Ideas, insights and inspirations.

Welcome to your new adventure. You may have been invited into this presidency as a change agent or a strategic visionary. Either way, get ready to liberate new growth for your college by focusing on the 3 R’s of prosperity: Revenue, Reputation and Rankings. These three currents flow under the sixteen best practices for managing and running a successful college, gleaned from working closely with more than twenty college presidents and reading more than a dozen books written by them:

1. Strategy: To create an inflection point, presidents disrupt and challenge the status quo. They lead strategic planning based on thorough, objective assessment of institutional strengths and weaknesses in the context of societal shifts. They involve board members, faculty, alumni and corporate partners in their strategic planning process. To enact change, presidents must be keen observers, strong persuaders and strategic communicators. Their challenge is to effectively use key framing questions to challenge old ways, butcher a few sacred cows and tell stories that infuse new worldviews.

You become the story you choose to tell.

2. Team: Successful presidents are not lone wolves. They surround themselves with a talented senior team, board members and allies that help them accomplish their administrative and stewardship visions. They excel as strategists, change agents and fundraisers, but they also elevate their leadership by surrounding themselves with people who are smarter than them and abandoning themselves to their strength.

You are as strong as your team of direct reports, advisors and allies.

3. Management Practices: Peter Drucker, the management guru, said, “The task of management is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.” Successful presidents create shared vision, milestones and dashboards. They avoid creating departmental silos. They provide appropriate budgets. They delegate but hold people accountable by giving them the authority to “own” decisions and choices.

It takes a well-run village to raise a wholesome student and cultivate fulfilling alumni and partner relationships.

4. Culture: Create an adaptive, dynamic and participative campus culture that’s inclusive, diverse and respects differences. Your students, faculty, and staff must reflect the emerging realities of our pluralistic culture, society and world.

It’s not the strongest, nor the fittest, but the most adaptive that thrive.

5. Branding for Distinction: In the sea of sameness, brands win. Invest in first impressions – both digital and physical. Stand for something unique. Tell stories of students, faculty, staff and alumni. Celebrate outcomes. Mobilize your publishing potential. Organize conferences and symposia in your areas of distinction. Romance audiences. The net impact of all these activities is formation of a reputable brand.

To become a school of consequence, you must look and behave like one.

6. Marketing for Rankings: In the new digital world order, Google rankings influence the more traditional school rankings. Demand an institutional content strategy. Oversee the creation of your college’s Keyword Lexicon comprised of high-value words and phrases you can rightfully “own” in service of both attracting right-fit students and building an impeccable reputation. Then insist that each and every piece of content your college produces is weaponized with keywords, so your college can secure its rightful Google page 1 rankings.

Google page 1 rankings are destiny. When you secure them, traditional rankings will follow suit.

7. Enrollment Practices: No money, no mission. Since the vast majority of colleges are tuition dependent, your enrollment team must achieve predictable and reliable enrollment revenue for your college by attracting increasingly robust, motivated and diverse students. Embrace machine learning, algorithmic and big data driven enrollment strategies. Invest in CRM and Marketing Automation software. Fish where the fish are (hint: digital media). Attract and enroll only right-fit students.

You are recruiting students who’ll be your brand ambassadors and life-long donors.

8. Academic Offerings: Know and market your signature programs, program portfolios and mission-oriented academic programs. Defend your core franchise while creating new degrees of the future: integrative, flavored and emergent. Let industry advisory boards inform new program creation and program adaptation.

Prospects are attracted to schools that have a competitive advantage and are continually relevant.

9. Diverse Audiences: Explore and harvest new student streams such as adult students, online learners, distance learners, working professionals and professional development communities.

Recruit, enroll and support students, faculty and staff from diverse faiths, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds

A diversified culture and revenue stream will future-proof you.

10. Support Services: In a college, the needs of your students must come first. Have a hand in recruiting critical talent and release budgets for training the staff so they are prepared to serve the various student segments. Ensure they live up to your institutional mission. Invest in enabling technologies. Provide ample opportunities for students to participate in work study, teaching assistanceships, labs, peer mentoring and other student experiences.

Care of the students will create a reservoir of life-long memories and goodwill you’ll need to create a positive legacy.

11. Athletics: Nothing builds school spirit better than athletics and intramural sports. That’s true whether a college is a Division 1, 2 or 3 sports school. Support athletics. Contrary to common belief, the athletes’ habit of achievement transcends sports into their personal, academic and professional lives. Nurture them.

