by Matt Mattson
How can you change your organization’s image on your campus, or in your community? How can you fight the stereotypes that plague your group and keep high quality people from joining? What can you do about the campus administrators, student newspaper editors, admissions counselors, and professors that talk badly about your organization?
I’ve got great news. I’ve uncovered the greatest Public Relations campaign in the history of the earth, and it applies to organizations of all sorts — from student clubs, to fraternities and sororities, to community and civic groups, and more.
Before I just come right out and tell you the secret, I’ll tell you where I learned it. In college I actually studied advertising and public relations for my undergraduate degree. For four full years I toiled relentlessly to learn to write press releases, buy advertising space, write news copy, and design logos. I learned about branding, media, marketing, and so much more. Then, in my final “capstone” class of my college career, the professor said something painfully true toward the end of the semester, “I’m guessing you’re all experts in the tactics of PR by now, but I’ll tell you something that probably none of your other professors have mentioned – public relations is just lunch.”
Lunch? I was confused. Then it sank in. The best (and really the only) way to change people’s minds about your group is through trust. The best way to earn trust is through relationships. One of the best way to build relationships is through… lunch.
How to do the greatest PR campaign in the world (for college student organizations):
- Make a list of the top 25 most influential, non-affiliated (with your organization), undergraduate student leaders on your campus.
- Make another list of the top 10 faculty/staff members who are best positioned to help your cause but don’t yet do so.
- Take those 35 people out to coffee, lunch, breakfast, dinner, or just for a one-on-one meeting with you.
- Next, just ask questions. Listen. Ask more questions. Listen carefully. Say thank you.
That is all. Here are some of my favorite questions to ask during these campaign:
“I’m trying to learn from the most influential people on campus. I want to make my group better, and I deeply respect you. I want to learn from you. The more honest your answers the better I’ll be able to improve my group. I really trust your opinion. Can I ask you some questions?”
- What do you really think of our organization – deep down?
- If our organization didn’t exist, how much would that matter to you? to this campus?
- If you were in charge of our organization, what would you do differently?
- How did you first learn of our organization?
- Why have you never joined our organization?
- What could we have done differently to have attracted someone like you to our group?
- If you were part of a group with a mission that read “[insert your mission],” how would you lead it?
- What type of people should we be seeking out that we aren’t already? How do we find them?
- What are the groups on campus that you respect the most? What makes them great in your mind?
- Would you be willing to meet with some of my fellow leaders to share this point of view?
- If I wanted to find other people who think like you, who are 5 other people you’d recommend I call?
If you have an image that needs changing or improving, just by doing this with everyone on your list it is likely that your image will quickly start to shift from whatever it was to “the group who is trying to get better and who seeks advice from top tier leaders.” That’s not a bad image to have. Plus you’ll probably end up with about 35 really influential people on campus who now know you on a first name basis, associate your organization with a pleasant conversation, and are willing to help.
So, go have lunch.