Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I'm Keyless

What happened to my letter from Phi Beta Kappa? I never got it. True, I graduated from college more than 35 years ago. Then I joined the Navy. Saw the world. I’ve forgotten a lot of things that happened back then. I may have missed it.

Hey, I’m not blaming America’s oldest collegiate honor society. I hadn’t given it any thought at all until I read the article about the Society’s new marketing effort in last week’s Wall Street Journal. But when I saw all those people – Glenn Close, Francis Ford Coppola, Condoleeza Rice, Jeff Bezos – pictured in the article, all of them Phi Beta Kappans, I shockingly realized I could have been among that crowd.

I graduated the same year as honoree Michael Milken. True, he graduated from UC Berkeley and has made a gazillion dollars. I graduated from Oglethorpe University (the “Stormy Petrels,” for crying out loud) – and haven’t. I’m not jealous of his success. But maybe, possibly, that little dangly thing was the key to his future millions.

I obviously missed out on becoming a Captain of Industry (or a Supreme Court justice or a famous actress) because the letter from Phi Beta Kappa never reached my hands. Okay, leave out the “famous actress” part.

The fact is, the WSJ article may be the best piece of marketing Phi Beta Kappa has done in the last 20 or 30 years. Otherwise, I note that professors at local colleges will be e-mailing and calling students “several times after initial invitations are sent…in an effort to boost enrollment.” Also, the Society is sending alumni to high schools to let graduating students know that there could be a gold key in their future.

It turns out that the Society has done a fine job of defending its trademarks – which is a good thing. It sued Compaq in ’88 to prevent the company from using the slogan “Phi Beta Compaq.”

My lost invitation is water over the bridge – seriously.

I herewith offer my services as an ad guy to the professors and the administrative team who run Phi Beta Kappa. I think they could use my help. After all, of the 10 renowned Society members interviewed in the article, only three read the newsletter on a regular basis; John Updike admitted he read the last issue.

It’s clear these folks need to raise the marketing bar a little higher than a new brochure. Example: the Society appears to mail letters to qualifying college seniors. (I never got mine.) It’s possible that e-mail marketing might be a more contemporary way to get to its audience than the United States Post Office, which, by the way, is raising its first-class postage rate by 2¢ this coming January.

Underwrite some events. A NASCAR sponsorship could be the path to an entirely new appreciation of the Society and its place in the intellectual firmament of our great nation. Or sponsor one of the WNBA teams, a combination of social action and sports entertainment that could be your next big thing.

Here I am, Kelly Gerald. Willing to let bygones be bygones. Just e-mail me or give me a call: I’ll leap into the breach for dear old Phi Beta Kappa.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Richard. Great post – I had forgotten all about Phi Beta Kappa as an institution. It only appears in my speech when I quote your late mother re someone having a “Phi Beta Keppelleh.” I take it PhBK want to put the hell back in Hellene and start exercising more brainpower and influence than the Knights of Pythias and other such fraternalia.