Great athletic cultures magically create brand ambassadors who give back to the college for life.

12. Community & Service Learning: Parents increasingly expect colleges to encourage their children to participate in what Frances Moore Lappe calls citizen democracy and citizen politics. Community and service learning projects teach students empowerment through action, agency in the public realm and personal responsibility for shaping the future of society. Parents want proof that colleges will impart this on their children by reading the stories of current students engaged with community, service and experiential learning projects. Vow to support these initiatives.

Colleges form solid citizens of the future with a sense of soul-centered agency.

13. Fundraising via Friend Raising: According to Jim Langley of Langley Innovations, successful fundraising operations are powered by affiliation, agency, appreciation and accountability. Since endowment income is the second most important source of college revenue, be prepared to play the role of a visionary, recruiter, persuader and a fundraiser in your next capital campaign. Ensure that vice president of student experience creates a participative culture for students. Motivate your vice president for advancement and provost to create a culture of giving by inviting alumni and friends to help shape the institutional future. Foster alumni engagement by accepting whatever they are willing to give: their time, treasure or talent. Sustain right, tight and bright communications with alumni and friends. Consider initiating a heroic capital campaign as a next natural step of your ongoing relationships to deliver greater good for society.

Your giving rate and endowment war-chest will determine your college’s future.

14. Activist Boards: An institution is as strong as its board of stewardship. Form an enviable board of trustees willing to actively lean in to help you create an institutional inflection point.

Shape a balanced board comprised of philanthropists, operational experts and thought leaders.

15. Community Relationships: As government research funding has dried up, corporations, civic organizations and alumni-led entrepreneurial companies have stepped in to form the the third source of college revenue. Colleges live in an ecosystem of mutually beneficial relationships with these natural allies. Creating porous walls between the institution and these natural allies is an integral part of the job of the president and the provost.

These allies can create opportunities for forming new institutional trajectories.

16. Metrics That Matter: As management guru Peter Drucker said, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Create a culture of disciplined accountability with a shared dashboard of key performance indicators. For each organizational unit, mutually define a set of essential metrics that truly matter.

To achieve results, hold your people accountable for realizing their measurable goals.

Many college presidents have observed that their responsibilities rival those of a city mayor. Just as city mayors pursue growth in revenue, rankings and reputation, college presidents pursue the same goals. They do this by setting strategic direction, advocating big ideas, building allies, garnering revenue, betting on champions, celebrating heroes, administering day-to-day operations and upholding ideals.  Orchestrated artfully, the new presidents have a fighting chance at flourishing in their new role, bringing prosperity to their colleges and leaving a legacy for the history books.

Learn more about Elliance higher education marketing services.

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Great content is the lifeblood of successful brands. However, creating great content is a labor of love. It takes both an investigative mind (that discovers and uncovers brand evidence and proofs) and an imaginative mind (that infuses brand romance) to create persuasive content.

Two quick reminders before I dive into the content ecosystem.

First, the best college copywriters and storytellers uncover truths about an institution that it may not have even known about itself. They instinctively know that the real hero of their story is the student, the alum and the faculty member — not the institution. They tell the stories of the challenges the brand heroes faced and how they creatively overcame them to realize their personal destinies. As my colleague Todd Erkel would say, a college becomes the story it chooses to tell.

Second, before you embark on your content journey, I would strongly encourage creation of a SEO Keyword Lexicon that’ll guide all future content creation. It’s comprised of two parts. First is the collection of keywords that prospective students will use at various stages of their college search process. Second is the groups of keywords that peer academics, corporations, foundations and influencers use to find critical content. These keywords should be infused into all content you create moving forward.

Now, let’s take a look at content categories in this ecosystem:

Brand & Strategic Plans

In the sea of sameness, brands win. Great brands stand for something unique and let the world know about it with their brand guide and brand anthem video. They tell their brand origin story. They speak with one brand voice to all audiences striking different notes for each audience segment.

To size up a college, most parents also look for and carefully scrutinize strategic plans. They reveal the size of college ambition and business smarts in the face of emerging societal realities. They position you as a school of consequence.

Student Stories

Disciplined brands engage in high-octane storytelling. They treat students as the heroes on their personal quests. A college brand is the sum of all the stories a college tells. Research shows that when you listen to a story, your brain experiences sympathetic resonance with the storyteller, which deepens empathy. As the old saying goes: “Stories sell. Facts tell.”

