Converge 2019: Presented by Converge and SimpsonScarborough

Converge 2019: Registration is Open

We’re thrilled to be co-hosting Converge 2019! When Converge approached us with the opportunity to design a best-in-class program and curate a track for CMOs, I was eager to get involved. I have been in the higher ed space for 26 years and participated in a variety of conference planning committees, and this is the most exciting and provocative leadership track focused on the future of higher ed marketing I’ve seen.

The three-day event brings together CMOs, deans, enrollment leaders, recruiters, and digital strategists who are advancing the state of higher education marketing and recruitment. Bring your team and join us for deep-dive workshops, keynotes, and breakout sessions focused on everything new and next in EDU digital marketing. We’ll see you February 19-21, 2019, in Atlanta.

Visit the conference website for more information and use the code EARLYBIRD by October 15 to save $100 on your registration.

Christopher Simpson: A Legacy That Still Inspires

Cleaning out my home office recently, I came across quite a relic: an issue of CASE Currents from January 1998, back when I was the magazine’s relatively new managing editor and responsible for its marketing and communications beat. I had the cover topic that month, and printed in 60-odd point type I read: INTEGRATED MARKETING: What It Is, Who’s Doing It, How You Can, Too. This was the first time that CASE covered integrated marketing, and it caused quite a stir. Flipping through the issue, I fondly remembered commissioning and editing one of the lead articles by Larry Lauer, a pioneer of higher ed integrated marketing at TCU, and the other from none other than Christopher Simpson, then the head of marketing and communications at Indiana University who eight years later founded SimpsonScarborough. Evocative of his style, Christopher’s article had a very provocative title: “The Day We Closed the News Bureau.” (As a magazine editor, I loved him for being gutsy enough to run that headline.)

Christopher left this world much too soon, in 2008. I realized that this special issue of Currents marked not only my own 20-year anniversary of working in higher ed marketing but also the 10-year anniversary of Christopher’s passing. As I re-read his article 20 years later, I first noticed so many of Christopher’s professional characteristics that made him so good at what he did. He was honest: When his president asked him, “What is the perception of IU in Indiana?” he wasn’t sure, and he admitted it. He was a problem solver: He came up with a plan to find out. He was a reporter at heart: He and his colleagues conducted focus groups and one-on-one interviews with more than 100 legislators, business leaders, and IU alumni as part of that plan. And he was confident: After constructing a strong and detailed strategy for closing the IU news bureau and replacing it with an office of marketing and communications, he executed the strategy without wavering.

The second thing that struck me about the article was how much of Christopher’s advice about integrated marketing still holds true two decades later. Though integrated marketing is no longer a new concept in higher ed, and indeed has matured greatly in its sophistication and implementation, we can all still benefit from the following five recommendations for integrated marketers that Christopher offered at the end of his piece.

  1. “Find every available means to educate faculty and staff on the benefits of marketing.” Now more than ever, we need faculty and staff to understand the need to market the institution accurately and consistently in order for it to remain relevant and viable. A national conversation is starting around how colleges and universities can reclaim the higher ed story, and professors and administrators have a critical role to play if we are to succeed.
  2. “Be skeptical of outside consultants.” Believe it or not, we love this one. There are a lot of bad consultants out there, as well as a lot of good ones that aren’t good for every school (us included). Colleges and universities should take the time to identify “best fit” marketing consultants in the same way they spend time and energy identifying “best fit” students. This tenet of Christopher’s lives on at SimpsonScarborough, where we take seriously our responsibility to be good stewards of our clients’ time and resources.
  3. “Don’t try to make marketing specialists out of every staff member.” In his article, Christopher wrote about accepting and leveraging the fact that some of his staff performed better as traditional journalists. There will always be foundational tools of the trade that technology and new frameworks cannot supplant. No computer can fully replace a designer’s sketch book and Sharpie; even the most sophisticated marketing operation cannot thrive without marketers putting on their reporters’ hats and hitting the pavement to find their institution’s best brand stories.
  4. “Measure every new effort.” Yes! This is why market research guru Elizabeth Scarborough Johnson agreed to enter a business partnership with Christopher in 2006. Early on, he understood that you need data not only to convince your skeptics but also because, as he put it, “had we not first conducted research, we would have only been able to guess how to best change some of the misinformed attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions of our key constituents.”
  5. “Hang on tight.” Though Christopher was specifically referring to surviving the transition from news bureau to integrated marketing office, this advice can apply to any of today’s large-scale marcom undertakings. Sticking to your plan and focusing on education and buy-in will always be more effective than changing course every time a naysayer naysays.

