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Joan Durand

Communications planning

5 key takeaways: AMA Higher Ed Symposium

December 19, 2019   //   Joan Durand and Megan Youngblood

What happens in Vegas, shouldn’t stay in Vegas.

That’s why we’re sharing our notes from the 2019 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education hosted by Caesars Palace.

From fixing the 2025 enrollment cliff to communicating better with Gen Z, Wise up from our five key tips and takeaways.


Use an outside-in marketing strategy

When Christie Campbell, vice president of marketing and communications at St. Edward’s University, started sharing top-performing content across audiences at her cabinet meetings, university leaders finally got it.

They could see how shifting her team’s focus from creating content that campus stakeholders wanted to focusing on what audiences wanted would move the institution forward.

How did she do it? Here are a few of her tips:

Align content with the university’s strategic vision. For St. Ed’s, it’s all about reputation, recruitment and retention, and all content has to drive one of those things. This approach clears clutter and focuses the team’s conversations with internal clients and stakeholders.

Evolve your team’s roles to work across functions. Review your workflow, and map roles, tasks and tools you need at each stage. Instead of job titles, think RACI:

  • Responsible — who does the work?
  • Accountable — who has yes/no power?
  • Consulted — who provides info, contributes or gives feedback?
  • Informed — who needs info to do work?

Start each week with a full team meeting to vet ideas, discuss wins and challenges, and stay on target.


Stop posting, start collaborating

Want to get 4,000 people to post or comment on your Instagram story, when only 4,500 have viewed it? (That’s a 90% retention rate!)

Coastal Carolina University offers up weekly creative challenges asking its Instagram audience to doodle on campus scenes. CCU provides the prompt (a campus shot with overlaid game instructions and the unaltered campus shot) and its audience provides the creativity. Every week, CCU features its most creative submissions in an Instagram Story — drawing in participants week after week.

It’s just one of the team’s many solutions for engaging its Instagram audience, 42% of which are 13- to 24-years-old.

Other creative ways CCU’s driving up social engagement and hitting on what Gen Z wants:

  • Using RIPL, a slideshow generating app, to feature its audience’s content set to music with graphics and transitions. Users start following CCU within two minutes of viewing content.
  • Using GIPHY, a platform for sharing GIFs and personalized content. CCU created 35+ CCU-related GIFs and made them accessible on Instagram and Snapchat. The GIFs received 17.7+ million views.
  • Using Instagram Story to invite students to complete scenes for CCU’s holiday video. CCU deferred creative control on one of its most popular pieces of content — and the return was tremendous. Students submitted replacement scenes for the video, each of the seven finalist scenes received 1,000+ votes, and the making of the video received 10,000 votes in total.


Create a feedback loop with your marketing or recruitment partner

Jana Hayhurst and Suzana Diaz Rosencrans from the University of Arizona Online shared their secret sauce for creating a marketing-recruitment partnership that hits its enrollment goals.

Where do you start? Find common ground. After Jana and Suzana determined their shared goal was enrollment growth, they structured a feedback loop built on joint planning and strategies, forecasting best and worst case scenarios, and sharing information with each other.

So how do you forecast high and low yield? Follow Jana and Suzana’s formulas. First, determine how much you spend on marketing per lead and on each prospect to student conversion. What does that look like?

  • Marketing spend / leads = cost per lead
  • Marketing spend / new enrollment = cost per enrollment

Then calculate what your marketing spend should be to achieve your enrollment goal.

  • New enrollment goal x cost per enrollment = budget
  • Budget / cost per lead = prospects x lead to enrollment conversion % = new enrollment


Change is coming

Because the National Association for College Admission Counseling amended its “Code of Ethics and Professional Practices” to allow colleges and universities to recruit students after they’ve submitted deposits to other institutions, the landscape of college admissions will become much more competitive in several ways:

  • You’ll need to nurture committed students long past the May 1st deposit deadline, and continue marketing to them until they have begun school in August.
  • You’ll need strategies to keep committed students as attractive late offers roll in.
  • You’ll have to work your wait list more because your committed students may accept other offers.
  • Transfer students are now up for grabs. You can tap into your previous year’s applicants and prospects, and create transfer-marketing campaigns to pull students away in their first year of college. (But so can your competitors.)


Don’t wait until 2025 to solve your enrollment problem

Beginning in 2025, and lasting through 2035, the demand for higher education will take a nosedive because of declining birth rates. Fifteen percent fewer students will enter the higher ed pool.

How can you fix it?

Brandon Busteed, president of Kaplan University Partners, offered some solutions in his keynote.

For starters, he recommends that institutions reduce overall costs of education by cutting all expenses that don’t support student success. Then develop new products to reach more prospects such as:

  • Work-study programs.
  • Non-degree professional development.
  • Certificates.
  • Credential plus degree programs that are industry recognized.
  • Pre-college immersion programs for middle to high schoolers.
  • Corporate partnerships that provide credentials as employee benefits.


From big-picture branding initiatives to recruitment campaigns, Zehno helps you move the needle. Learn more about how we can help.

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