Enrollment Materials

“No money. No mission,” is the mantra I’ve preached to colleges. For tuition dependent colleges (which most colleges are), the financial health of a college rests on growing enrollment. That’s why enrollment communications are the ultimate moment of truth. It’s where a prospect and their family come to know if a college truly understands their deeper needs: the promise of a generative experience, academic rigor, wholesome outcomes and the gut feeling of an emotional fit.

Community & Service Learning

Parents increasingly expect colleges to encourage their children to participate in what Frances Moore Lappe calls citizen democracy and citizen politics. Community and service learning projects teach students empowerment through action, agency in the public realm and personal responsibility for shaping the future of society. Parents want proof that colleges will impart this on their children by reading the stories of current students engaged with community, service and experiential learning projects.

Academic & Research Publications 

Knowledge creation and knowledge dissemination are essential to the mission of a university. These should be done in various forms ranging from TEDx-like, democratized summaries to journal-worthy research papers. All key stakeholders expect this from institutions of consequence.

Centers of Excellence Publications

These hubs of interdisciplinary cooperation and industry-academia partnerships produce unique applied knowledge that transcends traditional academic boundaries. They pave the way for emerging work of the future.

News & Events

Both the prospective students and their parents are looking for schools with a sense of vibrancy, which is partly reflected in the institution’s news and event pages.

Athletics

Nothing builds school spirit better than athletics and intramural sports. That’s true whether a college is a Division 1, 2 or 3 sports school.

University Magazine

The university flagship magazine has the potential to move the reputation needle further and faster than any other brand signal. Vital to its success is maximizing content productivity by creating a story engine that treats each story as a Google ranking asset instead of bundling the entire issue into a PDF or an ISSUU format.

Alumni Stories

Nothing demonstrates the worth of a college investment more than the life trajectories of generations of alumni, their impact, their passions, and their contributions to society. And nothing creates more endearment for the alma mater than a celebration of their personal stories, victories and triumphs.

Donors

Beyond tuition revenue, the endowment is the second largest source of revenue for most colleges. A few ways to keep the individual donors engaged include telling the stories of their ongoing involvement in shaping the institution and celebrating their personal passions. For corporate and foundation donors, recognize their generosity and resulting institutional impact on society.

Corporate & Spinoff Relations

As government research funding has dried up, corporations and entrepreneurial companies led by alumni have stepped in to fill that gap. These funds form the third leg of the academic revenue stream. Amplifying these crucial relationships is an essential part of university communications.

User Generated Content

Traditionally overlooked, crowdsourced content can be a rich source of audience involvement and ambassadorship.

In a nutshtell, the content ecosystem aims to earn attention and grow brand reputation by providing content that informs, persuades, engages and delights various stakeholders. Prospective students and parents judge a college by the high fidelity content it produces to shape brand perceptions.

Now, let’s turn to media and channels where the content is promoted.

Website

A website is the digital soul of a college. All roads lead to it. Great websites are more than a digital asset; I don’t recall re-designing a website that didn’t become a means for organizational transformation or didn’t create an inflection point in institutional history. A well designed website should engender trust, respect and endearment — creating elusive brand preference. I recommend building and fortifying it with great love.

Digital Marketing Channels

We now live in a world where digital leads the brand. In this era, content becomes productive when its energized, optimized, distributed and ranked on digital channels. Google page one rankings are destiny. Social media channels are viral engines. Curating, orchestrating and promoting content creates brand reputation. Handle with a plan and care.

Traditional Marketing Channels

Traditional media isn’t dead. Now, it must be leaner, smarter and strategic. It should mutually reinforce and complement digital content.

In our more than 75 years of collective brand experience, we have come to realize that it’s the artful orchestration of content, code, optimization and channels that creates brand success for colleges. As you work on your next annual content marketing strategy and plan, be sure to mutually reinforce the content opportunities with marketing channels to nurture and grow a high-impact brand.

Learn more about Elliance content marketing services.

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This post was inspired by my reading of Jim Langley of Langley Innovations’ books on fundraising.

It’s naive to think that everyone associated with the college is a prospective donor. It’s equally naive to expect that alumni who show up at glitzy events or receive slick campaign marketing materials will end up donating.

A college can, however, increase the chances of receiving donations from various constituents by following sensible guidelines. Jim Langley, of Langley Innovations, buckets them into (a) Affiliation, (b) Agency, (c) Appreciation and (d) Accountability.

