EDgage Magazine Summer 2020

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We aim to engage with the marketing minds in higher education. Our quarterly magazine, monthly digital content and regional summits are built to inspire new ideas, inform about the latest marketing services and support your marketing efforts in an ever-changing landscape. edgagemag.com/subscribe

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EDgage • SUMMER 2020


On the Horizon 12 Filling the Void Why content is critical to closing the emotional gap POP QUIZ

16 Q&A with Bridget Burns, Executive Director, University Innovation Alliance INFOGRAPHIC

18 Up to Speed Survey shows students want more communication






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Orientation THE LIGHT e are all looking for a little guidance right now. We have been beat up pretty good for the past few months and it has taken an emotional toll on us. Our confidence has been shaken and we are all feeling a bit vulnerable. But, there is nothing shameful about that. Sometimes, the best remedy for what ails us is to provide guidance for others. These times are confusing at best when our collective self-esteem clings to a “tweet” or a “like.” People seem so consumed with their “selfie” lifestyle that many crave the steadying hand of a mentor. And while the higher education platform may seem a bit murky, the time for your leadership is ripe.


The mental and emotional parts of our lives are not as easily monitored as the physical. The next generation will grow and discover who they are through the experiences that only you can offer. Your excellence is not rooted in the logo on your sweatshirts, but rather in your commitment to guide the next generation. It is fairly obvious that this generation needs you now more than ever. They need your mental support and your hope for a robust future. Their minds must be stretched to deal with the new landscape, but their hearts must be full to enrich the lives of others. Take solace in the fact that


EDgage is published quarterly by Association for PRINT Technologies, copyright 2020. All rights reserved. For more information contact info@edgagemag.com edgagemag.com

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you are the guiding light for the future. You have a remarkable opportunity to shape the lives of others and positively impact the world. In this issue of EDgage, our cover feature, “On the Horizon,” discusses the variety of variables affecting higher ed. COVID-19 is disrupting the next wave of enrollment, as well as things like demographic changes, new competing models of education and economics. Marketing’s role has exponentially changed and the article taps into how you are dealing with it all. In our second feature, “Filling the Void,” we highlight how content in a variety of forms should be utilized

managing editor Julie Shaffer


Michael Pallerino Maria Soldner Kaisha Jantsch

editorial and creative


effectively to fill the emotional gap that has widened due to the pandemic. Face-to-face events like walking tours will be down, so higher ed marketers will need to be relentless in creating thoughtful and relevant content for their communities. Authenticity and empathy will need to be at the heart of this strategy. Warmest regards,

Thayer Long Publisher


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EDgage • SUMMER 2020


t’s no class secret—higher education marketers are being tested. Over the last few years, they’ve struggled to find solutions for changing demographics, budget cuts and competing models of schooling. Now, COVID-19 is forcing them to take on their toughest question yet: “With the issues already plaguing higher education, how does the higher ed community continue to keep learning alive in the midst of a pandemic?” “This is the toughest time I’ve ever seen in my higher ed career,” says Lynda Oliver, the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. During past crises, she says, “We didn’t think it was a question of if we would return to normal, but a question of when. Now, we’re navigating uncharted waters without a compass.” According to Oliver, the pandemic has made it difficult for schools to recruit and retain international students, caused the cancellation of events, in-person activities, and travel abroad programs, led to budget reductions, and created uncertainty around future forms of instruction. But all is not lost. While COVID-19 has greatly affected the academic and economic landscape, it has mainly accelerated existing market trends and challenges already facing the industry—trends for which higher ed marketers have been preparing.


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“As the pandemic continues to evolve in waves, so too will various populations’ interest in different types of higher education messaging.”

