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The Showerhead Principle

The Showerhead Principle

Every male I’ve ever asked has something to say about how much they love their shower.

My master bath’s shower head shattered and fell off the pipe some time back. After enduring many weeks of painful knife-points of misdirected water spatter on my back, I went on Amazon and splurged on a luxury item that was long time in coming: a high-flow showerhead.

For those of you who don’t do home improvement (or live in drought-stricken California), U.S. showerheads are restricted to 2.5 gallons per minute. Most are calibrated at an even 2 GPM just to be safe.

I hate safe showerheads.

It took about five minutes on Amazon to find an affordable showerhead manufactured outside the U.S. that didn’t care about arbitrary flow limits. Three days and free Amazon Prime shipping later, I was the proud owner of the best shower experience of my life.

Heaven had come to my mornings. Showers instantly became the best part of my day. And it all lasted less than two weeks.

At first, the complaints were mild. And a little sheepish.

One of my kids would come out of the bath shivering, saying that the hot water had run out on them while they were covered in soap.

My wife would take a shower immediately after me and comment that something must be wrong with our hot water heater.

The youngest kids would attempt a bath and wind up fighting to get out before the tepid water had their teeth chattering.

After a few days, my household was in revolt. And I had been labeled the villain.

It turns out my 5 gallons per minute ate through a full tank of hot water in about 15 minutes. Meaning that anyone bathing after me was in for a chilly surprise.

“Ok, ok. I’ll return the showerhead,”

But then I would take another 5 gallons per minute shower. And I would forget about my promise to take it all back.

Another revolt over misallocated water. Another promise to make it all right.

Another heavenly shower. Delay, and more delay.

I finally replaced the best shower head in the world with a decidedly more eco-friendly version. My showers have gone back to being mediocre, but at least my kids will look me in the eyes.

I’ve learned a lesson: a single positive experience can blind you to the fact that one thing might be sucking resources away from what’s really important.

Ask yourself if you have any “high flow showerheads” in your marketing plan that are taking resources away from things that need to be watered.

Maybe it’s a large, expensive annual banquet that the executives love but provide almost no ROI for the organization.

Maybe it’s a staffing decision that was paid for by gutting the operations budget.

Or maybe you just need to go item for item on your marketing schedule and quantify the inputs required against the benefits realized. You are sure to find some “showerheads” that are keeping resources from more critical projects.

Do you need help escaping the tyranny of “showerhead spending” in your marketing plan? Give Recraft Media a call. We excel at discovering what actually brings returns and what is wasted water.

Interested in working with us?

Wondering where you can find the best showerhead in the world?

First Impressions Friday: Portland State

First Impressions Friday: Portland State

It’s First Impressions Friday! Time to take a look at a higher education home page and ask ourselves if this is really the message that institution was trying to make.

Today’s example: Portland State University in Portland, OR.

Three-Second Judgement

First off, I love the domain name. is the best combination of succinct and meta. Using your airport code rather than the abbreviation of your name is uniquely Portland. And as we know, Portland likes to keep it weird.

Unfortunately, everything falls apart after that.

Where do I click first?

At first glance, I count five different typefaces. The primary navigation is the smallest text on the page.

The action steps navigation (“Follow Us, Visit, Apply” et al) is somehow too big and too hard to find at the same time.

As a user, I don’t really know where to begin my journey.

Content Drill Down

On a messaging level, this page is a mixed bag. While there are several stories and photos about the work the college does, the page doesn’t project a sense of place. There are not a lot of context clues about the campus environment, the size of the student body, the academic emphasis, or the institution’s place in the city.

I get what they are trying to do here. But boy, work on your copy a little more! “Colleges throughout?” Throughout what?

Which is more important: “sign up” or “Transfer Open House”?

Overall Grade:

High Points:

  • The domain name is cool.
  • The color palette, while uninspired, is at least consistent.

Low Points:

  • Does not use a responsive layout. BIG problem for accessibility.
  • No clear hierarchy of information. Everything is splattered across the layout with no logical flow.
  • Lack of compelling imagery

Interested in working with us?

Making Water Flow Uphill

Making Water Flow Uphill

Which way does water flow?

If it seems like a trick question, it’s not.

Water flows downhill. Every time. No exceptions.

And yet there are always people who occasionally want to see water flow uphill.

Many years ago, I was running a small (at the time) one-man production shop at a major university when I was asked to produce a piece of video content for the student recruitment website. I was brought alone into a room with four managers and told that the assignment was to create a “year in review” with specific shots of a young freshman experiencing all the various activities and seasons of a typical year on campus.

There was only one problem: the conversation was happening in June, and the video was due in August.

The four managers unfurled rolls of paper containing storyboard sketches. They had a very specific list of things that needed to be featured.

Football games.

Campus picnics.

Field trips.

Trail hiking.

Snow skiing.

Crowds of people on campus.

“Wait.” I said. “You want me to film a ‘year in review’…in two months?”


“Um….” I tried to let the reality of the situation sink in. It wasn’t working.

“Is that a problem?”

“Well, it’s late June. And there are twelve months in a year…”

Blank expressions turned to mild annoyance. “Is there a reason you are unwilling to comply with this request?”

