Admissions and marketing partnerships breed success in higher ed

‘Closing the deal’ when it comes to college enrollment is everyone’s job
By: | Issue: February, 2017,
January 12, 2017

When campus marketing departments and admissions offices collaborate, valuable strategic alignments can be formed.

Well-coordinated teams ensure that institutional branding messages speak to recruitment needs, while the recruiting messages encourage brand awareness and market penetration that resonate with faculty, staff and alumni.

A shared reporting structure is one way to foster these alignments. Additionally, a more formally articulated, shared vision can break down campus silos, creating synergies among professional staff that may not exist otherwise.

Informal alliances among staff members can also be critical to developing messaging and marketing materials that speak to campus culture and potential student “fit.”

Cohesive marketing and admissions teams are vital in the new normal of missed enrollment and tuition-revenue targets. Marketing a campus’s value proposition is critical to achieving enrollment goals.

Brand awareness is simply not enough. Prospective students want compelling webpages that speak authentically to student success, outcomes and the particular attributes that make a campus unique.

Furthermore, traditional platforms are being replaced by online videos and social media. Admission offices can no longer function independently to achieve expectations that demand both a relationship marketing strategy and a mobile-friendly, branded web presence.

Meeting challenges

So how can a campus align itself to create the synergies needed to meet these challenges? A campus leader who fosters collaboration between marketing and enrollment personnel is the place to start.

This “champion” needs to challenge the marketing and enrollment departments to work together to develop strategic and long-range enrollment marketing plans—and clearly translate the goals into actionable steps.

Another key component is ensuring data-driven reports are regularly communicated to faculty and staff, boards, and other influential campus constituents. When marketing efforts and enrollment progress is communicated, it becomes important, and provides energy and momentum across the campus.

Encouraging the development of partnerships among the advancement office, career services, financial aid officers, faculty, athletics, institutional research, residence life and even auxiliary services will facilitate authentic communication.

Using real stories that include statistics, student life experiences and alumni outcomes can promote genuine relationships with prospective students and increase their engagement.

Be sure the team employs these tools to meet prospective students where they live—on mobile platforms, in text messaging, online advertisements and direct-mail pieces—and stays current on prospective student preferences.

“At its heart, recruitment centers around storytelling and outcomes,” says LeAnn Hughes, vice president for enrollment and marketing at Illinois Wesleyan University. “The best recruiters not only articulate the institutional story, but also share the individual stories and outcomes of students and alumni.”

Coordinated efforts

As communication and outreach plans become increasingly sophisticated, interdepartmental collaboration becomes paramount.

Involving every department that communicates with prospective students and their families takes time and coordination, but ultimately ensures that issues of brand consistency, stylistic preferences, delivery methods and message timing can be synchronized for maximum impact.

Deborah Goodrich, associate vice president for enrollment management at SUNY’s Alfred State College of Technology, sums up her experiences overseeing both areas. 

“After many years of marketing communications reporting to a variety of administrative offices, it was brought into the enrollment management area, which has worked out extremely well,” she says.

“With marketing in the enrollment management area, a close working relationship exists with admissions and academic departments to consistently maintain the college’s brand image.”

Goodrich says the school’s director of marketing communications plays an active role in meetings and strategic planning sessions. This allows the institution to coordinate advertising strategies, featured academic programs, and faculty and student profiles.

For example, when promoting a particular academic program, the marketing communications department coordinates who is featured in recruitment publications, TV ads, alumni magazine articles, and on social media outlets.

“The design images and messages are unified through all media and thus become more compelling,” Goodrich says.

Coordinated efforts allow important themes to be repeated throughout a marketing campaign. For example, weaving affordability messages throughout marketing materials encourages frank conversations about costs and expectations that provide families with a realistic understanding of expenses.

At the same time, the college’s value proposition can be showcased.

Well-crafted materials can also help to open communication with those recruiting partners on the campus who work in tandem with the admissions office (coaches, faculty, diversity officers or other special entry programs).

Ultimately, potential athletic scholarships, merit awards, need-based aid and anticipated family contribution are weighed against the value proposition of the college, all of which can be highlighted by cohesive marketing materials.

Brand awareness

Marketing the campus effectively requires training and planning. Traditionally, admissions team members have been expected to capably discuss program offerings and campus life, enthusiastically “selling” the college to prospects.

Engaging seasoned professionals from the marketing arm of the institution to assist in training admissions recruiters, where turnover is the norm, is an effective way to ensure appropriate messaging.

In fact, the entire campus community needs to be armed with stories about graduate outcome successes, and the benefits and attributes that are unique to the campus.

Accomplish this by infusing brand awareness and promoting authenticity at every event. Increase campus communications through the addition of spirit days, alumni showcases or on-campus career fairs to generate enthusiasm and understanding of both brand presence and worth.

Of course, admissions events, parent weekends and homecoming festivities are also all good opportunities to remind the campus community of the institution’s unique attributes through the consistent use of well-branded, genuine and authentic marketing materials.

In short, the ability to understand and articulate the costs and benefits of education at the institution should be a goal for every member of the campus community.

A seat at the table

But perhaps most importantly, a coordinated enrollment/marketing voice must have a place at the leadership table. Expertise on trends, market volatility and demographic shifts can provide much-needed context for enrollment and net-tuition revenue projections.

It also brings multiple viewpoints to candid conversations about budgets, historical admit patterns, increases or decreases to institutional aid, market demand and discount rate.

As Hughes notes, “Much of my work at the cabinet level is to ensure our team is mindful of the impact of decisions as they pertain to enrollment outcomes. When discussions occur that have impact on budgets, tuition, discount rates or head count, I am able to communicate the possible implications in real time.”

For example, if recently increased scholarships and institutional aid has resulted in little yield improvement, it may be an indication of price inelasticity in the current admit pool.

In the case of a price-inelastic population, diverting a portion of scholarship funds to enhance marketing efforts designed to increase applications may be the best use of those funds.

On the other hand, if increased institutional aid has recently increased yield, perhaps it makes sense to scale back some of the marketing expenditures to grow institutional gifts further. When teams work together, scholarship funds for a price-elastic admit pool can be considered marketing dollars well spent.

In short, a coordinated structure where enrollment and marketing act collaboratively provides the best opportunity for success, particularly in the current enrollment market.