Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Getting your name out there

This week's post is a guest post from Ryan Hilperts. We like it.

There are many a word or phrase that have overstayed their welcome in popular culture. Think “out of the box” or “totally rad.” Each had their day, and that day is gone. I would like to add another to the list of clich├ęs that needs be left alone, one uttered by more fraternity and sorority leaders than I care to count. Recently, I heard a colleague use the phrase in an effort to motivate fraternities and sororities to action. That put me over the edge. As he looked at 12 council delegates and six officers, he uttered the words that made me want to clutch my ears in pain: “It would be a great way to get your name out there.”

I truly can’t catalogue the number of ways I’ve heard that all-purpose solution dished up:

“We should do service, it’ll get our name out there.”

“Let’s co-sponsor the pickle tickle, so we can get our name out there.”

“The mixer with Beta Beta will really get our name out there for recruitment.”

“How can we get our name out there with the faculty?”

And every last one of them should be banned. Yesterday. In fact, Google tells me that the book 9 Lies That Are Holding Your Business Back by Steven Chandler and Sam Bedford lists “we just need to get our name out there,” as lie number three. It’s not just me! It’s been published!

And yet, we spend good, hard-to-come-by budget dollars for professionals who are prettier and more articulate than I to talk about how to – positively and appropriately – get the fraternity/sorority name “out there.” These folks say witty and inspiring things. But for you, dear AFLV blog reader, I am going to offer the realities about this misguided incentive free of charge.

Reality #1: Your name is already out there.

I promise. Stop worrying about getting your name out there and start worrying about making a newer or better name for yourself. You have to live under a rock in North America to have missed a reference to fraternities and sororities during the past 10 years.

Reality #2: The name that’s out there isn’t what it should be.

Most of the fraternity/sorority members who will read this don’t need me to tell them that. They get it. Most will call what is out there a stereotype. I tend to believe it can’t be a stereotype if it’s true. And in many cases, it’s true. And the fraternity and sorority members who don’t realize that our reputation precedes us are likely the folks who ARE getting your name out there and not in the way you want. But, here comes the real kicker.

Reality #3: If you’re doing fraternity and sorority right, it’s not news.

When fraternity and sorority members say they want to get their name out there, they typically mean that they want positive press. They want credit for the good work that they do. They want someone to recognize them for whom they believe they are, not for what the public believes them to be. The trick is that leading, serving, studying, and showing compassion are what fraternities and sororities are about. And it’s not headline worthy if you’re doing what you’re about. Tiger Woods is much less scandalous when he’s making the turn at Augusta National than when some shenanigans lead to him crashing his SUV into a tree at 2 a.m. Why? Because the latter isn’t supposed to happen.

Luckily, the symptoms of the “we need to get our name out there” illness have treatments.

Treatment #1: Just stop.

Stop spending so much time thinking and talking about how to get your name out there. Stop wearing a make-shift diaper and calling it a toga while sloshing around beer in a red Solo cup outside the football stadium at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Don’t talk about it; don’t take a vote. Just stop. Stop allowing members and chapters that make bad choices to be members or chapters. Don’t hem and haw about them being brothers or sisters; don’t worry that they’ll be mad at you (they will). Don’t let chapters hide behind procedural protections in the conduct process when someone could be getting hurt. Just stop the madness and their membership. Stop complaining that the student newspaper won’t write a story about your chapter’s high GPA. It’s supposed to be high, and that’s not news. Stop complaining that the local news used the death of a fraternity pledge as their lead story. That is news, and it’s tragic.

You can do all the great things in the world you want, but you will run out of time and run into the same problem if you don’t stop doing the less-than-great things, too.

Treatment #2: Make your own headlines.

Absolutely no one will brag about your organization unless you do it yourself. Ask any marketing expert in the country – word of mouth is the most powerful publicity in any sphere of influence. If you brag about the things you do well, other people will, too. Write press releases, tell stories, and send letters home to parents. Buy letterpress stationary with your organization name on it and write a note to the college president. Do not get frustrated when you are the only one doing it, or feel like you are. Keep bragging. Remember, this is publicity, not news. (See Treatment #1)
There are two very important things to remember about this. First, the good news is that we have a small window of opportunity that has been created by all those members who gave us a bad name. In some places and in some cases audiences will be so shocked by your good works it will be news. This is a limited time offer. Capitalize on it. Know that when the shock about your good work dissipates, it’s a good thing. That means you’ve made it normal. Second, understand that getting members on the student newspaper staff is not how this is done. Respect the cannons of journalism and those trying to learn it as their profession and don’t try to use a news outlet for your own agenda. This does not apply to paid advertising space – get as much of that as you can.

Fraternity and sorority members who truly believe that the priority is getting their name out there have problems no PR firm can fix. But the fraternal movement is being fixed – one student leader at a time. Most of the students who have been making a difference in the past 10 years don’t stop to talk about getting their organization’s name out there. They do it. And they do it in ways that are press-release worthy. Now go write one while I fanaticize about the day colleagues no longer motivate fraternity and sorority members by telling them that an event will “get their name out there,” but instead bang down my door to recommend student leaders for fraternity and sorority membership.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Terrific article, Ryan. I could not agree with you more.