-think your core initial message.
Is it about your message or about the feeling you’re creating?
I can make a case that modern politics is more about the art of the candidate making his or her voting block feel a certain way about them as a potential leader, rather than logically convincing them of the merits of their proposals.
I think I can also make an effective case that the art of recruiting could be defined that way, as well.
When you’re assessing politicians, don’t you want to feel good about the person you’re supporting? Likable candidates usually do pretty well. So, in the message you’re creating for your recruiting campaign, how are you creating the right feeling about you, your program, your school and what you have to offer?
In a debate (and in recruiting), are you going to be the “attacker”, or the “safe alternative”?
Watch almost any debate and it’s clear that some candidates have a master plan to attack, attack, attack. They want to establish themselves as the lead dog in that political fight right from the start.
Others will make very obvious efforts to establish themselves as the “safe alternative”. They want to be the logical choice that a voter can feel good about once the “attacker” flames out or makes a mistake that puts their candidacy in trouble.
There are merits in both approaches. The question I have for you is, “Have you defined which strategy you are embracing?” Because not having a pre-defined strategy and a clear plan on how to execute it could leave potential voters looking at you as a wishy-washy, undefined option that lacks passion and excitement. And, you certainly won’t be talked about much afterwards.
Voters like to break down candidates into “winners” and “losers”. Your prospects, and their parents, are the same way.
If you Google a winners for this particular debate you’ll find no less than 2.3 million results. We like to score campaigns, debates and individual candidates into two tidy little categories that help us keep things organized.
So do your recruits.
They begin to define you, according to our research, within the first 5-7 minutes of contact with you (that includes your letters, email and direct messaging efforts). So, why are they probably classifying you as a “winner” when it comes to your message? What are the potential ways they might define you as a “loser”? Make sure you know how to answer that question, Coach.
So as you build out a revised recruiting message, Coach, make sure you follow the political lessons offered during election cycles.
Your goal is incredibly similar to a politician’s goal: Tell an engaging story that gets us to believe that “voting” for you and your program is the smart thing to do.
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