Tuesday, June 3, 2014

If They're Bored, Then You're Boring

June 3rd, 17 days before graduation, beautiful sunny day, an hour before the end of the school day.

Standing before a group of about 20 high school kids I have never met before.

Teaching them about sales technique and tactics.

From what I hear, many would think of that as a very difficult situation, but I held their attention without disruption for 40 minutes.

I am not a professional teacher of teenagers my any stretch of the imagination, but this was where I was this afternoon. I was in front of Ledyard High School's journalism class, which is the group that puts out their news magazine The Colonel. I will admit that this is an elective class I was in front of, making my job easier, but I found them to be completely respectful and quite interested.

Did I mention that my topic was sales? Would you sit attentively through a 40 minute talk on sales? I know I would, but apparently I'm abnormal.

The reason I was there was that I had read a few weeks ago in The Day that the powers that be in the town of Ledyard were cutting the entire school paper's budget as part of a sweeping half million dollar budget cut. The article suggested that without the funding, the paper could no longer be printed.

So, emailed the address I found for The Colonel and arranged a meeting. I met with the student editors as well as the faculty adviser, Mr. Bill Frisky. We discussed the possibility of using ad sales to replace the budget, and a plan came together.

About 20 students comprise the class that runs the publication, and a year round ad in all 8 of the issues is $300. If each of the 20 students sold one year-long slot, it would replace much of the lost funding. The only problem was that the students who had tried to sell ads met with great frustration, as any novice, untrained salesperson might. So, I agreed to come into the class and give a tutorial on the selling of ads.

Today was that day. I discussed the 7 steps of the sale, prospecting techniques, appointment setting, needs analysis and more. I also answered many questions. At the beginning of the class, many students cringed at the idea of trying to sell ads, and looked at me skeptically as most audiences, especially young ones, do with an unfamiliar speaker. At the end, I asked for a show of hands as to how many felt comfortable trying to sell ads now, and most of the hands went up.

I'm not going to suggest that I had their attention because I am such an engaging speaker or I know some secret of working with teens. The fact is that what I was teaching was relevant. I was able to show them how it applied directly to a problem they face now, how it would be valuable to them in the future, and how it could even be the basis of a backup career in the future.

Obviously, it was relatively easy for me to hold their attention because I was giving them the roadmap to save their paper. The relevance was obvious.

What about other subjects? Every subject that is taught in schools is there for a reason. It's not like there is some History Lobby that pushes for history to be taught for their own benefit. Every subject has value to the students, and if that value can be portrayed then their attention can be easily held.

English? Literature provides a window to gain understanding of how people operate, granting insight as to how to work with people to achieve one's goals. Writing is a vital skill in any field of endeavor.

History? It provides valuable insight and perspective on how people, societies and nations operate. It is amazing to read about Roman politicians, FDR's government, and the conduct of the local town government and realize that all three of them interact more or less similarly to the Come Again Player's leadership, ConnectiCon's leadership, and Pi-Con's leadership. People are people, and the lessons learned here are valuable there.

Math? I use math up through Algebra on a regular basis. Determining how to allocate ConCardia cards to print sheets uses it. I also use mathematical techniques when I program the simple applications I use in by business. Arithmetic is useful on a daily basis.

Science? Society is making decisions today regarding science that will have profound implications for generations to come. Without an understanding of these decisions, we are at the mercy of others. Furthermore, an understanding of basic scientific method will provide a basis for rational thought throughout a person's life.

Teachers spend a lot of energy thinking about classroom management, but very little time thinking about how they can sell what they are teaching to their students. It is assumed that teachers will push knowledge and students will resist. But what if teachers sell students on the value of what they teach? Students will clamor for the knowledge they offer.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Good Sex Appeal, Bad Sex Appeal

This blog tends to focus on matters of sales and marketing, so I thought I'd take a moment to discuss the Comic Con image I addressed in my last post from a marketing standpoint.

Not just smart. She's beautiful too!
After reading my open letter, my wife asked me, "If Comic Con's core market tends to be men, why would the want to market to men? Wouldn't they want to market to get more women?"

Excellent question. That's why I married such a smart woman.

There is a phenomenon is marketing, especially for events which I refer to as the Ladies' Night Effect. Women in general do not want to go to an event where there will be very few other women. They tend to feel uncomfortable and even unsafe. Men, also, all things being equal, prefer to be places where there are women. Thus, bars and nightclubs across the country advertise Ladies' Nights. Free drinks, reduced entry price, and other enticements to women encourage women to attend. More importantly, it signals to women that other women will be there. Likewise, it signals to men that many women will be there. It is effective marketing to both genders although it only targets one.

In a recent article on Medium.com entitled A Gentleman's Guide to Rape Culture, Zaron Burnett discusses the fact that most women in America are frequently concerned about their safety. Whatever your opinion on the actual statistics and prevalence of attacks is, the fact is that most women take safety into account when making plans. If you are an event planner, this means that a large portion of your audience is considering how safe they will be at your event when deciding if they want to attend or not.

I'm going to repeat that for anyone who plans and promotes events, especially men who do so: A large portion of your audience is considering how safe they will be at your event when deciding if they want to attend or not. So, looking at your marketing, does it lead them to feel more safe or less safe? And, if the latter, how much money are you losing because women are staying home because they perceive your event as unsafe?

This is not about feminism, morality, or equal rights (important as those issues are). This is about the fact that these factors have concrete, real world impacts on an event's bottom line.
This image was used on the WCCC 106.9
Facebook Page to promote Comic Con

There is a way to use images of women to attract other women to an event and a way to use similar images to repel them. Consider the image that I discussed in my last post. The women do not look like regular women, and the caption implies that their breasts are the only interesting traits they have (Twelve reasons, six women, in case you didn't get the inference). This marketing could be effective to bring some men to the event, but the men it would bring would be men who are inclined to be receptive to this advertising, a population with a higher than average tendency to objectify women.

To a woman, especially a woman who likes to cosplay at conventions, this signals that this is an event where they might be more likely to find themselves objectified and even possibly harassed. Whether it is true or not, the perception is there. This kind of promotion will attract, more or less, zero women, but consider how the women that Mr. Burnett refers to in his article would see this piece.

You might object that no one is going to look at a single advertising piece and say, "that image tells me that this event is disrespectful to women so I will not attend." You may be correct. However, businesses, especially events, live and die on the margin. A massive portion of potential attendees to an event decide in the last few days or even hours leading up to an event if they will attend. They are on the fence up to the last minute. A rain storm, light cold, or interesting show on TV could dissuade them. With those people, it takes very little to move them from the "maybe yes" side to the "maybe no" side.

Image for Jeff Mach Event's
Build a Better Ball Pit GoFundMe
Conversely, consider the promotion Jeff Mach Event's GoFundMe to build a bigger ballpit, and tangentially to promote their events. The image also uses an attractive woman, but does not objectify. If a man sees this image go by on their Facebook feed, they are more likely to click on it than if, say, it was me in the ball pit, attractive as I am. However the use of the image is not demeaning to the subject. Unlike the image above, she is portrayed as a person who happens to be female as opposed to a set of breasts that happen to be attached to a person.

Over 50% of the population of America are women, and they control a disproportionate amount of the public's spending power. To insult them, demean them, and objectify them for marketing purposes is not merely morally wrong, it is strategically wrong.