HORIZON — Amy Luethmers, CMO, University of Wisconsin-Stout

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EDgage • SUMMER 2020


“The non-traditional and online student markets had previously been the areas of focus for many colleges preCOVID-19, due to the projected decline of traditional-aged students,” says Amy Luethmers, CMO at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. With the virus still spreading, she said those trends are expected to continue. “A down-turned economy tends to favor working adults seeking a career change that requires additional degrees and certifications,” she says. “As long as the virus is still active, many people may also remain leery of onsite educational opportunities—even if they are available—and may seek online programming options instead.” Oliver agreed that placing emphasis on online programs makes sense for higher ed marketers during the pandemic. Pre-pandemic popularity of these programs caused them to pop up in colleges and universities worldwide, and their abundance forced program improvements. “With increased competition, programs were challenged to be far superior than what they once were,” Oliver says. “Now, the top online programs, like Tepper’s, are carefully tailored and highly produced. Even though they are primarily online, today’s best programs still offer customization, group interaction, travel abroad, and in-person networking opportunities—benefits once only available in traditional on-campus programs.” THE WAY FORWARD But online programs may not be the only way forward. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, Oliver noted another rising trend in academia—oneyear specialty and graduate programs. “Around the world, we’ve seen increasing interest in specialty one-year programs in which a student can get a masters [or certification] in their area of choice—finance, business analytics, product management, etc.—in one year, versus two years,” she says. These programs are attractive to students because they cost less time and money, and according to Oliver, they typically attract a younger crowd. “More and more one-year program participants choose to attend business

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school immediately after they graduate from their undergraduate institution,” she says. “Schools may need to target college juniors and seniors, instead of graduates with two to five years of work experience.” But how do schools and higher education marketers reach college juniors and seniors interested in oneyear graduate or specialty programs? Or working adults seeking a career change? And how do marketers reach those individuals when they’re struggling to stay safe and healthy and financially stable? One way, according to Luethmers, is to pay attention to their needs and attitudes, and respond accordingly. “As the pandemic continues to evolve in waves, so too will various populations’ interest in different types of higher education messaging,” Luethmers says. “For example, at the onset of the outbreak, blatant advertising not only fell to deaf ears, but was frequently considered inappropriate to many on various channels. Informative, engaging, helpful or encouraging messaging was the only messaging that met its mark.” Anyone with a television, smartphone, tablet or even newspaper saw this change. Brands stopped pushing products in their ads and pushed people instead. Commercials thanked first responders, and offered viewers messages of comfort, togetherness and hope. But that’s already starting to change. “As people begin to long more and more for a sense of normal, typical advertising messaging will likely be more widely received,” Luethmers says. “However, if an additional wave of the virus begins to impact peoples’ lives, there will definitely be a corresponding impact around the type of messaging that will resonate.” Her advice goes beyond the pandemic. While the spread of COVID-19 continues to be a significant issue that impacts how most people respond to marketing campaigns, it is not and will not be the only one. “I am a strong believer of reading the room,” Luethmers says. “Even with the numerous years of experience I have in the field, I still second guess every theory I have. I always make sure

I have some initial data to point me in an informed direction before launching a campaign to make sure I’m not off the mark on meeting the audience’s needs.” Her message for higher ed marketers right now? Stay vigilant, data-driven, and proactive. “Marketing, as a discipline, always requires agility to outpace competitors and continually enhance brand strategies,” Luethmers says. “Innovative and data-based decision-making is essential. You always have to be one step ahead as a marketer.” “Today’s marketers also have to be nimble and cost-efficient,” Oliver adds. They need to find ways to personalize campaigns and highlight their schools’ unique offerings. “Students are eager to learn how your school fits in with their values, personality, career objectives, geography and budget. Marketers must figure out what sets their school apart and lean on that area of differentiation hard. Otherwise, it’s a sea of sameness,” Oliver says. “We all teach leadership. We all want to help build the next generation of game-changers. But what makes your school a better fit for students who thrive at your institution versus another?” And how do you communicate that to potential students without blowing the budget—especially now, when budgets are tight? “I measure cost per lead/acquisition,” Oliver says. “Regardless of the media mix, tactics should be mutually beneficial, and cost-efficiency should improve over time. To measure accurately, it is critical to have direct line of site to the response metrics. Without them, you’re operating in a vacuum.” In other words, it’s possible to do this. It is possible for higher education marketers to communicate effectively and responsibly and bring their schools out stronger on the other side of COVID-19. “I always tell my team: ‘this too shall pass,’” Oliver says. “Meanwhile, we are being tested like never before. That challenge can lead to some really exciting changes for this new landscape. Out of crisis comes opportunity, right?”