Alumni likely to donate are those who:

  1. Worked on campus when they were students.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invest in work study, student research, student experience and student wellness initiatives.
  2. Remained actively engaged/involved with the school after graduation.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them as volunteers, interviewers and feature their accomplishments in university publications.
  3. As students, benefited from special relationships with an exceptional faculty or staff.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invest in staff development, teaching assistanceships, and student research.
  4. Have consistently given in the past, and were thanked and told how their giving had a positive impact on people’s lives.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Keep them involved and invest in sustaining the relationship.
  5. Were nurtured by ongoing communication and asked for advice on the future direction of the school.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them into the strategic planning, advisory councils, judges in competitions, and thought leadership forums.
  6. See an alignment between their personal passions, life purpose, deepest values and institutional ambition and values.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Unpack the various dimensions of college mission/vision with high-octane storytelling in blogs, news and university magazine.
  7. Believe the value of their degree was far greater than its cost.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Build the case for the tangible value of each degree and the intangible student experience.
  8. See their personal values being channeled by the institution for societal change.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them to participate in immersive experiences that viscerally reveal the impact their contribution will make.
  9. Wish to pass on the most valuable lessons life has taught them.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them into the strategic planning, expert panels, advisory boards, judges in competitions, and thought leadership forums.
  10. Volunteered their time to the institution in various capacities.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Ask them to volunteer in community action projects.
  11. Weren’t offered full scholarships.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Use financial aid leveraging models to distribute precious funds.

Major Donors likely to donate are those who:

  1. See presidents who can articulate the story of the institution’s highest purposes and greatest possibilities, where the institution is today, where it needs to go tomorrow, why it’s important that it does so, and what it’ll take to get there.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invest in a cogent and impactful case for giving.
  2. Feel confident that their investment will translate into significant, lasting and transformational societal impact.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them to participate in immersive experiences that viscerally reveal the impact their contribution will make.
  3. Perceive a clear sense of institutional purpose, which aligns with their own personal passions, life purpose and deepest values.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Unpack the various dimensions of college mission/vision with high-octane storytelling in blogs, news and university magazine.
  4. Have had an ongoing affiliation with the institution and have been giving for a decade or more.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Keep them involved and invest in sustaining the relationship.
  5. Had a voice or hand in shaping the institution.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Invite them into the strategic planning, expert panels, advisory boards, judges in competitions, and thought leadership forums.
  6. Sense that the institution has the patience to work through a 1-2 year brokering process.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Romance them patiently.

Corporations likely to donate are those who:

  1. Can leverage campaign priorities to realize their corporate objectives, including talent recruitment, knowledge transfer that gives them competitive advantage, and positive community perceptions.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Shape your case for giving with insightful research.
  2. Clearly perceive accountability and a measurable set of expected outcomes.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Address these in your pitch.
  3. Sense a model of leadership that is founded on stewardship.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Demonstrate this through university magazine and president’s blog.

Foundations likely to donate are those who:

  1. See a clear alignment between their purpose/mission and the purpose of the donation being requested.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Shape your case for giving with insightful research.
  2. Receive a tight proposal with project goals, budgets, timelines, and expected outcomes.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Bundle these into your pitch.
  3. Perceive that the college will be open to transparency, accountability and progress reports.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Address these in your pitch.
  4. Bring other funding partners to the table.

    Recommended Action for Colleges: Proactively identify and cultivate affinity partners.

Learn more about Elliance philanthropic marketing services.

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This post was inspired by my reading of Jim Langley of Langley Innovations’ books on fundraising.

There are hundreds of ways for capital campaigns to go wrong, but these five characteristics define all successful ones:

Consequential: They set goals for lasting, measurable impact and for improvements to community, society and the human condition i.e. goals that transform the institution into a school of consequence. 

Ambitious: They aspire for attainable, ambitious goals, not institutional survivorship. They propel the organization from great to extraordinary.

Strategic: They build on strengths rather than overcome institutional weaknesses. They deepen competitive advantage.

Heroic: They widen the margin of excellence.

Investable: They generate positive impact and returns.

My next blog post will outline characteristics of various types of donors.

Learn more about Elliance philanthropic marketing services.

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This post was inspired by my reading of Jim Langley of Langley Innovations’s books on fundraising.

“If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.” – Abraham Lincoln.

