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Dec 27

CASE STUDY: ‘Think is for Girls’

Selective Listening Generates Targeted Message for Women’s College

In the struggle to recruit students in a world of coed colleges, all-female Sweet Briar College has illustrated two key principles of any public relations effort, namely crystalizing the issue and understanding the audience. Newsweek covered the college’s PR efforts as part of an article on Virgina women’s colleges in its November 6, 2006 issue.

The college’s new theme, “Think is for girls,” is displayed in pink and targets potential students with the concept of academic excellence using today’s vernacular. The concept plays out on the Web site, admissions materials, alumnae talking points, computer wallpaper and T-shirts.

Building a targeted PR campaign like Sweet Briar’s requires selective listening. On one hand, the college used focus groups as a research tool to identify key traits they were seeking in potential students — such as leadership and risk taking. Only through carefully listening to their audience — Gen Y women — were they able to boil their message down so succinctly. On the other hand, the staff had to avoid the common pitfall of listening to themselves instead of their customers. “When Sweet Briar first faced decling applications in the 1980s, the board of directors initally fell back on nostalgic images of a nurturing institution. It made a lot of sense to adults, but it didn”t make sense to young women who didn’t feel they need nurturing,” college president Elisabeth Muhlenfeld told Newsweek.

The lesson from the Sweet Briar case study is that all good public relations efforts are grounded in research, and many also need to fight upstream against the “powers that be” to translate the voice of the customer into the organization’s message.

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