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EDgage • SUMMER 2020


“Students are eager to learn how your school fits in with their values, personality, career objectives, geography and budget. Marketers must figure out what sets their school apart and lean on that area of differentiation hard. Otherwise, it’s a sea of sameness.” — Lynda Oliver, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Carnegie Mellon University

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BACK TO SCHOOL? TO REOPEN OR STAY CLOSED, that is the question. Colleges and universities across the country have been faced with ambiguity about what the fall semester should look like. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, approximately two-thirds of colleges and universities in the United States still plan to reopen

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for the fall semester, as of July. Many are undecided or are considering a mix of online and in-person. This has delayed many admissions and enrollment practices, because incoming freshmen waited to choose a college until they knew what exactly they were applying for.

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EDgage • SUMMER 2020

of students may defer or cancel if classes go fully online, according to the “Senior Fall Decision: The AfterMay 1 Deadline COVID Survey” from Carnegie Dartlet. The May 2020 survey was a follow-up to their March survey, and gathered insights from 2,800 prospective students.


SURVEY REVEALS POPULAR MESSAGING FORMATS It seems like we are constantly up to our eyeballs in content. Creating engaging messaging is essential, but making sure your prospective students are seeing it is just as important. According to the “Consumer Content Survey” by Advanis and Adobe, people spend a median of five hours a day interacting with brand content across their devices, and Gen Z consumes more video than other generations. Let’s see what types of content are consumed:






YouTube videos







As people social distanced during the pandemic, social media amped up its role in keeping people connected. Falcon.io analyzed 20 different universities to find the social media trends and behaviors education marketers should be monitoring. Take a look at the following key stats from their “The State of Social in Education 2020” report: ❱ Universities increased their Instagram follower base by 42% in the past year. ❱ Universities’ Facebooks saw their follower base grow by only 3%. ❱ Twitter has the highest posting volume with a monthly average of 96 tweets. ❱ LinkedIn trails behind with an average of 8 posts a month.


Product info/reviews





❱ 52% of social content contains photos, while only 28% contains video. ❱ Universities use paid promotion on only 8% of their total posts on Facebook. ❱ Instagram receives the highest average interactions per post of 6,203. ❱ Facebook is far behind on interactions with only 715 as the average interactions per post. ❱ On Twitter, the average interactions per post is only 127.


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EDgage • SUMMER 2020


uring the early days of the pandemic, Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business (MSB) launched a social media campaign—#MagisInMotion—in which it posted news, photos and videos about what students were doing to help each other and their communities get through the madness. In Latin, Magis means “more” or “greater,” so the essence of the campaign centered on the premise of “the more universal good.” As part of its efforts, MSB also encouraged everyone to use the #MagisInMotion hashtag to share their stories. As a Jesuit institution whose values advocate serving others, Georgetown has always been authentic and


empathic. Its students, faculty and staff comprise a community built on the notion of caring about each other as much as their own success. Each of their stories serve both business and society. Chris M. Kormis calls that marketing gold. As the Associate Dean, CMO and Senior Advisor to the Dean at MSB, Kormis leads, develops and implements its strategic marketing and communications efforts. After the dean, Kormis is the brand steward and primary spokesperson to all external audiences, directing strategies that promote and raise the school’s visibility among its stakeholders and the media. After seeing what the pandemic did to the Georgetown community, Kormis found comfort in a content platform that could inspire healing. “The [#MagisInMotion] campaign brought us, showing prospective students and faculty what it is like to be part of the Georgetown community.” With recruiting platforms like face-to-face events and walking tours off the table due to pandemic-related mandates, having ways to engage with your community must already be in place. “We have been sharing our content with our various audiences through earned and paid media for several years,” Kormis says. “Now, with limited in-person access, it is even more important to communicate digitally. Since the pandemic sent everyone home to work and study, we have increased our use of video to bring people together.

