How To Build Bridges With A Campus

mark-harriesMark Harries
UCH Management Group

Making friends with the 800-pound gorilla

Before addressing “how” to connect with campus, we should briefly cover “why” you should.

mark-harriesMark Harries
UCH Management Group

Making friends with the 800-pound gorilla

Before addressing “how” to connect with campus, we should briefly cover “why” you should.

Students (and parents) are on a mission at college; a mission to grow, a mission to succeed, a mission to make sure all that time and money spent on college is worthwhile. The school is the reason we in this business exist, it’s the reason we have tenants, it is the nucleus of our universe. To be at all credible beyond simple amenities and physical features, you must integrate into the fiber of the campus culture, you must be seen as credible, supportive and connected. So many properties don’t do this and rely solely on sexy amenities (which fade over time). That failure on their part is a big opportunity to differentiate your property, add value and create an attraction to your site that is sustainable.

If you are going to ‘infiltrate’ and build bridges to and with campus, you must understand the terrain and speak the language. It doesn’t happen over night, and it doesn’t happen by itself. Here’s how to start.

First, recognize that campus is not a monolith.

Private sector people tend to talk about campus as a singular entity with a singular purpose and singular mission. The truth is, campus is an assemblage of dozens of fiefdoms, departments and programs. No one speaks for all of campus and no one controls all of campus. For example, perhaps the director of housing considers you a competitor. That’s unfortunate but not the end of the world. There are dozens of other people and programs on campus. You are not building “a bridge” to campus, but many bridges.

Second, ensure your site manager is familiar and comfortable on campus.

I am always amazed at how many site managers we meet who have no familiarity or comfort with their anchor school(s). Often, non-college-educated themselves, they can be intimidated by the specter of a college or university campus. That is no slam on boot-strap managers who aren’t degreed, but the fact is, if you are going to work, live and breath student housing, you must be able to navigate a college campus. And I don’t just mean knowing the student union from the stadium, I mean understanding the departments, programs, culture, politics, leadership and master plan.

Third, realize that few on campus care about your property.

Assuming you are a private off-campus facility with no built-in affiliations, no one on campus has an agenda or motivation to help your property succeed. To them you are simply a for-profit investor or developer and that runs counter to the general mindset of academia. Once you understand that, you are in the proper frame of mind to begin building relationships.

Fourth, you have to find opportunities, they aren’t going to find you!

Go to the book store and get the school catalog. The catalog

itemizes every program, office, support system, resource and activity on campus. Read it with a highlighter in hand. Look for people and programs that need to reach out to students. Your property, with its facilities and access to hundreds of student residents, can help campus programs succeed.

As you identify these opportunities, bullet-point how you and your property might be able to contribute and then start knocking on doors. You'll meet a few people who are willing to listen and begin to brainstorm with you. Remember, you are not there to sell anything, you are there to offer help and service, no strings attached.

Next, also with highlighter in hand, read the campus newspaper front to back daily. New club forming? Hold their meetings on your site. Campus activity coming? Send students or staff over to volunteer. Hot SGA-sponsored band playing on campus? Have an autograph reception at the property. The opportunities are there, you just need to find them and make the effort.

More Examples

Maybe the campus office in charge of academic support would love to hold tutorials in your clubhouse. They access more students and are recognized in their department for their out-of-the-box outreach. By extension, your property is recognized as a place that supports student success. Your residents get a valuable benefit beyond your standard amenities package and parents recognize your service to students beyond pool parties. Get the idea?

Let's say you have vacancies. Instead of rooms sitting empty while you get into concession wars with your competitors, carve out a few or even just one and put together a housing scholarship. Offer it to a key department or program you are targeting. Think of the good will and open doors of that kind of relationship can bring!

Don't forget student organizations: on-line you can pull a list of all student clubs and organizations. Silly as it seems, maybe the stamp club would enjoy a hosted mixer at your property, etc.

Write me with your success stories!  -mharries@uchmg.com

Mark Harries is president of Austin, Texas-based UCH Management Group.

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