The Value Of First Impressions

I’ve written previously about the value of first impressions.  A few weeks ago I was reminded about how valuable those first impressions can be.  I had the opportunity to bring my daughter to a local college fair with over 200 schools in attendance.  She did some homework ahead of the event and we had a large list of schools we wanted to speak with.

Upon arriving at the event, what struck me first, was that there was an immediate and obvious discrepancy among the schools.  Some had great signage that was branded consistently with their school.  Other colleges simply made do with what was provided by the convention center.  When you see something like that, what’s your first impression?  Is it that one school takes pride in their brand and another doesn’t?  Or is it something more cynical, such as one school charges more in tuition to support its marketing and promotions budget?

A few of the colleges had more than one representative at the table to help reduce waiting times.  As a parent with many schools on the list and many questions to ask, I found that to be very valuable.  But that begs the same questions, doesn’t it?  Is it “smart business” on the school’s behalf or is it flaunting a larger budget that can afford to send two representatives instead of one?

Many of the colleges had large visuals of campus.  Not surprisingly, all of the students look like models and the campus apparently enjoys nothing but  sunny, blue skies and 70-degree days all year-long.  What surprised me was that some schools didn’t have visuals at all, unless you proactively flipped through their glossy brochures.  You can’t flip through a brochure if your booth doesn’t attract the visitor to begin with!  That seems like Marketing 101 to me, and that doesn’t bode well for the offending schools offering a marketing degree.  I think they need to re-take that class, or perhaps take it at a different school that understands marketing!

My final observation, however, was how few schools had promotional products with them.  I was expecting to bring home enough branded pens to supply a few classrooms with.  Instead, we found one school that had postcards of campus images printed in 3-D and another school that gave out small smartphone screen cleaning pads.

After speaking with 30+ schools, I must admit that many of them blended together at the end of the event.  The ones I remembered either had a great representative, or they had the right combination of marketing and promotional collateral to stand out from the crowd.  For the colleges, isn’t it all about making a great first impression at an event like that?  My daughter was able to eliminate many schools from consideration based on first impressions alone.  The rest will be eliminated on other, more traditional criteria.

Does your business actively plan for making the right first impression?  If you’re looking for a job, what are you doing to ensure your first impression is a good one?

Ithaca College, IC, Roy H. Park School of Communications, Cayuga Lake, South Hill

A first-impression of my alma matter, the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College, overlooking Cayuga Lake (image via


7 thoughts on “The Value Of First Impressions

  1. Very interesting post, Arthur.

    I’ve made similar observations during my time as a student at Brockport. I’ve never had the chance to meet the individuals who work in marketing for the college, but sometimes I really question the things that they do (or don’t do). Simply put, I don’t think that, if they were held to the same standards that exist in Corporate America, they would hold a job very long.

    One of my favorite examples was a billboard that Brockport had last year on 390 South-bound, near the airport (I’ve seen it in other locations as well). The tagline was something along the lines of, “Brockport – where your favorite teacher came from.” The text was so small, though, that I must have driven by 6-7 times before I was able to put it together and figure out what it said.

    It’s unfortunate, really, but I’m sure financial resources are more of a factor in this than we would like to admit.

    Great post!

    James Mignano

  2. I completely agree with both you and James, Arthur. Having done a few projects in the past in higher education, I find that “academia” is very out of touch with the real working world and that includes marketing. They budget very little to do their own, yet they depend on admissions to bring them the students that keep the college going. They’re nice people, but insulated from the realities of the business environment outside of campus. I feel sorry for some of their recruiters, because they don’t have the tools (like displays, etc.) to compete at the college fairs.

  3. Hello Arthur
    My alma mater schools that ask me to staff a booth or table at a college fair expect all of us to volunteer. Marketing budget nothing !! Your point is well made, and I will choose to not make myself vulnerable to the type of valid criticism you offer unless I get an up-front commitment from these elite school(s) to provide trinkets, signage and visuals. Thanks for the heads/up; however, one must consider whether the exchange of such valuable considerations impinges on the edges of bribery !!
    All th’ e-Best

  4. Pingback: Marketing and the College Tour | Arthur Catalanello Consulting

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