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We also are using video more in our marketing efforts to facilitate human contact—even if it is over a screen.” The pivot to being able to communicate effectively is critical, especially in the higher education landscape. With campus life quiet, administrators have been meeting with prospective students virtually for information sessions and one-on-one conversations. They also have been conducting virtual webinars for current students and alumni on a variety of topics, such as teleworking, AI and the future of work, balancing work and home life responsibilities, and tactics for improving diversity and inclusion efforts, among others. Joe Pulizzi says that under these new rules brands everywhere, including higher ed, must think and act differently. The former brainchild of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and current founder of Z Squared Media, Pulizzi has helped forge international awareness on the powerful role content plays in the marketing equation. His advice: start thinking like a media company. “People don’t want the ‘why your college is better’ ad right now; they either want to know they made the right decision or what’s truly different about your school,” he says. “You have to zig when everyone else is zagging.” Case and point: Everyone is conducting

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“Helpful information delivered over and over again is the next best thing to in-person chats with a friend, especially now, when everything feels like it’s in chaos. Content is king, queen and jester.” — Joe Pulizzi, Founder, Z Squared Media


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virtual tours, which with the exception of the logo, the backdrop and who is giving the presentation, all look the same. Pulizzi recommends creating a go-to channel that students (or parents) will want to see. “Nothing builds trust more than regular, valuable communication. Advertising alone just can’t do it right now. Helpful information delivered over and over again is the next best thing to in-person chats with a friend, especially now, when everything feels like it’s in chaos. Content is king, queen and jester.”



“Your content strategy is exceptionally important now. But I believe what is more important is executing a content strategy that offers authentic and real snapshots, reactions, and moments of life for our students, on campus or otherwise.” — RJ Thompson,

Director of Student Engagement, University of Pittsburgh

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The University of Pittsburgh campus is quiet. That has enabled RJ Thompson to ramp up his storytelling efforts. As Pitt’s Director of Student Engagement, he has to keep his pulse on the vibes that run through campus. Thanks to the pandemic, those vibes have taken on a different feel. One of the ways he has found to make a difference is through “Talks with Thompson,” an engaging and insightful podcast that focuses on gaining practical, grounded advice from professionals in the marketing and design fields that can be shared with the students who feel that COVID-19 “killed their careers.” As EDgage went to press, the award-winning podcast was approaching its

50th episode. https://linktr.ee/rjtpitt In addition, Thompson and his team started the “Pitt Business Backstory,” a website where students can share their journeys from the classroom, to the city, and the world beyond. The site recently won a Graphic Design USA (GDUSA) web design award. “Your content strategy is exceptionally important now,” Thompson says. “But I believe what is more important is executing a content strategy that offers authentic and real snapshots, reactions, and moments of life for our students, on campus or otherwise. The pandemic has shifted idealism, for me, especially with respect to how we communicate to our students or prospective students.” Part of that shift is to be more human-centered, creating content that not only appeals to students on a human-level, but also talks to them in that same manner. The key is to tell the truth, be authentic and capture reality in an optimistic, but not idealistic sense. Thompson recommends avoiding visual hyperbole through heavy photo manipulation, and to keep your works grounded, relatable, and natural. The goal, he says, is to have fun as much as you can. The reality is that the pandemic is going to be sitting over the shoulder in all of your messaging right now. Everyone, everywhere

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EDgage • SUMMER 2020

has been affected in one way or another. So, instead of ignoring it, the key is to acknowledge it as best as you can and demonstrate how staff, students, and faculty are persevering over it. “Triumph through times of struggle, growth during times of struggle,” Thompson says. Emily Reagan, CMO at University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, says that realism and authenticity are the staples in her marketing efforts, especially with the arrival of COVID-19 and the increase in racial tensions.

