What Next When Marketing and Communication Fails?
How can school counselors recover, regroup, and move forward?
Failure, not reaching expectations, being let down, and overall defeat are all words that can go together when you try something and the results are not what you want. It is a natural thing in life and it is something that we, as school counselors, teach students proper ways to react to everyday. There are many areas where we can fail in our work and I am going to share a personal anecdote about one such day that I had this last week.
We all fail sometimes.
I have been lucky enough to write a few articles and give a few talks revolving around the topic of marketing and school counseling. It is a unique area and something with lots of value and potential in our programs. In early December, I had planned and calendared a drop in FAFSA event that I fondly called the “FAFSA Frenzy” for Monday the 12th of January. I went through my marketing and communication plan to work up an outreach program and began outreach in mid-december through the weekend prior to the event. The posters were made, tweets were sent, Facebook posts up and daily student announcements scripted.
My event was scheduled to run from 4pm to 6pm PST (this will be important later) in a drop in format. I had a busy day and scrambled out of an IEP meeting with five minutes to spare with the excuse of “I am going to have parents knocking down the door if I stay any longer”. Our library Apple lab was up and running, my visual guide was ready on the screen, and I was pumped to get students and parents on their fast track to the FAFSA submit button.
The image above was my turn out that night. I had not one attendee and I essentially had to sit for two hours (granted I got some work done – I am not a lazy bum) looking at the clock hoping for at least one family to help. I had expected a great turn out, not only because of the outreach, but because my December Financial Aid info night was standing room only. Now perhaps that presentation just rocked people’s’ socks, but I expected lots of questions about the actual completing of the FAFSA.
Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed. Some with myself (what did I do wrong or miss?) and some with my parents/students (why don’t they like me or want my knowledge?). I packed up and left the school feeling a little the following image (no…I did not actually cry):
Marketing is a complex process with many variables.
I went home, had a beer, cooked some dinner and watched the second half of the first ever NCAA College Football Playoff National Championship** (boooo Ohio State). My brain was turning things over a bit, but mostly I was done. The next morning, I got to work – shared with some of my colleagues my discontent and asked what they thought. A student and parent on my Counseling Advisory Team even said that the communication and awareness was on the money. I decided to share some of the frustration on Twitter and got a great reply shown below that made do a palm to the forehead:
@CounselingGeek yea it's the national championship game. peeps are glued to the TV.
— Amber Shepherd (@AmberShepherd) January 13, 2015
I felt like this guy when I read it and kinda dumb because I went home and watched the game that same night! Naturally, the first ever in history playoff national championship, college football equivalence of the Super Bowl was happening when I had scheduled my meeting. It made me shake my head a little, but helped me move forward.
Enough story – what do we do if it fails?
Re-group. It’s not personal.
First of all – get your wits, emotions, and mindset in check before doing anything else. All too often, we are tempted to make snarky comments, poor judgment, and be generally rude when we feel we have been let down. These failures happen (especially in the beginning of working on marketing) throughout your marketing and PR process – even to people who have lots of experience with it. Don’t think so? Check out these big companies paying MILLIONS of dollars towards marketing and their gross fails: The Five Most Disastrous Fails of All Time.
This is a good time to bust out the feel good folder. What is that, you ask? It is a folder you keep in your office that has all the feel good things you like. Kind notes from parents or students, pictures of relaxing places, maybe some songs that are inspiring. Whatever works for you. Mine is mainly filled with cards and notes. It helps validate you as a counselor and bring you from Debbie Downer to the Professional School Counselor you are.
Re-think. What could have caused a lack of turnout?
My first revelation, the massive football game, I told you about above. However, I figured there has to be more than that since not everyone likes football – someone should have come. To address this – I formulated a plan. First step was to write a short email to all senior parents. This email reminded parents about the event the prior night, let them know that for various reasons nobody was able to attend, and that I would love their feedback to help me – help them. I also created a short, two question survey on TypeForm (my new go-to survey platform). One question asked what they needed from me to complete the FAFSA. Questions included things like “FAFSA? What’s That”, “I have a few questions but they are quick”, “We have it under control”, “It’s already submitted!”, and “I need some serious help.”
The second question asked, if I were to schedule another drop in time in the afternoon/evening, if they would come. I said I would need 5 RSVPs to hold it and collected emails of those who RSVP. The overwhelming majority of responses came back with “We have it under control” and “It’s already submitted!”. I thought – well this is a good sign. Perhaps they don’t actually need a FAFSA Frenzy to get it done. Several parents also followed up via email sharing a few other pieces of information like “we are concerned about privacy and didn’t feel like coming and having parents look over our shoulder”. That tells me I need to keep an eye out and make effort to comfort parents that it is held in an area where I do my best to make all things confidential with space between stations and such.
If you feel you failed or you got that “bad data” – re-look at your approach. One thing as simple as not touching on privacy or picking a different time can dramatically change your results.
Re-plan. Where do we go from here?
I am now planning the follow up meeting and talking with parents to find out how they would prefer to get help with the FAFSA. The key step is to not give up, approach from a different direction, and use your information inputs to guide you the second time. The first thing to consider and sometimes the easiest thing to change is time and date. It will cost you some additional time, energy, and effort – however can make all the difference.
Another thing to consider is how you have branded/advocated within your stakeholder group for your image as a school counselor. How is your position viewed? Are you the emergency room doctor – always running to stitch this and diagnose that? Or are the the general practitioner who sees people on a schedule, with appointments, and occasionally will treat the emergency when it comes up? The key question is – do your stakeholders view time with you and your time in general as valuable? If people see your time as valuable – they tend to snap up any chance to work with you they can. They attend parent nights, get on your email list, and send students to your workshops. This is a process that takes time but has huge dividends, but requires setting boundaries and sticking to them. That is for another post.
Through all situations, school counselors have developed a keen sense of “stickwithitness”. For grad students or younger counselors – it takes some struggle, emotion, failure, and growth – but eventually we begin to move straight from a failure into the what next, problem solving, phase. If you find yourself in a rut, feeling like you have failed, or just overwhelmed – remember:
You are in your role for a reason. That reason is because you rock and you help students reach their potential, reach for goals, find inner strength, and stay safe each and every day. Be proud of that. For each failure – there are dozens if not hundreds of successes.
[Tweet “You are in your role 4 a reason. It is because you rock and you help students each day #scchat”]
Until next time.