This sentiment specifically applies to vice presidents for advancement when planning, launching and implementing capital and comprehensive campaigns. They create a culture of giving, increase gift size and improve gift productivity by playing these five crucial roles:

Embrace the Right Mindsets & Skillsets  

  1. Understand the distinctions and relationships between strategic planning, advancement, development and fundraising.
  2. Know the difference between capital campaigns and comprehensive campaigns, and deploy them appropriately.
  3. Understand student and alumni appreciation for the faculty, staff and the institution.
  4. Possess the skillset and experience in not only planning and launching a campaign but also sustaining complex operations in the field for a number of years.

Lay the Groundwork

  1. Know whether alumni truly believe that the value of their degree far exceeded the cost of their education.
  2. Understand the appreciation and engagement of the institution by parents, corporations, nonprofits and government institutions.
  3. Have already deployed practices that instill student, alumni and donor loyalty, engagement and volunteerism.
  4. Go beyond obvious prospects. Develop deep constituent engagement throughout the campaign and beyond to create a richer pipeline of purpose-driven prospects.
  5. Build greater philanthropic capacity through various means of affiliation.
  6. Begin with a detailed campaign plan that includes strategy, people, process, tactics, tools and milestones to implement a successful campaign.
  7. Build a strong case statement with three foundational components: problem, solution and impact.
  8. Shape a compelling vision with input and consultation with board members, presidents, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the institution.

Recruit and Train Allies

  1. Identify faculty and staff champions for each initiative.
  2. Identify potential lead donors for each campaign priority.
  3. Implement volunteer management plans.
  4. Train the advancement team and board members for advocacy.

Perfect Campaign Operations

  1. Oversee creation of high fidelity, high impact, proof based, imaginative and endearing marketing assets.
  2. Customize appeals for major donors, women donors, entrepreneurial donors, legacy donors, corporate donors and foundation donors.
  3. Equip major gift officers with donor intelligence including biography, organizational loyalties, giving history, and their passions and personal values.

Mobilize Campaign

  1. Orchestrate all activities of the fundraising team, campaign chair, planning committee, steering committee, board members, and volunteers.
  2. Test with pilot initiatives, and then scale the campaign.
  3. Give ample time for the campaign to succeed.
  4. Collect all pledges.
  5. Thank donors graciously and provide periodic progress/accountability reports.

In the next blog post, I’ll share the characteristics of a successful capital and comprehensive campaign.

Learn more about Elliance philanthropic marketing services.

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This post was inspired by my reading of Jim Langley of Langley Innovations’ books on fundraising.

College presidents, vice presidents for advancement, and board members form the trifecta for envisioning, executing and consummating a successful capital or comprehensive campaign.

College presidents play these 10 crucial roles:

Visioning

  • The Visionary: Knows the fundraising goal and is able to articulate the transformative impact that the funds will have on the institution, those it serves and society at large.
  • The Strategist: Leads strategic planning based on thorough, objective assessment of institutional strengths and weaknesses in the context of societal shifts. Involves board members, faculty, alumni and corporate partners in their strategic planning process.

Recruiting

  • The Listener: Acts as the chief listening officer, infusing stakeholder views into the evolving campaign dialogue.
  • The Matchmaker: Helps identify faculty and staff champions for each campaign priority. Involves different board members at all levels based on their talents and passions.
  • The Recruiter: Helps select the fundraising consultant and bears responsibility for holding them accountable.
  • The Clarifier: Ensures the vice president of advancement distinguishes between marketing and building alumni affiliation and loyalty.

Persuading

  • The Evangelist: Speaks as the voice of the institution to all stakeholders.
  • The Storyteller: Brags less about the institution and praises its students, faculty, staff alumni more.

Fundraising

  • The Fundraiser: Helps identify and recruit potential lead donors for each campaign initiative.
  • The Donor: Donates so they too have a skin in the game.

Prior to starting a new comprehensive campaign, the president reviews the detailed campaign plan that the vice president of advancement prepares. They then brief their board members on the unique roles they’ll play and the expectations they’ll meet. Once the campaign is underway, the president holds the vice president for advancement accountable for achieving milestones.

In the next blog post, I’ll share the roles that a vice president for advancement plays in launching successful capital and comprehensive campaigns.

Learn more about Elliance philanthropic marketing services.

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This post was inspired by my reading of Jim Langley of Langley Innovations’ books on fundraising.

College presidents, vice presidents for advancement, and board members form the trifecta for envisioning, executing and consummating a successful capital or comprehensive campaign.