Try as I might, I could not convince the room of experienced and oh-so-wise managers that you need to shoot the footage before you can use the footage. When I pressed the issue further, I got the most condescending response possible.

“Oh you just don’t get it. We only need a snippet of each event – not hours and hours of footage. It shouldn’t be too hard for you to find just a snippet.”

What the heck is a “snippet” anyway?

Try as I might, I could not convince the room of managers that it doesn’t matter if you need two seconds of footage or two hours: the footage has to exist before you can use it. Water flows downhill. You can’t make it flow uphill. You have to source the assets before you can use them.

When you build your marketing plan, think in terms of a supply chain. The assets (text, photos, videos) have to be sourced at the beginning. Then you can edit them. Finally, you can distribute them. The materials you produce start upstream and flow downstream. And you can never violate that rule by asking your team to produce content from assets that don’t exist yet.

As you grow your team’s capabilities, think about what is coming “downstream” of where you are now. Want to produce a slick new student recruitment viewbook? Shoot the photos 8-12 months ahead of time to capture your campus in the right seasons. Want to have high-quality copy in your brochure? Hire a writer with the skills to do it well, and provide them with the lead time to do the proper research ahead of the deadline.

Water flows downhill.

Every time.

All the time.

If you remember that, everything in marketing gets a whole lot easier.

How to fail at engagement and alienate your audience

How to fail at engagement and alienate your audience

One eager attendee raised her hand tentatively. The presenter called on her and listened to her relevant, on-topic question.

She got three quarters of the way through it before she was cut off.

“Wait wait! I’ve got some slides that talk about your question a little later on. We will talk about that later. Ok, back to my presentation…”

It wasn’t a big room or a big crowd. There were maybe fifteen people in the audience, and the presenter knew he was speaking to an audience that was looking for practical answers.

But after another hour and a half of poorly-designed PowerPoint, the audience question still wasn’t answered. It was supposed to be a 40 minute slideshow with 20 minutes of Q&A. Instead it was nearly two hours of slides and almost no meaningful discussion.

The presenter somehow thought that their PowerPoint slides were more important than engaging the audience.

If you have known me for any length of time, you know my life’s message is to know your audience. It affects every other decision you make, from content to presentation, from hiring to firing. Sometimes knowing your audience is a high-altitude discovery process of market research and focus groups. Other times, it’s simply taking the time to listen rather than ramming your content down the audience’s throats.

Looking for a reality check on your institution’s ability to listen to your stakeholders? Give Recraft a call. We specialize in cutting through the clutter and discovering what matters most in your public engagement.

Interested in working with us?

Is a research focus in undergraduate education a bad thing?

Is a research focus in undergraduate education a bad thing?

Is a research focus in undergraduate education a bad thing?

Ryan Craig – a contributor to Forbes – seems to think so.

According to a Brookings study published in January that utilized unique “matched student-faculty data” from Northwestern University between 2001 and 2008, “there is no relationship between the teaching quality and research quality of tenured Northwestern faculty.”

Craig makes the well-meaning argument that heavy investment in research-focused faculty doesn’t directly affect the quality of undergraduate instruction. After all, just because someone is recognized as a leader in their field doesn’t make them better at imparting their skills in the classroom.

He goes on to say that:

Colleges and universities that continue to allow faculty research agendas to drive curricula will find themselves at a disadvantage in preparing students for good first jobs. (Although research-driven curricula isn’t necessarily at odds with what employers need, it’s less likely to include the appropriate mix of cognitive, non-cognitive and especially technical skill development that most employers are seeking in entry-level hires.)

So is he right?

Yes. But I also believe he is missing the point.

On the surface, this is a classic case of correlation being confused for causation. There are many instances where an institution’s quality of instruction is driven by the output of research flowing from the faculty. There are also plenty of times where the research lives in the silo and has no bearing on undergraduate education.

Dig down deeper though, and you find a problem that transcends these issues of instruction vs. research. Namely, the lack of transparency in individual degree programs.

When you sell a college or university, you often have to rely on the strengths of the whole in order to persuade an individual student to enroll. An aura of high scholastics is presumed to permeate throughout, totally disconnected to the fact that each academic program is a small universe unto itself, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Just because program “A” has good teaching faculty with a skills-applicable research focus doesn’t mean that program “B” has the same thing.

This needs to change.

A student registering for a degree program needs to have ALL the data available. Not just program comparisons and U.S News and World Reports (often bogus) rankings.

Faculty/student ratios
Graduation rates
Career placement rates
Research association to industry

As marketing communications practitioners, we have a chance to lead the change. As education costs continue to rise, our customers will become more and more discerning. And the institution that leads with relevant transparency in program promotion will have an instant edge.

Does your institution’s programs provide a fast track to employment? Prove it. Lead with it.

Does your institution’s research support real-world industries? Will students studying in that field gain industry-specific skills as a result of this research? Shout it from the rooftops.

In the end, research is not the problem. In many cases, it is part of the solution.

But the real solution is colleges and universities providing real value to the people they serve. And your institution’s marketing is the frontline in providing that value.

Are you a rising star in providing value to the people and job-creators in your region? We want to work with YOU. Reach out to Recraft Media and start a conversation on taking your engagement to the next level.

Interested in working with us?