Elizabeth remembers that after Christopher died, people asked if she was going to remove “Simpson” from the company name. She never hesitated to respond with an emphatic “Hell no!” He established the vision for the firm that we still adhere to today, and even as the years go by, his influence continues to guide our work in ways both big and small. As Elizabeth says, “I’m so proud to have the name Simpson in the name of our company, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Campus Safety: Walking the Talk

As we all know, many of today’s “hot topics” in higher ed focus around important, yet negative, issues such as sexual assault, sexual harassment, hate crimes, active shooters, rising tuition costs, budget cuts, inadequate aid packages, and substance abuse, to name a few. Data from many of our recent institutional research studies reflect this. Within the past year, “a safe campus environment” has increasingly become one of the most important attributes in the college decision-making process for prospective students and their parents, whereas in past years, it lagged well behind other attributes. In fact, in one recent study, “a safe campus environment” was selected by two-thirds of the College’s prospective students, more than any other attribute tested.

Because of the increased attention on campus safety, we decided to look at what some colleges and universities around the country are doing to demonstrate safety on their campus.

Campus safety information pages

Schools have websites in place to address information about animal complaints, crime logs, safety escorts, scams, and more. They are even including contact information for police departments and/or campus safety coordinators who students can contact if they need help such as an escort at night or to report an incident. The University of Virginia even includes specific tabs for different audiences like parents, faculty/staff, or students to help everyone more easily access the appropriate resources should an incident occur.

Safety apps

Some schools have implemented mobile safety apps for anyone on campus with a school email address. These apps have contact information for guardians, emergency call buttons, alcohol poisoning information, links to transportation options, and the option for users to send texts or photos to the department of public safety for any suspicious campus activities. A couple of years ago, The University of Florida developed a safety app that was designed to automatically send an alert when an earphone plug is yanked from the socket of a smartphone — potentially by an assailant (the user has 10 seconds to rescind the alert if it’s not an emergency).

Safety courses

Just recently, we were on a college campus where all faculty were attending a training course on what to do in the event of a campus shooter. This course was then going to be rolled out to all students during in-class training events. In addition to active-shooter trainings, various institutions have provided other safety programs related to alcohol awareness and self-defense.


It is becoming recognized as a best practice to issue emergency alerts without delay to ensure the campus community is notified as soon as possible of an emergency event. These alerts are via text, email, website, social media, and sirens.

Daily communicators

In addition to developing tools designed to provide safety information and resources to the campus community, colleges and universities must also ensure that their front-line communicators have the necessary information to convey accurate and positive messages about campus safety. The impressions that prospective students and their parents take away from a campus visit will be significantly informed by the interactions they have with current students, faculty, and staff. These brand ambassadors must have the necessary information to confidently speak to safety issues for your campus.

What are you doing that demonstrates your campus is safe? Beyond talking about various aspects of campus safety, how are you showing it when students and parents are visiting campus? What information, tools, and actions will help alleviate their safety concerns?

Here at SimpsonScarborough, we have been contemplating how campus safety fits into a school’s proactive marketing efforts. Gone are the days that we can simply say that we are “safe” without having any questions asked. Now, more than ever, we need to clearly communicate, and truly demonstrate, what safety really means on our campuses.

