Do Less Better

by Jeff Ebbing
Southeastern Community College
West Burlington, IA

Have you ever noticed that Chinese take-out menus are nearly impossible to read? And I don’t mean the Chinese part. The one I have lists 119 regular items, 16 chef’s specials, 23 combination platters, and 6 diet menu items on just ONE SIDE. Flip it over and you’ll find 56 lunch specials, a dragon, and 10 little plates of food. And what appears to be a map. And a phone number.  And another dragon.

This thing is so wordy, it took me half my lunch hour just to find chicken fried rice (back page, fourth column, 27 items down).

Simply put, by listing everything, it lists nothing.

As community college marketers, we are often sucked into the losing game of marketing everything to everyone every day. We’re tasked with promoting dozens of programs, building alumni relations, selling non-credit courses, writing articles, and doing whatever else some committee says we should be doing. If we’re not careful, our to-do lists can easily turn into that Chinese take-out menu.

We cannot possibly make 56 different items “special.” To do our job (or at least do it well), we have to keep it manageable. We have to prioritize and simplify.

Quality always trumps quantity.

What matters isn’t the amount of work you do, it’s the impression you make. It’s hard work to make a good impression. Not everything you do deserves equal attention, so don’t even try.

Since your president isn’t likely to nix half your programs and close the continuing ed division just so you can lighten your workload, you’re only left with working more efficiently. Here are a few things I’ve learned as a community college marketing army of one:

1. Pick the low-hanging fruit. Make a list and start with the stuff that will make the most impact with the least amount of resources. You’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish.

2. One and done. Annual media buys and planning are a must. Stop the endless line of sales reps knocking on your door. Negotiate a regular schedule as a single media buy at the start of the year. You’ll benefit twice: you’re in a better position to bargain and you can practically eliminate knee-jerk decisions. And if it turns out that you need to buy more ads than you originally brokered, something tells me they’ll take your money.

3. Build the door and rip the knob off. Create templates for everything you can: print, outdoor, fliers, brochures, scripts – whatever. Nothing is worse than staring at a blank page every time you start a new project. Besides, consistency is key to building any campaign or brand.

4. Go for the long haul. Put your publications on a schedule. Get departments to sign off on their pieces, and print everything at once. Try to not to date things so that you can stretch their useful life. Do you really need to design new folders every year? Can the printed catalog go on a two-year cycle? What about your viewbook?

5. Just say “no.” Everybody thinks their need is the most important. Usually they’re wrong. If it doesn’t fit into your list of priorities or current projects, say so. Remember, you’re the marketing person, not them. Oh, and say “no” when you need to, not just when you can. Share your reasoning with your boss so he or she can back you up.

6. Do good work. If your work is good, it’ll have an inherent shelf life of its own. Besides, it’s what you want to do anyway.

This isn’t rocket science, but sometimes reading words that match that little voice in your head is enough to give it a try. What works for you? Let me know below.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m hungry for some egg rolls.

Jeff Ebbing is director of marketing and communications (a.k.a. the marketing guy) at Southeastern Community College in West Burlington, Iowa. He likes music, mustard and a good laugh.

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