Q&A with New SimpsonScarborough Vice President Jason Simon

SimpsonScarborough announced in January that Jason Simon will join our team this month as vice president and partner. Named AMA Higher Ed Marketer of the year in 2013, Jason is well-known in the higher ed marcomm field, having served as executive director of marketing communications at University of California System since 2009. But you may not know that Jason got his start as a sports writer and editor. We sat down with Jason to learn more about how he got his start in higher ed marcomm, why he is making the leap to SimpsonScarborough and some of the changes and opportunities he sees ahead in our field.

Q: You got your start as a sports writer and editor.  How did you get into higher ed marcomm?

A: When I was in college I was a basketball manager for North Carolina State University and really thought I wanted to be a college coach. But I migrated into sports journalism and, later, was the media relations director for NC State’s men’s basketball team for nearly five years. It was a great job—what some might consider a dream job—but I wearied of the lack of control and repetition and was hungry for something else. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to work for a small branding firm in the Research Triangle Park and worked on some great corporate clients—IBM, SonyEricsson, RedHat—helping with brand strategy, advertising and broader communications needs.

After some time there I learned of an opportunity at NC State on the marketing side. It was a newly-created position, the only marketing position, and I was pretty excited about the chance to go back to my alma mater and build a program. We went through a research, positioning, campaign process, and I led efforts to re-launch the main website, launch a capital campaign, and manage a creative service team that was fully funded on charge-back. So my agency experience really came in handy.

At some point, I felt like I’d accomplished almost everything I could have at NC State and had started to keep my eyes out for opportunities when I came across a great position at the University of California System. They had gone through a complete reorganization, so it was a chance to build a team and a program from the ground up. Being at UC has given me a terrific perch to understand issues at multiple campus and system levels and, from a leadership position, to understand the major issues facing higher ed today.

Q: Your keynote at the 2013 AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education touched upon the need to accept change as a constant—what do you see as the biggest changes coming to higher ed in general, and marcomm in particular?

A: It’s a really exciting time to be a marketer in higher education. There just is so much happening around the broader public dialogue around rising costs of tuition, value of a degree, national policy from the White House, state funding issues, increases in philanthropy, changing (and declining) demographics of college-aged students, the rise of the low-income student, MOOCs, online education and so much more. And between that and the evolution of social media, it’s really putting marketing in such a high-level strategic place at institutions. It’s no wonder the CMO role continues to rise on campus.

I think marketers need to be willing to accept some of these changes, and I believe marketers can be real champions on campus—on-campus consultants, conveners that brings people together—the marketer working with IT, admissions, institutional research, alumni and fundraising. Even at bigger institutions, divides between media and marketing are going away with the opportunity to own your story more directly through social and digital channels. A voice of strategy that can inform campus leaders about changes and perceptions in the market and devise strategies is a real asset to any campus.

Q: The UC logo controversy that blew up in late 2012 seems like a case study on rolling with changes.  From the outside, it certainly looked like a controversy that could have been job-jeopardizing. And yet, you were ultimately named AMA Higher Ed Marketer of the Year—tell us more about that.

A: I was fortunate that we had strong leadership support that realized that the steps we’d taken were all sound and solid approaches. It was disappointing but I don’t think I ever worried about my job.

In the midst of the frenzy, I had a couple of conversations with people I really respect in higher ed. There was a real sense of trepidation in what we were enduring, namely because it’s been an all-too-familiar trend not only around logos but really around higher ed marketing efforts in general. Critics were viewing marketing efforts as surface-level promotion. I knew we had to tell the full story—not only to correct things that were left out of the reporting (like the idea we hadn’t done creative testing)—because there was a lot to learn from our experience. I felt obligated to stand up for the importance of marketing and for trying new and different approaches that attempt to cut through the cluttered media landscape we’re all in.

I think one reason our story—and the way we responded and managed through it—has resonated is because there’s a certain inevitability that in today’s social media-driven world, things can flare up and be really visible. Accepting that things don’t always work out and preparing yourself for constant re-adjustment are things today’s marketer must be keenly aware of.

CASE SimpsonScarborough Scholars Selected for 2014

SimpsonScarborough is pleased to announce the selection of four CASE SimpsonScarborough Scholars for 2014. Launched in 2009 in honor of our late founding partner Christopher Simpson, the program supports the professional development of promising young marcomm practitioners in the educational advancement profession. This year’s scholars are:

In explaining why they applied for the program, this year’s scholars cited access to in-depth learning resources and networking opportunities, the chance to explore new ideas and strategies, and a desire to share what they learn with others. “I’d hate to be relying on my current (and limited) professional knowledge base a year from now, or five years from now,” writes scholar Ryan Denham. “I’m excited to bring my experiences as a SimpsonScarborough Scholar back to the Illinois State campus and share whatever I can with my colleagues.”

John Lippincott to Retire from CASE in January 2015

John Lippincott has announced that he will retire from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) next January after 11 years as president. “John has been a transformative leader and is beloved by the advancement community,” said SimpsonScarborough CEO Elizabeth Scarborough. “I know he hopes to slip into retirement quietly, but his contributions and accomplishments deserve to be recognized and celebrated.”

