Get Outta Dodge

by Jeff Ebbing
Southeastern Community College
West Burlington, IA

If you’re like me, you subscribe to a bunch of blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and maybe even a few good old-fashioned magazines (Counsel, anyone?) in search of advice or an idea that might make your life easier or your work better. Whenever I trip across something that resonates with me, I distill it to a Post-it-size nugget of wisdom and stick it to my wall.

My wall looks like a Rubiks Cube from hell – rows and rows of mismatched colored squares, each one with a single idea. Whenever I need a mental break or I lack marketing focus, I need but look up to find inspiration and affirmation. Today I expand upon one idea from said wall of wisdom. Maybe you’ll find it useful, too.

Get outta Dodge.

Getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing the world outside your door is perhaps the best way to become a better marketer. You see new sights, smell new smells, taste new tastes, and do new do’s. When you’re not in your typical surroundings, you see things differently and sometimes you see things for the first time. Reason being is that you are usually on the other side of the fence – the marketee instead of the marketer. Never have I not returned with at least one idea that I can put into practice somewhere in my life.

It should come as no surprise then that my recent trip to Chicago reaffirmed said Post-it. I took my 18- year-old daughter to Lollapalooza, a ginormous music festival in Chicago’s Grant Park. About 100 bands play over the course of three days. They range from obscure folk singers to up-and-coming indie bands to some of the biggest names in rock. Over 270,000 fans attend.

To put that into perspective, there are barely 35,000 residents in my entire county. Talk about getting out of Dodge. OK, what’s the connection between Lollapalooza and community colleges?

Diversity.
One thing the two have in common is that they offer something for everyone. Whether it’s industrial heavy metal or industrial maintenance, classic rock or classic literature, we’ve got it covered. In addition, Lolla fans are as diverse as our students. All walks of life are represented: long-haired hippie freaks, cheeky teeny-boppers, pasty-white Goths, and yes, even 40-year-old white guys. And regardless of what we’re doing or who we are, we’re all here for an individually unique yet collectively similar experience.
So what did I learn?

Passion is universal.
That one dude who’s totally jamming to Buster Beagle’s banjo-bagpipe-bugle band is just as passionate about his experience as the 60,000 people singing along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Though light years apart musically, their passion is the same. And it is immensely powerful.

I remember thinking that if I could tap into a measly .01% of that passion and focus it on my school, I would be a community college marketing god. So what’s the first step to tap into that passion?

Make an emotional connection.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a high schooler, a dislocated worker, a parent, a dropout, an alum, a taxpayer, or a businessperson. If I tell a story you can relate to, chances are you’ll listen, and once you insert yourself into my story, you just bought a ticket to my show. Then it becomes my job to help you find your stage.

Now I bet you’re asking yourself, “But Jeff, how do you help them find their stage?”  That’s on another Post-it.

So in the meantime, let yourself nibble off that pile of vacation days you never use because you’re too busy, and get outta Dodge. It could be one of the best career investments you’ll make this year.

Or if you must, tell yourself it’s work-related research and do what I did: Try charging your ticket to your professional development budget. If your boss is into banjos, bagpipes, or bugles, you just might have a chance.

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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