Posted March 27, 2015 by Elizabeth Beltramini 

Plan Ahead

Editor's Letter from the March/April 2015 issue of The Bulletin

When I was in college, the student government association offered a high-stakes incentive for voting in the upcoming general election: After years of mediocre turnout, they purchased a Corvette to give away to one lucky voter.

Turns out, this might not have been legal. Setting aside the issue of whether student government funds were best spent on a car, there were also questions about whether the contest conflicted with state gambling laws and whether international students could participate since they couldn’t vote. In short, the ensuing media buzz was not the positive attention the organization had anticipated. The ploy also didn’t really solve the core problem of engaging students in the government. This anecdote illustrates some of the topics covered in this edition of The Bulletin

March/April 2015 Bulletin Cover for commons postThe student government at my alma mater had used market norms to inspire participation in its election, but social norms might have offered longer lasting results (and been legal). Most student government officers do receive some sort of compensation, but it’s likely that’s not why they seek such leadership roles. Author Aimee Shattuck shares a case study in which one campus investigated what motivated students to volunteer and then built its compensation system accordingly.

This concept of getting to know your target audience and what motivates them is part of the conversation Kat Shanahan initiates in this issue of The Bulletin. Her article on integrated marketing communications explains why more isn’t always better and how an organization’s messages must align with its values. In the student government example, it might have been more effective to learn about why certain student populations might or might not vote in the election and then to shape a campaign around those perspectives.

Finally, it should come as no surprise that the car giveaway ended up putting the student government in a negative light. Some said the officers were poorly suited to lead given the misstep. Others claimed their priorities were out of whack. Words such as “scandal,” “absurd,” and “no credibility” were bandied about consistently. Clearly, the ploy did little to bolster their reputation. In this issue, Kathryn Gage introduces the concept of risk management as it relates to an organization’s reputation. She outlines a planning approach that would enable campus activities professionals to better anticipate for various consequences that might damage the organization’s brand or stature. In the student government example, I’m sure many advisors, administrators, and legal counsel could have foreseen the unfortunate eventualities and instead were responsible for cleaning up the aftermath. 

Naturally, each of these planning efforts—compensation, integrated marketing communications, and managing risk to reputation—take time, and it can be difficult to fathom how to fit them into your already-packed schedule. The important thing to remember is that planning also saves time (and stress) on the backend.

So what happened to the Corvette? A new raffle—open to anyone—was held. Ironically, a student studying criminal justice won and immediately sold it on eBay. Voter turnout for the county was the lowest in years.

Elizabeth Beltramini

Elizabeth Beltramini is the Director of Content Curation at ACUI.

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