Board members do far more than simply fundraise. They also quietly direct and choreograph the fundraising dance by playing three crucial roles:

Strategist & Visionary

As institutional visionaries, they:

  1. Ensure strategic planning is based on objective institutional assessment, not naive and self-serving assumptions.
  2. Apply a strategic, evidence-based, milestone-driven approach to all aspects of the campaign.
  3. Serve as sounding boards for the overall purpose of the campaign.
  4. Act as venture capitalists to ensure that campaign priorities are sensible, business plan-like and investable.
  5. Help select talented fundraising consultants and hold them accountable.
  6. Demand that funds raised are invested quickly in designated initiatives.

Donor

Every board member must be a lead, major or a supportive donor. No exceptions.

Ambassador

As institutional friendraisers, they:

  1. Volunteer in campaign initiatives that best correspond to their personal passions and areas of expertise.
  2. Preserve and enhance relationships with major and loyal donors.
  3. Mobilize their personal relationships with other philanthropists and personal networks to multiply their donations.
  4. Help identity and recruit energetic fundraising volunteers.

Prior to starting a new comprehensive campaign, the president and vice president for advancement should brief their board members on the unique roles and expectations they’ll play.

In the next blog post, I’ll share the roles that a college president plays in launching successful capital and comprehensive campaigns.

Learn more about Elliance philanthropic marketing services.

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Consumers are now used to interfacing with things in bits, bytes and and bite-sized chunks. When it comes to reeling in a broad audience, marketers are using vanity URLs to do exactly this by shortening lengthy, confusing URLs into readable and accessible links.

What are Vanity URLs?

Vanity URLs:

  • Are short and clean, easy to remember and easy to read website URLs
  • Are seen as more trustworthy than long links and perform better in terms of clicks
  • Can increase rankings on search engines if keywords are embedded in them
  • Can be monitored so that you can track where traffic is coming from, and which advertisements or platforms are performing best

What are The Two Types of Vanity URLs?

Vanity URLs are very useful for a variety of purposes, but depending on the need they can be utilized in two places within a URL. A subdomain (prefix) occurs at the beginning of a URL (e.g. xyz.college.edu) while a subfolder (suffix) occurs after a slash (e.g. www.college.edu/xyz).

  1. Subdomains are used for
    • securing rankings on search engines
    • marketing of departments and schools within a larger institution
  2. Subfolders are used for
    • promotional campaigns
    • directing people from printed materials, radio ads, tv ads, etc.

Few Words of Caution When Using Vanity URLs

Avoid:

  • Overusing them for every page on a website. This is unnecessary, can hurt rankings, and defeats the purpose of using them in the first place: simplicity.
  • Using keywords that are too similar to one another or you will have to compete with your own rankings, ultimately hurting yourself.
  • Creating a new URL because you will have to start from scratch. Instead, vanity URLs will serve the same function while still being within the existing domain.
  • Using too many slashes for subfolders. Vanity URLs are supposed to be simple, and too many subfolders can clog the URL unnecessarily

Guidelines for Managing Vanity URLs

  • Designate a vanity URL administrator who’s authorized to approve/disapprove
  • Describe guidelines for when vanity URLs should be used so that people can determine whether or not to submit a request
  • Create a form that includes: name, email, vanity URL, internal destination URL, start date, expiration date, how it’ll be used, and legitimate need/rationale
  • Define rules such as the length limits, use of lower case alpha-numeric characters only with hyphen for spaces, must end with alpha, ease of typing, ease of communication over phone or conversation, avoiding acronyms, right to refuse, etc.
  • Provide a list of vanity URLs that are currently in use.

Guidelines for Awarding Vanity URLs

  • Who needs them:
    • Schools within an institution
    • Marketing campaigns
    • Enrollment campaigns
    • Capital campaigns
  • Who could or could not have them:
    • Centers of Excellence, depending on how much money they’re bringing in
    • Academic departments and other key departments such as communications and the registrar’s office
  • Who does not need them:
    • Academic programs
    • Clubs and organizations
    • Individual athletic teams
    • Faculty and student profiles
    • Suppliers such as dining services, housing services, etc.

Remember, for every rule there is an exception. So make judgments based on a case-by-case basis.

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This checklist is designed for new presidents sizing up an enrollment department and prospective vice presidents for enrollment as they size up a new job opportunity.