Among those accomplishments: during his tenure, CASE has increased institutional membership 20% (with members in more than 80 countries), strengthened advocacy efforts, expanded its research activities and resources and quadrupled its net assets. The longest-serving president in CASE history, Lippincott joined the organization in 1999 as vice president for communications and marketing and was named president in 2004. Prior to joining CASE, he served as vice chancellor for advancement at the University System of Maryland for 12 years.

Overwhelming Response to Our Announcement About Jason Simon

On Friday, SimpsonScarborough announced that Jason Simon will be joining the firm as a partner in February. The response we received from friends and colleagues around the country was quite overwhelming. Thank you for all your notes and well wishes. Here is a sample:

  • “Congratulations Jason. Well deserved, well earned. I’m excited to see how you’ll change the industry next.”
  • “Congratulations. You can count me in as a future client.”
  • “Congratulations, Jason! This is a great move for you and your career and I hope it goes really well for you! Sorry to lose you from UC.”
  • “That is AWESOME!! I have four projects ahead with SimpsonScarborough this year, so it sure would be awesome to get to work with you! Congratulations!”
  • “Thanks so much for sharing with me. Can’t tell you how excited I am for you. I have a ton of respect and admiration for what SimpsonScarborough does and, with you in a leadership position there, I can only imagine what you’ll accomplish.”
  • “Congrats to you all! Jason is a great hire, and SimpsonScarborough shouldn’t settle for any less! I look forward to the next era for you all.”
  • “Congratulations on bringing in Jason. You guys will be phenomenal together. Looking forward to finding more ways to work together.”
  • “A great addition. Congrats!”
  • “What terrific news. Congratulations to you, Jason, and to everyone at SS. Looking forward to more great projects together.”
  • “Congratulations Elizabeth on a great addition to your already impressive team. We are excited about the potential of working with you all in the not-too-distant future.”
  • “Congratulations, all. Nice. Excellent choice. I thought Jason’s presentation at AMA was brilliant, and – more important – I thought the work he led at UC system was brilliant and well managed. Hmmmm, a ‘best’ joining the best. As life should be.”
  • “This is excellent news!!!! Congrats to Jason. What an asset for SimpsonScarborough.”
  • “We’re sad to lose him as a colleague but delighted to work with him as a partner. Welcome, Jason!”
  • “Congratulations, Elizabeth! You’ve landed a great catch, which will make a great firm even greater.”
  • “Congratulations to Jason and what a great addition for SimpsonScarborough!”
  • “I am very happy for you, but sad for the UC. I think you were the most innovative and forward looking person I have worked with at a university.”
  • “You will be terrific at this new work, and many institutions will be better off for having worked with you. Enjoy the journey!”
  • “Congratulations, Elizabeth! Jason is as lucky to be part of your team as you are to have him as one of your partners. His hire is truly on brand for SimpsonScarborough. Very cool.”
  • “I am very excited for you guys! Jason is awesome and I hope with all the work we’re planning to do this year that we get to work with him at some point! :)Congratulations!”
  • “That’s great for you. Really. I’ve conducted over 150 interviews and I was so impressed with Jason — whipsmart and really nice / professional. He will be a great asset, I’m sure! Congratulations!”
  • “Congratulations, Elizabeth, what a very smart strategic move!”
  • “What a match made in heaven. Congrats to you all.”
  • “I am so sorry to hear you’ll be leaving. What a loss for the university! But this sounds like a great opportunity. Congratulations and good luck on your new adventures!”
  • “Congratulations. Sounds like a good move for you. Thank you for you strong leadership at UC! Let’s stay in touch!”
  • “Congratulations!! For some reason I knew after your impressive presentation at AMA this year, which SimpsonScarborough obviously enjoyed, you would be moving on to bigger things! We have worked with Liz and Jeff for many years and would love to work with you also. “
  • “Congratulations on your move. Please use your great brain, however, to continue to advance understanding that “brand” as conventionally considered will not solve the great ills of higher education. I was so impressed by your capture of the larger concerns about value and service you were tackling in California. Keep that flame burning!”
  • “I am NOT surprised!”
  • “Exciting news! A great hire for your firm, as well!”
  • “Wow – great “get”! Well done!”
  • “That’s great news, Jason. SimpsonScarborough is a great company, and in fact they are on my list to contact about a new awareness study we need to do very soon.”

Marketing Research Industry Trends Report Publishing Soon

The new edition of GreenBook Industry Trends Report (GRIT) will be released January 27, and GreenBook has been offering some interesting “sneak peeks” at what’s coming. Recent blog posts identified the 10 most innovative companies in market research, the top five emerging research methods, and how the industry really feels about change. For the study of research professionals’ emotional response to change, GreenBook used the product MindSight developed by Forbes Consulting to explore unconscious emotional reactions, and the blog post provides a good overview of this model. The good news: 80% of respondents felt optimistic about industry changes. Keep an eye on the GreenBook website for the full GRIT report later this month. You can also download full versions of previous GRIT reports here.