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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

University Marketing: Creating (A) School Spirit

I've always felt most school's would fail to get a passing grade in Marketing (even as I pursued my degree in this field). From fairs to brochures to tours to websites to videos to alumni newsletters, they don't do a heck of a lot to pull people in/make a connection and keep them connected. The know, however, for many, their sports teams create a real draw. This week's AdAge has a good article on the benefit(s) of a university's "cinderella" team making it far in the men's and women's NCAA basketball tournaments. For example, last year's George Mason saw a significant increase in applications this year (4x greater) after making it to the men's Final Four, 25% increase in "giving," and got press mentions worth up to $50MM in purchased media.

Unfortunately for those smaller, less known/popular schools, this year's men's tourney boosts household names of Ohio St., Florida, UCLA, and Georgetown. However this year's women's bracket saw a Sweet 16 shocker in Marist, who planned to take advantage of this moment in the spotlight by...drumroll please...simply playing the game.

Asked if Marist would take advantage of its success by running a 15- or 30-second commercial on ESPN's telecast of the game against Tennessee, Mr. Murray said the school had something longer in mind. "How long is the game going to be on? Two hours? That's a two-hour infomercial for us."

Fair enough. And when you think about how colleges and universities have historically and typically chosen to market themselves, you can't help but admire the "action speak louder than words"/events speak louder than ads approach. Look no further than this Slate article's title, to some up traditional university marketing: "Those Weird College Ads: If you like our football team, you'll love our chem labs full of Asian students."

As state-school spokespersons are quick to point out, colleges don't pay for the airtime—the slots are provided at no cost under most college-football television contracts.

Yet, there must be a way to not just fill this time better, but have a more compelling message and make a stronger connection with viewers. First you have to understand who that audience is. It's probably not full of potential student-athletes, it's probably not be full of jock guys, it may not be potential applicants, it may not be potential donors. It may be all of the above, but primarily current students. So the opportunity may just be to engage and galvanize the entire student body to create a visible or somehow tangible sense of positive energy and enthusiasm on the campus. In this case, maybe you sponsor a student created video contest. Or maybe there's a noticeable dropoff in or lack of current students participating in volunteer orgs, so you can make them aware of the opps available. In this case, you drive them to a comprehensive website or event.

Overly simplified, more university's need agencies to help them first and foremost, define objectives, learn about your audiences, create strategies for recruitment, donation, etc., develop smart and unique ideas and ultimately execute them. To help them understand what makes them unique and optimize real moments for connection—from the ads to athletes to the professors to the events to the students. (Hopefully the ones giving the tours are like Guide #2 in this post from Hill Holliday's blog.)


Brandi said...

Schools don't pay for the airtime but do you think they are going to pay for an ad agency? Or are you suggesting that agencies do this work pro bono?

Seth said...

good pt. first sentence in the last paragraph should more appropriately read, more U's need smart marketers (or the thinking and ability to execute on it that great agencies provide). no, most will not pay, but some do (i.e. rice univ for one). and if an agency wants to work pro bono for a school with real recruitment issues, i think it'd be great (maybe tulane needs trumpet, mike?). more i'd like to suggest understanding how schools can tap into their own students, alumni, etc. to make better use of assets, create new, more entertaining and useful stuff to meet real, defined objectives - for ex: georgetown has more applicants than they'd ever need to get a top class, but very weak alumni contribution. so though they still want to attract top talent, maybe the best way is to get successful grads to come together to build a cutting edge business lab. create and maintain communities around interests with stated missions (like hoya hoop club) and take adv. of social networking sites to activate them. realize the potential of students as well - give them the tools and inspire them to paint their own picture of the school like this guy, aki wrote about -

maybe it's as simple as putting someone in charge of U "brand mgmt".