The Power of the Coffee Date

Every PRSSA Chapter has its own recruitment style. Some use more traditional techniques such as posters, mail inserts and all-campus emails to reach possible members. Others host large-scale parties with pizza and refreshments to bring in prospective members. Whatever methods are used, I would argue that being an effective recruiter is one of the most vital skills for a Chapter to command.

My Chapter was chartered in 2012, and for us, event planning and recruitment were two of our top goals. We experimented with all-campus emails, but we decided to avoid using our funds to create print material and rely more on what we found to be our most powerful tool: the Coffee Date.

It started inadvertently when we realized our all-campus emails and targeted Facebook messages were not attracting members. Instead, all of our potential members were coming from referrals, which originated from friends, word-of-mouth and through professor recommendations. From there, members of our Executive Board contacted and met with each prospective member one-on-one over Starbucks in the center of our campus. As a result, I am happy to say that every prospective member we met for coffee decided to join PRSSA.

So what about this seemingly simple method is so effective?

Potential members were pursued directly on a personal level, rather than by impersonal mass-communication methods. When met with, they were treated to a cup of coffee (honestly, just about every college student’s dream) and asked about their specific goals and backgrounds. This allowed our Executive Board to directly address each individual’s particular needs with relevant information about PRSSA and how it can help them.

By using the Coffee Date tactic, we have found that we establish dedicated, passionate members that actively participate in events, our student-run firm and our event planning committee.

If you would like to apply this idea to your Chapter recruitment efforts, here are some additional tips.

  • During the Coffee Date, share a one-page fact sheet with bulleted PRSSA statistics, requirements and opportunities that the prospective member can keep.
  • Bring your laptop or tablet to show them pictures or videos of your past events and meetings.

What recruitment techniques have you found to be the most effective?

Ben Butler is the Chapter president and a founding member of Geneva College’s PRSSA Chapter in Beaver Falls, Penn. He is currently blogging one illustration a day for a year.

5 thoughts on “The Power of the Coffee Date

    • Author gravatar

      This post serves as a great reminder for all practitioners, novice to experienced. In the age of new media, it’s easy to get wrapped up in social media and web marketing as the primary ways to communication with different publics. Different situations call for different methods. The ability to connect one-on-one is a necessary skill for PR practitioners. Networking is started by a meeting, but it can be strengthened through the web and social media sites. One compliments the other in order to create a successful relationship. Practitioners, especially in the younger generation, should take the lesson of the coffee date and use it the next time mass communication methods aren’t working. It may take more time or more effort, but the end result is a larger network, public or membership base. Great articles to take you back to the basics!

      Katie Sanders
      Contributing Writer
      Platform Magazine

    • Author gravatar


      I’m happy that you found this article helpful!

      I couldn’t agree with you more about the one-on-one approach strengthened by social media (and not the other way around). It ironically seems that the growth of social media has tended to take some measure of “social” out of interactions.

      Ben Butler

    • Author gravatar


      I found this article inspiring. I’m on the exec board of Middle Tennessee State University’s Chapter, and every post or tweet we make seems to fall into dead air. But when we actually talk to the members, everything seems to come alive. I think people want to be heard instead of constantly reminded a meeting is coming up. And although we’ve had a boost in our membership, but what we struggle with is retention. Maybe it’s not too late to have coffee dates with the already joined members!

      Good luck with your Chapter! I hope to hear more from how you grow your Chapter as every chapter can learn from a “newbie.”

      Amanda Gambill

    • Author gravatar


      Thank you for your response. I’m glad you found this inspiring!

      I couldn’t agree more — members definitely want to be actively engaged. I think your already-joined members would appreciate a chance to connect over a cup of coffee, especially if it is provided!

      Good luck with your Chapter as well! I hope to hear some stories of successful coffee dates!

      Ben Butler

    • […] the Right People Make an effort to meet for lunch or set up a coffee date with the prominent decision makers on your campus. Inform them that you would simply like to […]

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