Quick Tips! Insights from Italy

Videos January 23, 2020

After traveling to Italy for many years, Dr. Pam Cox-Otto has picked up on a few things…like how street vendors engage with people who pass by. In this Quick Tips! video, Dr. Cox-Otto shares what she’s learned from traveling to Italy and how colleges can use these practices to make students feel more welcome when they come to campus.


Hi, everyone. Welcome to Tuscany. I’m here visiting family, friends, and wait, hold on, I have proof. It’s not… There you are. You’re looking out over the Tuscan valley from Cortona, which is one of my favorite places in the world. While I was here, I thought you might be interested about how Italians do persuasion—and they do persuasion very well—how they do it differently than we do it. And I’m not going to… It’s not that I’m visiting schools or anything like that. But what I’m doing is taking a couple of interesting lessons from the way people engage here in Italy.

So, first one is that you see, if you come to Italy or almost any country in Europe, you’ll find that as you’re walking down the street, the people who work in the restaurants are standing out front, engaging people as they walk by and they say, “Hi, are you hungry? Hi, are you looking for food? Hi, it’s time for a drink in the middle of the day.” What they do is they don’t sit in their buildings waiting for you to come to them. They expect that they’re going to have to go to you.

And the really, really good ones do something a little one step beyond that, which is if it’s a gelateria, they’re standing out front with samples of the food. If it’s a ristorante, they stand outside with pieces of meat or cheese or whatever. But the point is, is that they don’t wait for people to come to them. They go to them as they’re walking down the streets. What that means for you and your recruiting is this: How many times do you send recruiters out to a high school or a college or some work schedule day, and they stand there and they wait for people to walk up and talk to them? Or even worse, they have a table and they stand behind it. Or even worse, they sit behind it.

Every one of those things is telling you that I’m here. I’m just waiting for you to come up to me. And I’m not really working this, I’m not really engaging. One of the most critical lessons for people to understand is if you want people to engage with you, particularly in those awkward times when they’re averting their eyes as they walk past your booth or your table, it’s to be in front of the table, it’s to talk to people, it’s to engage them in a very personal way. That’s step one. Step two is to do reciprocity, which is give them something free that they didn’t expect.

It’s the reason why a lot of the good student service folks will keep a piece of chocolate on top of their table or their desk to say, “Hey, take some chocolate. We’ll work this out.” That is all about reciprocity. “I give you something you’re not expecting. And in doing that, I feel very good about engaging with you.”

So what does that mean for marketing and communications and recruiters? It means just simply this: Take cheap things, inexpensive things. Take a bottle opener, take a lens cleaner, take a sticker, anything like that. As people are walking by, you give them something and you don’t just go “here” and walk away. You say, “Here, you’re coming to us someday and I know you are. So keep this. We’ll look for you in the future.” That’s how they do it in Italy and it’s extremely effective. You wouldn’t believe all the places I walked into that I had no intention of walking into.

Second thing, or beyond the idea of engagement and reciprocity, is this: When they are… When you’re in their shop, when you’re engaging with them, one of the things that­ they always do is they surprise you. And they surprise you by either showing you something you didn’t know that they had— For example, here in Cortona, there’s an art shop, beautiful art, paintings, et cetera. And it’s lovely stuff. But what they do is the place is built on top of what was an Etruscan well. So the well is made so that you can see it in the middle of the shop. And then they say, “Ah, come with me.” And you take this very windy, circuitous stairway down into the basement of the building, which has not changed since Etruscan times, and they show you the heart of the building. And you walked in that looking for art and you weren’t expecting to see something that’s really ancient, and it’s a marvelous kind of cave looking thing; that’s surprising.

How many times do we get people on campus and all we surprise them with is bad parking and perhaps bad food. This is a good surprise. So they do things like, if it’s not someplace with that kind of natural element, what they do is, you’re sitting and they bring you something like a—well, for example, an extra hors d’oeuvres just because you’re sitting there and they want you to be happy, and that your order takes a while to make it. Or at the end of a meal they bring you extra limoncello or something else, right?

You may say, “Okay, well that’s a restaurant thing.” No, it’s an everything. It makes people feel special. When was the last time you did something for students coming on campus, or inquiries coming on campus, to make them feel special? Like you care about them. Like you’re glad they’re there. It’s the kind of piece where you have long lines, have somebody with ice cream handing out ice cream…or gelato! Gelato would work. Telling them you’re glad they’re there. Give them something. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It doesn’t have to be an expensive thing. Sometimes it’s just, “You’re here. We know the lines are long. Here’s candy, here’s chocolate, here’s chairs.” Ooh, chairs. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

So those are two little pieces from Italy. But the bottom line is engage. Do not sit there like a lump on a log and expect them to just soak up the magic that is your college. Engage with them as people. Teach your folks to engage with them as people, and you’re going to find that they’re going to enjoy being with you more and you’re going to get more students. That’s it. I just thought you should take a few lessons away from how they do it here in Tuscany. And if you ever want to visit, give me an email. I will happily tell you what small secrets I’ve learned traveling here, oh, I don’t know, 12 years? There we are. Take care. Talk to you later.


A man looking through binoculars with the Facebook logo over both eyes, just showing that everywhere you look, social media marketing is there! Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash
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