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A Day In The Life Of A Higher-Ed Marketer: Enrollment Communications

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If you are in enrollment marketing and communications, first off, are you doing OK? Would you like a cappuccino or a nap or something? You look tired.

Second, you might have a common question from those who aren’t in the field — “What, um, do you actually do?” Enrollment communications sounds kind of nonsensical.

I often say that I’m the guy who sends all the stuff to get students to want to attend our college. That’s the gist of it, anyway, save for a multi-faceted communication flow and a printed brochure or 12. We get a message across in whatever way we need — viewbook, text, skywriting — to help a family understand why our college is the best option.

Sounds simple.

We all know it’s not.

The days can be hectic. And rewarding. And take years off your life.

Here’s what a typical day in the heart of recruiting season can be like for me as the director of enrollment communications at a 4,400-student private college:

6 a.m. Check my phone to make sure there were no marketing calamities overnight. You know how you triple-check the target audience, but somehow, a kindergartner in Canada still got your last Open house invite? That’s the stuff that keeps you up at night. So you make sure there aren’t any panic messages. And you check in case they decided to do Daylight Savings an extra time this year and you can go back to sleep. You never know.

8 a.m. Get to work. I’ve got a very small communication team, so we have to be very efficient with our time. Our latest tactic: A giant white board, sectioned off into “Waiting/To-Do/Doing/Done” with Post-it notes for each project each of us are handling in various stages of being completed. Throughout the day, we move them over (or sometimes backward. Yikes!). At a glance, I know exactly what we are all doing. Super effective, especially for a person like me who doesn’t like project tracking. You know what’s the best project management system? Whatever one you actually like to do. That’s the best one.

8:15 a.m. I’ve grabbed whatever Post-its I’m going to try to do that day. On a good day, I’m rockin’ and rollin’ by this point. On a typical day, though, some kind of urgent communication issue is popping up, so we start brainstorming ideas. If, say, we need to increase registrations for an Open House, I might decide to push out a text to any inquiry within a certain radius who hasn’t registered yet. But even a simple tactic like that requires coordination.

9 a.m. Off to a meeting. What’s the meeting about? Doesn’t matter. You know it doesn’t matter. I know it doesn’t matter. But here we are in this meeting, aren’t we? Every life hack from top entrepreneurs around the world says, “Stop having so many meetings, and if you must have them, keep it brief.” Higher ed’s response is “Hahaha OK funny one! Now let’s hold a task force meeting to discuss the need for a subcommittee.” 

11 a.m. Return from back-to-back meetings. If possible, I try to squeeze in a few emails while I’m walking between the meetings to maximize productivity. Or I’ll grab a photo of campus to use for social media; we have staff and interns who help with that, but I still like to post when I can. Social media content volume is like seasoning — most people don’t add nearly enough, and as long as you slowly add more, you won’t run the risk of overdoing it.

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11:30 a.m. Eat at my desk and see what dumb move the Pittsburgh Pirates did today. On some days, I’ll eat in the dining hall so I can see all of those students we have recruited. Allegedly, inquiries are real people who turn into real students, and are not just a series of data fields waiting to be merged. This has not been independently verified.

1 p.m. By this point, the Urgent Enrollment Issue of the Day That Just Popped Up (trademark pending) will have a solution starting to take shape. There is no time to sit around and think when you are in enrollment communications. Issues are always urgent because students are being pummeled by dozens of college communications. The urgency does add a lot of excitement to the day. It also reminds me I should investigate adding to my life insurance policy.

1:30 p.m. With the urgent issue taken care of — in this case, it might be writing a text to invite students to Open House, and working with our CRM administrator to get it to the right people — we’ll keep an eye on the results of that while getting back to the Post-it notes we had started the day with. The more we can track the effectiveness of a communication, the more I like it; texting with a tracking URL is fantastic for this.

3 p.m. Please don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t had a meeting for the past hour and a half and I was able to do enrollment communications work. Shhhh. They will know.

3:01 p.m. I told you not to say anything! I just got called into a meeting about an event for next semester so we can discuss how we will market it.

3:45 p.m. Back to the desk. One of the most difficult aspects of overseeing a communications flow for a college is that the pieces are always moving, even after you have a well-researched and well-discussed plan in place. You have to be flexible. Periodically, I need to go back through what all we are sending, including any new messages, to make sure things still make sense and flow into each other in a way the way we intended. One issue that popped up recently: We added Early Decision, which quickly became popular. But it had a few unintended consequences, as deposit messaging that works well for rolling admissions doesn’t work well for Early Decision, and so I’ll need to go back and write a new branch off the deposit flow.

4:30 p.m. The day is almost done. If we are lucky, we have moved several notes over to the done column. Fun fact: We have a button that plays “To the left, to the left” from the Beyonce “Irreplaceable” song as a reward for finishing a project. We are goofy.

Over the course of a week, a tremendous amount of work gets done in our area because, well, it has to! One week it might be pushing through edits on a viewbook, and the next it might be coordinating all the pieces inside an Open House folder, and there are always emails and texts and social media messages happening. This is not a job with a lack of things to do. You have to love creating content.

5:00 p.m. Done for the day! I did it! I’ve become a big believer in not taking work home, so whenever possible, this truly is the end of the day. That means hustling all day to get things done. I need my nights free for my family. And for wondering if that kindergartner in Canada might come to Open House.

collaboration practices andy shawAndy Shaw is the director of enrollment communications and operations at York College of Pennsylvania, a private four-year residential school. He also is a speaker, columnist, comedian, and father of three toddlers.

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