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From the Trenches

Marketing and Leadership Lessons from Growing College Clubs

Right Source | June 16, 2011

As college students across the country graduate, seek jobs, or plan for the next academic year, I thought I would share the strategies I learned while an undergrad at Duke that have served me well in my career.

While this post strays from our normal digital marketing fare, the below tactics apply to anyone who needs to secure buy-in from a group of people, whether you’re a Chief Marketing Officer trying to sell the company on content marketing, an entry level employee with great ideas, or the president of the college climbing club who wants more members.

Every student group I was involved in faced two major challenges: how do we get new members, and how do we increase the participation of our current members? Replace “new members” with “new business,” and “current members” with “employees,” and you can boil those challenges down to the same marketing and leadership challenges most companies face.  Right Source Marketing, where I work now, specializes in solving these challenges for companies: in my experience, if you have solved problems for a college group, you can learn to solve them for companies.

Here are some ways to start:

1. Give out pizza.

On the quad: Offer free food at all club events, and advertise the food as much as you advertise the content of the event. Though college students live surrounded by a cornucopia of prepaid food, it seems as if the separation anxiety from Ma and Pa’s fridge makes the phrase “free pizza” just as compelling as “free beer,” though providing both might get you in trouble.

In the cube: The magnetic effect of “free pizza” is just as strong in the office environment. No matter what budget you’re working with, find money for pizza. And free beer might not get you in as much trouble here, especially for initiatives you’re pushing after hours.

2. Define benefits.

On the quad: On all flyers and at all informational events, define the benefits for joining the group. Maybe your group provides cost savings for a fun but expensive activity like sailing, maybe it provides a great place to live for 3 years, or maybe it provides access to a network of successful alums. Focus on why joining your club benefits prospective members throughout the recruiting process, and remind current members of those benefits from time to time.

In the cube: When you’re pitching an idea, internally or to a client, keep education and information focused on benefits. Bring every initiative back to its potential to grow your organization or make your client more money. It also doesn’t hurt to occasionally remind your boss about how the work you do on an everyday basis benefits your company. Preempting your annual review with a self evaluation is a good way to do this without being obnoxious.

3. Get social.

On the quad: Throw social events outside of your normal meetings, with, of course, free pizza. The more club members become friends with each other, the more fun they’ll have at club events, and the more they’ll recommend the club to other friends.

In the cube: Attend, or organize, company and community social events. This is a great way to become friends with the people you work with, widen your connections at the office, and brighten up the company’s everyday routine. Example: we work in marketing, but when Will Davis refers to himself as Right Source’s “CMO,” he means “Chief Morale Officer,” not “Chief Marketing Officer,” and there’s either a funny photo shopped picture of Mike Sweeney or a meeting invite to a company happy hour on the way. While this may well be part of a calculated Machiavellian leadership ploy, it really does make a difference in morale, and productivity.

4. Respond to emails.

On the quad: This sounds incredibly obvious, but when I was a student, countless times, I heard complaints about group leaders who simply did not respond to repeated emails. If you don’t communicate quickly and warmly with current and prospective members, no one will be able to join your club no matter how much they want to.  Make replying to prospective club member emails a priority, or delegate this responsibility to someone who will.

In the cube: Again, this sounds obvious, but you will be judged in the workplace based partially on your competency at communicating through email. If you can’t address a task requested in an email right away, simply send a note back acknowledging that you understand what’s at hand and providing an estimated time of completion.  Also, don’t be afraid to email reminders about events and unanswered questions, within reason. For those new to the professional world, timely and friendly communication in the workplace is not as common as you may think, and can help you stand out.

5. Delegate leadership.

On the quad: Intrigue potential and current group members alike with leadership opportunities. College students want to impress future employers, so give them many ways to do so within your organization.  Appoint a social chair, competition chair, travel chair, community service chair—reward every significant area of responsibility with a title to recognize and reward leadership efforts. A simple “thank you” doesn’t hurt, either. This way, your organization gets more done, keeps its members happy, and spreads the weight across many leaders’ shoulders.

In the cube: At first, you may be the one delegated to, but you can create leadership opportunities for yourself if your boss isn’t creating them for you. Volunteer to lead projects, and then attack them with relish, even if you have to start with something small, or stay late. If you’re already the boss, it may be risky for you to relinquish control, but creating leadership opportunities within your business will have the same effects as creating them within a student group: happier employees, departments that get more done, and fewer hours for you.

How have you solved marketing and leadership challenges for an organization or company you’ve been involved in? What are you trying to grow now? Even better, would you like to bring free pizza to our office? Comment, and let us know.


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About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.