The New Facebook: A Valuable Communication Tool

Since becoming an intern at SimpsonScarborough, I have grown accustomed to searching for various articles about marketing and higher education. One particular topic that has caught my attention is this widely-cited 2018 Pew study, as well as similar articles, reporting that teens and college-age students are ditching Facebook in favor of other social platforms. Specifically, the studies report that younger generations prefer YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat to Facebook. And some have been as dramatic as to say, “Facebook is dead.” In my experience as a college student, I disagree. In fact, I see Facebook as the one platform that connects all age groups.

When I was in high school, Facebook was THE social media platform to use. Students could update their status, post photo albums, and keep tabs on all their friends via “the wall.” However, this platform that was once mainly a social media tool has now transformed into an application used primarily for communication. In the past several years, Facebook introduced Messenger, a free messaging platform that offers multiple services: video calls, face filters, stickers, voice recording, and more. And in the latest news, Facebook is now piloting subscriptions for groups. With these recent product features, here’s a look at how Facebook can be used as a valuable higher education communications tool across various key audiences.

  • Current Students. Every college student I have come into contact with always mentions Facebook as a key platform in their college experience. Though it no longer represents our number-one form of social media, it is our platform of choice for communicating. Student-run clubs typically create a group page meant specifically for posting meeting locations, providing constant updates, or communicating directly to the entire group. For example, I am a member of 15 Facebook groups ranging from Sociology Society to Running Club. Facebook Messenger also allows students to communicate via the application, thus making it easier for Android and iPhone users to text and video call — some group texts become disorganized with all the various models of phones, but Facebook Messenger streamlines the communication flow.
  • Parents. Facebook pages allow parents to come together and offer each other advice. For example, Cal Poly created one page for university parents, students, and volunteers that facilitates discussion among the entire group. This page is essential for parents of prospective students and provides important information that cannot be found elsewhere, such as giving insider tips for parents of incoming students, sharing personal experiences with businesses or products, or generating excitement about upcoming events.
  • Prospective Students. When I was looking at colleges, the first thing I did was check out how often the university’s Facebook page was updated. After making sure the posts were recent, I proceeded to join every group created in order to be kept up to date. The admitted student page was particularly good, as it allowed me to directly connect with current students as well as future classmates. Prospective students can also join groups for activities or clubs that may be of interest to them, such as the UCLA Women’s Ultimate Frisbee. These groups allow students to see what the institution has to offer prior to settling in on campus.
  • Alumni. Although I am not yet an alum of LMU, I am already a member of the LMU alumni group on Facebook. Many college students are beginning to join their university’s alumni page simply as a way to gain a more established network. I joined the page in hopes of securing an internship through the alumni of both my majors. The page has motivated me to interact more with alumni of all fields as I begin to learn more about what my future may hold. The alumni page allows me to stay connected with recent graduates and see what older alumni are currently doing in their field. Engaging current students with the alumni page is a phenomenal way of cultivating a strong foundation of alums. By starting early, future alums will already be more involved within the broader university community. The LMU Alumni Page not only keeps graduates up to date on what current students are doing and new things being introduced on campus but also provides students like me the opportunity to message fellow group members — students and alums — within Facebook Messenger.

Across all audiences, Facebook groups and pages still reign — though maybe not in the same way they did five or 10 years ago. They allow easy, personalized communication channels and encourage safe and supportive communities for people of all ages. Facebook may have lost some of its popularity, but it still offers benefits that are incredibly valuable for colleges and universities.

Kira Jatoft is an intern at SimpsonScarborough. She is a fourth-year Sociology and Spanish double major at Loyola Marymount University and loves to nerd out over data analysis, binge-eat muddy buddies, and travel (mainly to Disneyland).

