Building a better brand for liberal arts colleges By Ben Hackenberger, Copy Editor, PO ‘15 & Jaya Williams, Publisher, PZ ‘14 In Fall 2012, Pomona hired private consultant Mark Neustadt to evaluate the college’s public image and marketing strategy. According to his firm’s website, Neustadt works to design more efficient marketing strategies for academic institutions that are “swimming upstream in a commercial world.” Writing in the Student Life, Michael Maltese, PO ’14, pointed out that the 2013 US News and World Report’s description of Pomona in the “Top Liberal Arts Colleges” made no mention of the the college’s academic merits. Rather, it emphasized nonacademic features such as its “unique location” and its “annual Ski Beach Day.” The other Claremont Colleges fare little better in the publication’s descriptions. Harvey Mudd is “known for its strong programs in math, science, and engineering.” Meanwhile, CMC and Scripps are simply acknowledged as members of the consortium, and Pitzer has the fine distinction of operating on the semester system. These descriptions leave out a lot of important academic information, and while Pomona’s rebranding initiative has been wellcovered, we were curious how the other Claremont Colleges define themselves in the increasingly competitive field of undergraduate admissions. While Pomona hired an outside consultant, Pitzer employs a full time public relations professional. Mark Bailey, Vice President for Communications, Marketing & Public Relations, took a confident outlook on branding at Pitzer and colleges in general. “Higher education, I’m happy to say, has been faster to understand value of marketing than any other field I’ve worked in– they really get it, and I’ve worked in communi-
cations, entertainment, sports, news, and more,” Bailey said. “Discussion about the ‘marketing’ of colleges has only recently gained critical mass.” Bailey also mentioned that public relations is more than just selling the college experience. “For a long time marketing was code for advertising, promotions, the corporate world, but in the last three or four years people have begun to understand the value of marketing as a huge toolbox to communicate yourself, your goal, vision, and how you do things.” Bailey’s vision of Pitzer’s identity emphasizes the college’s uniqueness. “Our brand is the things we do, like President Trombley hiking the John Muir Trail to raise funds for scholarships. We’re deeply concerned about sustainability; everything we’re doing is in line with that value system,” Bailey said. Bailey also emphasized the link between Pitzer’s marketing and the actual experience of attending the college. “We’re not going to a third party source and asking them to tell us what the Pitzer brand is. We know what it is. We want to take a five senses approach to the college brand in everything we do. How does Pitzer look, sound, feel, taste? What is the soul of the Pitzer experience? These are the questions we’re asking. We know Pitzer well; we’re all really proud of it. I’ve never seen an environment where there’s as much openness on these discussions day to day.” Peter Osgood, Director of Admissions at Harvey Mudd, had similar sentiments about the individuality of the college. “Among the schools with which we have the greatest number of overlap of admitted students, none of them contain the word ‘college’ (their names include ‘institute of’ or ‘university’). Those institutions tend to have greater
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visibility and, in some cases, perceived prestige than HMC, but I personally believe that the undergraduate focus at HMC and all the implied aspects of a liberal arts college make HMC stand out,” Osgood said. According to Emmett Choy CMC ’14, a CMC education is defined by preparing students for future professions, accessing an abundance of financial opportunities, and hosting a multitude of top-tier companies weekly at oncampus recruiting events.
People have begun to undertand the value of marketing as a huge toolbox to communicate yourself.
Pitzer’s VP for Communications
How the 5Cs Market Themselves
Choy described CMC as a “24-hour education.”
“Taking a full day off to relax is almost unheard of. Students hit the books everyday but supplement their studies by simultaneously sitting outside in circles with friends on the grass or beside the pool,” Choy said. Students and administrators alike have a lot to say about the identity and uniqueness of each college. Many students would argue that Neustadt’s assessment of Pomona was parochially formed and largely inaccurate. However, he demonstrated the importance of a self-constructed image from within each college–one that incorporates and accurately represents the views of people who are most privy to the actual experience. Each school certainly has a distinct perceived personality and essence, but the way that they promote this image from within will predict the future of the consortium.