1. Key Strategy Question

  • What’s our position in the market place?
  • What’s our institutional brand?
  • Given that diverse student populations are growing and white student population is shrinking, what are we doing to intentionally target diverse student communities?

2. Right-Fit

  • Who thrives here?
  • Who considers the school as their #1 choice school?
  • What percentage of applicants use us as their #1 choice and as a safety school?

3. Key Metrics & KPIs

  • What’s our total marketing budget?
  • Marketing budget as a % of overall college revenue? (should be greater than 10%, but most colleges are investing between 2% to 5% only).
  • What’s the ratio between Digital vs. Traditional in our marketing budget?
  • What are our cost-per-lead, cost-per-enroll, and yield rates? How do we stack up vis-à-vis competitors?
  • What’s our website lead-generation rate? How are these leads performing vis-a-vis paid advertising leads?
  • What’s the number of prospective student names we buy annually from ACT/NRCCUA, GRE/GMAT and other sources?
  • How many Google page 1 rankings do we have?

4. Signature Programs

  • What are our top 10 signature programs?
  • Do their web pages look as strong as BMW 3 or 5 series pages?
  • What percentage of our enrollment is driven by these signature programs?

5. New Programs

  • What’s our process for creating new academic programs?
  • What budget do we allocate for marketing the new programs?

6. Enrollment Marketing Tactics

  • What tactics do we deploy? What’s working best? worst? How do you plan these initiatives to mutually reinforce each other?
  • What’s our best argument for the specialty of education we offer?
  • What geographies do we consider our primary territories?
  • In our paid advertising, do we engage in A/B testing, look-alike marketing, micro-targeting and machine learning?
  • What’s our SEO strategy? How many page 1 Google rankings do we have?

7. Boots-On-The-Ground Activities

  • How many high schools do we visit annually?
  • How many college fairs (virtual or physical) do we attend annually?
  • How many high school principals and teachers do we meet annually?
  • How many college counselors in high school do we meet annually?
  • How many related trade shows do we visit annually?

8. Follow-up & Lead Nurturing

  • How many counselors/representatives do we have?
  • What are their territories?
  • How many open houses do we hold annually? How are they organized?
  • How many discovery days do we hold annually? How are they organized?
  • What tactics do we deploy? What’s working? and what’s not?
  • What’s the role of program chairs and Deans and faculty in follow up and yield?

9. Retention

  • What’s our retention rate?
  • Do we have a first-year and second-year student engagement plan?
  • Do we have a student retention committee?
  • What’s the #1 reason for students transferring out of our school?

10. Technology

  • What CRM are we using?
  • What marketing automation technology are we using?
  • What lead attribution software do we use?
  • What A/B testing tool do we use?
  • What brand sentiment tools are we using?
  • What’s our best enrollment marketing weapon tool?

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to grow your enrollment, endowment and reputation, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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2021 is finally here. Here are some of our predictions for this coming year. Covid’s drag on students and colleges will persist at least through the summer. The previous administration’s negative impact on international recruitment will begin to ease. Celebration of diversity will be in vogue again due to continued growth in underrepresented students. Paid media prices will continue their meteoric climb. The absence of high-school travel and standardized test-takers will continue. Due to economic uncertainty, the decline in number of high school graduates enrolling in college immediately after high school will continue.

In this time of volatile change, here is our advice for higher education marketers to overcome the challenges and make the most of emerging opportunities:

1. Celebrate Diversity
Gen-Z and Millenials are race-blind, faith-blind and gender-blind. As part of the most diverse generation in U.S. history, they take diversity for granted. They accept, not just respect, others for who they are – irrespective of their race, religious beliefs, and their gender preferences.
The Many Faces of Gen-Z

2. Celebrate Your Heroes and Their Achievements
College is the gateway to a student’s ambitions and ultimate destiny. Remember, students and faculty, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story. Celebrate them and their journeys. Tell their stories with gusto.
Celebrate Achievements of Your Heroes

3. Celebrate Your Brand
In the sea of sameness, brands win. Stand for something unique and let the world know about it. Speak with one brand voice to all audiences striking different notes for each audience segment. Tell a better story. Provide proof of your brand claims. Infuse your brand in every touch point.