Market Research: Don’t Develop Your Digital Ad Strategy Without It

There’s no question that a big part of your marketing strategy is (and should be) digital. But a big question that arises across institutions is, “How effective is our digital marketing strategy?” And even though many digital marketing activities have the potential to impact marketing goals and objectives, optimized, targeted strategies have a considerable impact on your ability to increase effectiveness. From where to place digital ads for increased exposure to aligning digital strategy with the needs, desires, and nuances of target markets, market research is the best way to uncover the truly meaningful information that should be driving your digital decisions.

Here are three major benefits you can expect to gain in your digital marketing strategy from market research:

  • Meet audience needs. Sometimes the best marketing strategy is simply knowing your market. When you understand your target audiences, you can position your digital ad campaign to address their vital desires and concerns. Market research gives you the tools to do that.
  • Improve efficiency. Without market research to back your strategy, you could be throwing good money at a bad idea. Market research allows you to maximize the benefit of each dollar you invest.
  • Identify problems. With the strenuous routine of building, growing, and maintaining your brand, things like misperceptions, inconsistent voice, or poor targeting are not always top-of-mind. Market research provides an objective, outside-in assessment that can identify issues before they become critical.

Still hesitant about how market research can impact your digital marketing? We conducted market research for the institutions below; take a look at their quantifiable results — the kind of results that you can easily communicate to your president, board, VPs, deans, and more.

  • Stevens Institute of Technology, Office of Pre-College Programs
    Based on a strategic decision to grow program awareness and participation, the Pre-College Program at Stevens Institute of Technology came to us to gather market intelligence on financially able parents of highly motivated, academically talented high school-age students. The insights and perceptions of these parents — the decision makers in enrolling students in summer enrichment programs — were crucial to informing programming, format, delivery, and strategic marketing decisions.

Based on the research findings, the marketers of the Pre-College Program made changes to messaging and imagery in their digital ads and have realized quantifiable results — ad click-through rates have jumped from 0.45% to 1.58% and applications are up 15% compared to the previous year.

  • Miami University (OH)
    In 2014, we partnered with Miami University on a comprehensive research study that would form the foundation of a new long-term brand and a robust integrated marketing campaign. Long recognized as a Public Ivy, one of Miami’s key objectives was to quantify associations with the term. The results were clear: To key internal and external stakeholders, “Public Ivy” means prestigious reputation, academically rigorous, and high-caliber education at a public school price. Two years later, Miami’s Public Ivy campaign delivered: ~42M impressions and 120K clicks, culminating in a reported 26% brand lift during the six-week digital ad campaign. Miami also benefited from more than 16M impressions and 70K clicks during their six-week, paid social campaign, and more than 1M impressions and 263K total views of their brand video on YouTube.

What did all of these impressive statistics lead to? The 2020 class was selected from the largest applicant pool in Miami’s history, average test scores of incoming students are the highest in the university’s history, and the 2020 class is the most diverse yet at 15.5%, up from 13.7% last year.

  • Buena Vista University
    In Storm Lake, Iowa, Buena Vista University was experiencing the perfect storm of enrollment challenges: a seriously declining population of high school students; a state competitor set featuring two massive, well-known public institutions and more than 30 other small private colleges and universities; and strong public perception that “private” equals “expensive.” We were brought in to conduct extensive market research to discover what perceptions (or misperceptions) were preventing prospective students from considering BVU and identify the critical “must haves” in their school consideration set. Armed with that data, we partnered with OHO Interactive to develop and launch a bold advertising and digital campaign to help BVU increase awareness and drive enrollment.

The campaign had tremendous success. Within four weeks of its launch, more than 100 applications were submitted and over 40 campus visits conducted. Over the campaign’s five-month run, there were more than 1K applications submitted for Fall 2018, 272 campus visits, and over 170 graduate program applications received — more than three times the University’s overall goal.

The insights gained through market research extend far beyond your digital marketing strategy. When applied broadly, they reach every corner of your brand. And if you are consistently exploring your perceptions and practices, you are always primed for action and growth.