The Social Side of College Admissions

A Marketing Lesson for Colleges from Jury Duty

June 1, 2009

Now I won't claim that jury duty holds a treasure trove of lessons about marketing to and recruiting prospective students, but I was definitely surprised by one aspect of the process: the Your Turn video, offering a brief outline of the roles and responsibilities of a jury.

As I sat in a giant windowless room at the Brooklyn court house, I looked around and saw the majority of people engaged by this video. Rather than blandly laying out what a jury is and how it fits into the judicial process, the video presented potential jurors with a brief narrative of the history of judicial systems, featuring appearances by Ed Bradley of 60 Minutes and Diane Sawyer. It wasn't just facts. The video was crafting a story.

We were educated about trial by ordeal, used in the Middle Ages, where a person's innocence was determined based on their buoyancy – the accused was bound and tossed into water... you float and you're guilty, you sink and you're innocent. They weaved in scenes from Perry Mason and portrayed the courtroom as a drama with a cast of characters including the judge, attorneys, clerk, stenographer, and more. As a juror, you were a central actor in this drama.

Sure, this wasn't an episode of Lost or American Idol, but most of the potential jurors had put down their newspapers and books or taken their eyes off their laptops. They even threw in some interviews from regular Joe's about their jury experience. And pitched jury duty as a "chance to serve", painting it as an opportunity rather than an obligation.

The video utilized several effective marketing tactics.

The video told a story

We were not bombarded with facts or simply told why jury duty was important. We were given a brief history of judicial systems, spanning from Aristotle to the Middle Ages to revolutionary America to today.

The video showed a human side

Testimonials from normal citizens provided a more personal feel. And it wasn't all roses. The video incorporated people complaining about having to serve on a jury duty ("I've got lots of work on my desk" or "I'm going to have to sit in a room all day"). We were offered some sympathy. But we were also presented with jurors commenting how much they learned about the judicial process. Some even claimed to have enjoyed it.

Don't forget that your prospective students are shopping for an experience. And numbers and facts are not the only ways to convey the quality of the experience your college is offering. Share your school's personality with a narrative. Give your prospects an opportunity to envision themselves on your campus. Highlight interesting stories that will stick in their memory. And make sure you are applying these lessons across all the media that you use, including social networking.

I know I won't soon forget the re-enactment of the trial by ordeal portrayed in the video. It was amusing, unexpected, and interesting. And if they can do that with jury duty, think of what you can do with all the great material you have to work with... distinguished faculty, historic buildings, quality academic programs, and a diverse and dynamic student body. Find the stories and share them with your audience.

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