Higher education marketing… notes from the AMA Symosium

Higher education marketing: 5 Takeaway Points from the 2013 AMA Symposium

Last week’s 2013 Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education was the best attended one yet, at over 1,000 people. That’s a tribute to all the program planners, starting with the chair Terry Flannery. After my Digital Marketing Strategy tutorial on Sunday, I had a chance to visit several presentations, many good, some great, and a few not so good or great.

Let me share 5 takeaway points that stand out a week later:

  • Going mobile: Options exist for how to take your “traditional” big screen website to the mobile world. Jon Brousseau at Boston University did an excellent job of presenting three options that included responsive design but were not limited to that approach. The takeaway: responsive design may often be the best technique but consider all options before a final decision. Different parts of your website may work best in different formats. Special kudos to Jon for using some of the best, most legible-from-the-rear-of-the-room slides of anyone I saw present. 
  • Killing View books: The title was “Will Video Kill the Viewbook?,” a strong session with Jim Walls and Tammo Walter from the 160over90 agency and Joyce Lantz from University of Notre Dame. Jim answered the question up front as “No.” That’s the conventional answer that everyone seems compelled to give but after this session it was hard to believe that not long from now the answer will be “Yes.” The reason is simple: view books exist to tell a story that is better told in video. That was my takeaway point after watching the examples.
  • Price, Discounting, and Public Universities: A session with Terri Harfst and Abbey Fischer from Southern Illinois University and Tom Abrahamson from Lipman Hearn took me way back to the mid-1990s. To boost enrollment at the upper end of its academic profile, SIU has started tuition discounting with merit scholarships. As a result, enrollment conversions from this pool have increased as has the ACT level of the freshman class. Not a big surprise. The takeaway: If enrollment pressure is forcing public sector schools into merit scholarships and tuition discounting, the transition is slow.
  • Content Strategy “Story Champions”: Jamie Ceman and Mandy Potts from University of Wisconsin Oshkosh did a fabulous job recounting how they created and support a corps of “Story Champions” across the university to create content that tells a coordinated university brand story. Story champions come from just about every area from admissions to faculty to fundraising and more. The key to success: champions meet weekly, with 10 to 15 people attending. The takeaway: a great way to circumvent silos without having to destroy them.
Is Integrated Marketing Possible at a Large University?
All the keynotes this year were good but I found one especially interesting. Mary Baglivo is the newly appointed Vice President for Global Marketing and Chief Marketing Officer at Northwestern University. That’s a most distinguished title for a person who, as she told her story, is essentially a consultant to the president. No direct budget or staff control here over the many other areas at Northwestern that “do” marketing. 
Mary talked about “Love Stories that Sell” with examples from outside higher education. I’d love to hear her again next year talking about lessons learned from her first year experience. Just how integrated can marketing become at an organization like Northwestern?
Next Year in Austin
Plan now to attend the marketing symposium’s 25th anniversary meeting in Austin next November.
Next year’s co-chairs are Deb Maue at mStoner and Jason Simon at University of California, both members of the program committee this year. Good luck to them both.
That’s all for now.

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