Branding

Distill the argument for your brand in a brand anthem video. Here is one example of a brand anthem video we produced for New York Chiropractic College:

And another one for Boler College of Business at John Carroll University:

4. Project Your College as a School of Consequence
You must look and behave like a school of consequence.

  • Invest in first impressions. In the era of Covid, all your digital touch points must be right, tight and bright. Fortify every touch point – including websites, social media channels, your Wikipedia entry, email signatures, newsletters, tours, information sessions, and all presentations.
  • Celebrate your star students, alumni and faculty because they, not the institution, are the real heroes of your story.
  • Amplify your college blog, YouTube channel and publications to achieve Google page 1 rankings. Weaponize your content based on your schools’ thought leadership, innovation, and intellectual capital with a Keyword Lexicon, and an ongoing search engine optimization campaign that attains top Google rankings and fosters social sharing. Invest in a more robust content mix for your college academic blog, developing a deep archive of student and alumni stories that can be used by your enrollment counseling team. Prioritize stories of audiences that drive institutional revenue.Develop a “SEO Keyword Guide” comprised of keywords and phrases your college can rightfully claim.Infuse your stories with targeted search engine optimization keywords to realize regional, national and international Google page 1 rankings.
  • Organize virtual conferences and annual professional meetings in your areas of distinction. These give peers and recruiters a reason to engage with your faculty, students and alumni.
  • Create an enviable peer and corporate advisory board. Invite aspirational peers and recruiters to your advisory board and involve them in teaching, shaping your curriculum and charting your institutional future.

5. Invest in the Marketing of Signature Program Portfolios
Lead with strengths. Fortify signature program pages with high-fidelity content. Market distinctive programs where you have an indisputable competitive advantage.
Investment in Programs
Fight the temptation to start new me-too programs. No one has realized prosperity with me-too commodity offerings.

6. Embrace Inverted Enrollment Funnel
Abandon traditional student search models. Hunt like sharks. Don’t feed like whales. The era of buying prospects names, spamming them, seeing who sticks, and praying some convert is over. Tell stories of successful students and alumni; let like-minded prospects find them. Embrace new digital methodologies based on micro-segmentation, machine learning, big-data algorithms and affinity groups. Think right-fit, admission pipes and inverted admissions funnels, not traditional admissions funnels.

Inverted Admissions Funnel

7. Claim Your Local SEO Rankings
One third of students are considering attending a local/regional school due to fear of contracting coronavirus far from home. Prioritize existing budgets to give your top 10 most distinct academic program pages an immediate boost towards page-one local/regional SEO rankings.

Since more than 20% of searches are local and one third of students are considering attending a local/regional college due to fear of contracting Corona far from home, re-prioritize your SEO efforts to win page-one local/regional SEO rankings. “Bake” phrases such as ‘near me’ and geographies you serve into the page copy of all your programs.

8. Embrace Voice Search
We have entered a new era of “natural language”, “sentence based” and “question based” search with the advent of voice-activated search on mobile phones (like Google Assistant, Siri, Microsoft Cortana and Amazon Alexa) and gadgets like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and others. 30 percent of searches are now voice driven. Get ready for the voice era by taking the following steps:

  • Write colloquially. Since people won’t change their speaking habits for the computer, write new content using everyday vernacular.
  • Write page summaries. Write short, persuasive, 29-word page summaries above the screen fold on long-form pages. These summaries act as pop-up snippets served up by voice searches on mobile devices and home gadgets; they also appear as answer boxes on desktop search results.
  • Build social shares. Implement social share campaigns because the more shared the page is on Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels, the more likely it will surface on voice search.
  • Rank high on desktop/mobile search. If a website is not ranked on desktop/mobile search, it is unlikely that it will be ranked on voice search. Therefore, focus on achieving top rankings on desktop/mobile search for your college website.

9. Create Story-based Virtual Tours
Create a virtual tour that combines the best of still photography, student/alumni testimonials/quotes and a sense of place and culture. Use the testimonials/quotes to convey your school’s culture, not as a way-finding device. Don’t show a dorm as a physical space, tell the story of a dorm friendship that endured for many years.

Imagine creating a digital version of iSpeak booklet which we produced for North Central College, or the Wellesley 100 microsite.

Alternatively, engage student ambassadors to post authentic Instagram moments a couple of times a week.

10. Embrace Experimentation
If your college is investing at least 10% of your revenue in marketing like academic leaders are, set aside some play money to explore new marketing tactics, strategies and channels. Remember that your prospects are surrounded by an increasing proliferation of channels. Invest in content and paid media to see if these channels generate better returns.
Brian Solis Conversation Prim

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to grow your enrollment, endowment and reputation, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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