It’s always been a tough assignment for college and university creative shops to garner the credit they deserve for the high-quality work they do. Something about professionals outside the academy being better somehow. So we enjoyed hearing this management strategy from a veteran of higher education public relations a decade or two ago, and it is still seems apropos today:
“We are not in the public relations, publications or even communications business. We are in the business of perception and positioning. With that premise, I apply the simple strategy that he who psyches first psyches last.
“To start with, I always have anyone below the administrative level of a dean come to our offices. Whether it’s publications or news bureau, the walls are lined with awards of all types or samples of our best work. If it’s a first visit, we let the client wait awhile. I want them to get a sense of our success and recognition.
“Two key factors are at work. These people have spent the better parts of their lives pursuing the recognition symbolized by a piece of paper, and most award certificates are visually more attractive than the average college degree. Let’s call this phenomenon ‘the degree mentality.’
“Secondly, and the most interesting, is that they never really read the certificates, so I always order multiple copies of any award we win and hang them in different parts of the office. No client has ever figured this out, and invariably the first thing out of his or her mouth is, ‘You guys have really won a lot of awards…you must really know what you’re doing.’ At this point, I point to a few awards stacked in the corner and say, ‘The problem is not winning the award, it’s finding the time to put them on the walls.’ And then I lean forward and in my most sincere voice I say, ‘Our job is to bring all of our professional skills to bear on finding the most creative solution to your problem. When you look good, we all look good. Now, how can I help you?
“Don’t let the lack of awards slow you down. Some of the most beautiful awards come from paper companies who love to give them to clients who buy a lot of their product. Ask your paper rep about this and get them up. When I first came to my university, I joined the local Ad Club and got on the awards committee. I then had them create several new award categories…best four-year catalog, best college annual report, etc. In our college town, do you know how exclusive those categories are? I then offered to design their awards.
“Perception and positioning. And if this approach fails, you can always fall back on hard work, creativity and quickness of foot.”