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Marketing lessons from a pizza caper

Posted by Sarah Mitchell on 16th November , 2021 in The Write Fit
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This is an excerpt from the 56th edition of The Write Fit, a fortnightly newsletter about writing, editing and proofreading, content marketing and good editorial practices for business, from Sarah Mitchell and Dan Hatch at Typeset.

 

My son graduated from high school last month. Waiting for the graduation ceremony to begin, his dad and I reflected on some of the more memorable parts of our son’s school career – like the time in grade two when he got involved with a pizza cartel.

Yep, our six-year-old boy was groomed to be a pizza mule. A bunch of 12-year-old thugs at the international school convinced him to fish pizza boxes out of the rubbish bin and deliver them to the big boys’ lunch table.

The boys got a free lunch, sold the leftovers for pocket money, and never got their hands dirty. My son took all the risk and was paid one slice of pizza at the end of lunch – coveted contraband for a kid who brown-bagged it every day.

Eventually Mr.6 was nabbed while up to his armpits in garbage, trying to retrieve the last of the pizza boxes. I remember the day because I was on a tight deadline when I got a panicked call from his teacher. She explained in excruciating detail about the school policy against taking things that don’t belong to you, even if it was from the bin.

Then she asked me what I wanted to do about it. She said she was at a loss because nothing like that had ever happened before, and she didn’t know why he would be looking for food since I always sent a healthy lunch. (You’ve got to be kidding me, right?) It all seemed a bit dramatic – and I was under pressure to get off the phone and get back to work – so I made the obvious suggestion, “Tell him to quit eating out of the garbage bin.”

I ended the call quickly after confirming I was happy for the teacher to give my son a direct order.

What’s this got to do with marketing or writing or customer communications? A lot, actually. Here are a few errors that still grind on me when I think about it.

  1. Timeliness matters. The teacher’s timing was off. It could have waited until after school.
  2. Pick the right medium. I didn’t need the interruption of a phone call. An email would have been fine or, better yet, an in-person discussion when I saw her at school pick-up.
  3. Constant requests for feedback are annoying. I didn’t need a consultation over a minor infraction any more than I need the slew of “How did we do?” surveys in my inbox.
  4. Subjugating authority ruins your credibility. Don’t ask customers questions with obvious answers. Don’t invent reasons to bother them.
  5. Get your facts straight before going public. When I did speak with my son and the teacher that afternoon, he guilelessly described how the pizza gang operated. The teacher had no idea there was a racket in operation.
  6. Get to the point. Waffle and hyperbole ruin the effectiveness of your communication faster than anything. I can still recall my rising anger while she recounted the events like he’d been caught in a drug sting.

In truth, I didn’t need to hear from the teacher at all. She had the authority, experience, and education to make decisions about student behaviour. It was a minor infraction, blown out of proportion, and the way it was communicated still irritates me 12 years later.

I know she wasn’t impressed with my blunt advice – or my attitude – but what did she expect? I spent the rest of that school year doubting the teacher’s judgement. Thankfully, that was the only run-in with the authorities we ever had to deal with.

Sarah Mitchell
16 November 2021

P.S. Did you read the one about a major parenting fail on my part?

 

 

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