PSAT names are out… and the contact deluge begins

Student recruitment follies… chasing high-performing PSAT takers

It happens every year. College-bound students take the PSAT exam in October and colleges and universities buy the names of people they wish to contact. Nothing wrong with that. Except that far too many schools still buy far too many names in a frantic scramble to boost inquiry numbers. I’d like to think that direct marketing expertise in higher education has grown since the early 1990s. This is the time of year that makes me wonder.
Successful direct marketing starts with list selection
The first key to successful direct marketing is selecting the right people to contact. That should almost always result in fewer rather than more people being contacted. Marketing-oriented people pay attention to what test takers say about themselves when they register for PSAT, SAT, ACT exams. They only buy the names of people who are a strong match with the profile of students likely to enroll. 
In this case, the future student is the high scoring son of Bob Green, a friend who has been in the direct marketing business for the last 30 years and is now president and creative director at The Verdi Group. His son has received since January 14 a deluge of email from nearly 60 schools competing to be “first in the mailbox” with their contacts. Some of the schools have already sent more than one email. New ones are still arriving.
First contact emails: “A pretty dull group…”

What was sent? Bob Green’s first professional reaction: 
  • “Very few of them told us anything
    interesting about their schools, most of which we’d never heard of. As a
    marketer it was an interesting experience to be on the consumer end of the
    solicitation. There were no promotions of any kind, no attempts to grab a cell
    number or to offer a text option, and very few offers of video. All in all, a
    pretty dull group, speaking as a marketer!”
Most of the emails offered similar information about how to master college admissions. Consider the impact of getting nearly 60 offers in a few days with these titles:
  • “5 Just-Released Ideas for Getting Into the College of Your Choice”
  • “What the Nation’s Best Students Know About Getting Into College”
  • “The Choice is Yours: A Quick Guide to Selecting Your Ideal College”
  • “Achieve Admissions Success: 6 Strategies for College Acceptance”
  • “ALL ACCESS: Behind-the-Scenes Admissions Secrets You Can Use Today”
Bob also reports that about a third of the schools asked his son to answer the same 6-point “quiz-like” questions about himself. All of the ones I read also were eager to get the name and email contact for parents of this high-achieving lad so they could tell those parents how impressed they were with his PSAT performance.
What’s especially sad about this recruitment version of the Oklahoma land rush is the “sameness” of it all. The receiving students end up wondering why all these schools they’ve never heard of are suddenly interested in their success. It just doesn’t ring true.
Here’s a recommendation: instead of trying to be first with the same message that everyone else is sending, try a different approach. Relax. Let the flood waters of the first round recede. And then send something that is genuinely different. But first, be more selective in the names you purchase.
That’s all for now.

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