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6 Resolutions for Higher Education Marketers in 2018

6 Resolutions for Higher Education Marketers in 2018

By Andy Shaw

The holidays can leave you breathless, but it’s nothing compared to higher education marketing.

You push students through a funnel, from search to inquiry to applicant to accepted to deposit to anti-melt, and then pick right up with the next class before your CRM can catch its breath.

So yes, it’s hectic, but hectic isn’t an excuse. Make a fresh commitment to improve in 2018. You owe it to yourself.

Now I’m assuming you added commitment plus January together and that equaled resolutions post. Well, sure.

January is for New Year’s resolutions, that is unless you’re working in a retail store, in which case you think customers want to see holidays four months in advance. (Be thankful I’m not writing about the Six Hidden Easter Eggs in Your CRM Data.)

In higher-ed marketing, there are practical, effective steps you can commit to so that 2018 is your best year yet. As a director of enrollment communications at a mid-sized private college, I totally get it when it comes to feeling at the end of your rope sometimes.

More deposits! More visitors! More bilingual out-of-state applicants with a 29+ ACT score!

Let’s make these Higher-Ed Marketing Resolutions together.

Hey! Want to help your higher-ed marketing team work even faster? Take a look at these 19 strategies to help your team. Go here!


Top Resolutions for Higher-Ed Marketers in 2018

1. Get rid of what doesn’t work.

How much time do you spend updating/designing/editing/sending out communications that have never shown a propensity to get results? Way too much, and you know it. We all make the “sunk cost” mistake. We can’t recover the time and budget spent on a postcard, so we just plow through sending it out again even though we know it only yields a few Open House registrants. You should have a way of tracking what works and what doesn’t so these decisions are based on data and not entirely on gut feeling. If not…

2. Improve your tracking.

My odds of winning a debate over whether to send something are greatly improved if I can point to cold, hard numbers. That might mean a unique URL on a postcard, or a link we’re tracking with Google Analytics with goal conversions. Not able to get that sophisticated yet? Even something simple like using as a URL shortener (and it’s easy to customize the URL so it can appear branded!) will allow you to easily track click rates. Or you can drive traffic to a web page solely dedicated to one campaign. You can’t just throw your hands in the air and say it’s beyond the scope of what your team (team of one, perhaps?) can do. Start somewhere. Work smarter, not harder.

3. Get organized.

I read every “17 Tricks the Top Marketers/Entrepreneurs/Chimpanzees Use to Stay Organized” article out there. Some work. Some are clearly not for people with children (Honestly, who has a pristine home office like the ones you see in photos? WHO?)

But what I do ascribe to is finding a system that helps you best stay on top of the multiple projects you are juggling at once. A project management system helps you do your best work and limit the amount of time you spend saying “Um, who was supposed to edit that brochure?” The key will be getting the most people possible in your circle to adapt it. If it becomes part of everyone’s routine, it works. And it will become part of their routine if the system is user-friendly and improves their work life. Think about what an ideal, productive day looks like at work, and work backward from there to see what kind of system you would need to make that day happen.

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

4. Take a marketing risk.

Higher ed can be so very, very risk-averse. But the best marketing takes chances. Otherwise, you’re just another “We offer small classes and personalized attention!” proclamation in a pile of boldly-colored, stock photo-laden, glossy brochures.

Make a point of completely rethinking one of your regular pieces. Have you ever run it by, you know… students? Have you tested out a few way-out-there designs to see what might catch their attention? Changed the tone, switched from photos to illustrations, or completely altered the dimensions and shape?

You might turn off a few prospective students. But the ones who do like it will probably be all the more focused. You need ravings fans of your school, not lukewarm “I guess I’ll put them on my list” attitudes.

5. Promise to avoid knee-jerk reactions.

Attendance is down for your Open House? Deposits slightly behind? Out-of-state applicants not coming in like you want? Take a breath. Sure, higher-ed marketers are asked to be magicians all the time — why else would administrators ask us to “get the numbers up” like that’s some “As Seen on TV” instant solution?

But just because others panic, it doesn’t mean you need to panic. Improve your mental sanity in 2018 and do wonders for your marketing budget by taking a deep breath next time you get asked to “fix” something. Is that postcard really going to boost numbers?

Will that hasty app gen email you blast to everyone who has ever heard of your college truly reach students in a way that they haven’t already been reached, or are you just hitting them with a sledgehammer when a deft touch be better?

Be the voice of reason. Use your data. Save the Hail Mary for a true crisis; otherwise, you’re the marketer who cried “Urgent deposit deadline!” four months before the actual date.

6. Talk to students.

Eat lunch in the dining hall. Check out a student art exhibition or play. Take your laptop and work in a different area of campus, a personal favorite method of mine. Not only will the change of scenery help spark inspiration, you’ll also see people you usually wouldn’t when you’re stuck in your administration building. Get reminded of why you do all of this — because you absolutely love two-hour meetings. Wait. Sorry.

Because you love helping students find a home at your school and a path to their career. There’s no better way to spend 2018 than reminding yourself that students aren’t a set of emails and major of interest listings. Just because others in the office aren’t doing doesn’t mean you have to stay put.

Resolutions can work, even in higher-ed marketing and college admissions. Don’t assume that because personal resolutions failed in the past, you can’t achieve professional goals. I made a goal in 2017 to do more public speaking, and that helped me land a regional and a national speaking engagement. Goals and professional growth don’t happen by accident. Take note of these resolutions and try them out. Or bookmark this and try them again when no one is talking about resolutions in 2 months…


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.