“As a business school, we have prioritized leadership development across all of our programs, especially in our MBA programs, and authenticity and empathy are critical attributes for anyone in a leadership role,” Reagan says. “As a business school leadership team, it is no different—we must practice what we preach.” Reagan believes that a critical part of the strategy is what she calls “atomizing” your content. Too many brands think they can create content, promote it and be done. “That’s simply not true, and the opportunity

to reformat, repurpose and scale content is one of our greatest tools. After spending all that time creating a great post, video or thought leadership piece, sharing it once or twice doesn’t do it justice. The content becomes increasingly valuable the more you scale and share.” In a time where real issues have real impacts on too many people, being able to communicate your story via website, social media platforms or digital email campaigns, is a strategy worth embracing and a viable way to fill the void of human interaction.


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Bridget Burns




r. Bridget Burns has spent the past two decades helping represent, coordinate, and advocate on behalf of more than 30 university presidents and chancellors around the country. She spent the past six years building and leading the work of the University Innovation Alliance (UIA), the first national consortium of universities collaborating to close achievement gaps through innovation, scale and diffusion. Named one of the “16 Most Innovative People in Higher Education” by Washington Monthly magazine, Burns supports the UIA campuses collaborative work, which has already resulted in 32% more low-income graduates and 56% more graduates of color. She has shared their stories in various national publications, including 60 Minutes as well as in the documentary “Unlikely.” Burns received her Doctorate of Education from Vanderbilt University in Higher Education, Leadership and Policy. We sat down with Burns to get her insights on the future of higher education.

Can you share your hypothesis of what is on the horizon for the higher education landscape? For far too long, universities have often been tinkering alone in the dark to uncover effective solutions for student success. I think the pandemic has created a moment where institutions are more comfortable asking for advice from peers, and have a hunger to collaborate in order to best support their students and students across the country. I suspect we’ll see far more collaboration within universities, but also across different institutions, and we will likely see far more shared services approaches to emerging challenges. There needs to be significantly less emphasis on competition and rankings, and more support to help campuses partner to solve collective challenges. Most of the challenges in our sector are shared ones. By isolating institutions and obsessing about their uniqueness, we discourage them from teaming up to leverage the collective wisdom of the field and address long-standing problems.



What do you believe is one thing universities must learn to deal with in the post-pandemic world? I think COVID has reinforced the urgency for redesigning our systems and practices around the students of today. Our higher


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The challenges facing today’s students are large and complex, but I think it’s a moment for higher ed to take responsibility for reinventing itself in a way that is student-first.

education systems were not built on the commitment to ensure that any student admitted to their campus has the support to be successful. I’ve been really inspired by how UIA campuses have moved mountains to ensure students have a safe place to learn and live, have WiFi and access to digital materials, can still eat and pay their bills. The challenges facing today’s students are large and complex, but I think it’s a moment for higher ed to take responsibility for reinventing itself in a way that is student-first. I also think any trepidation about leveraging data through predictive analytics needs to fall by the wayside. We can no longer expect students to walk through our doors or raise their hands when they have problems. Campuses need to ensure their data systems are leveraging past experiences to identify potential obstacles before a student encounters them,

equipping us to intervene and provide the resources and support they need before they ask. How is the UIA supporting universities through this and what will be your team’s focus going forward? The UIA continues to be a hub for collaboration and scale. We’re surfacing successful practices on campuses and sharing with the rest. Our processes for doing so have always been virtual for the past six years, so in this moment, it’s been second nature to continue helping campuses accelerate practices and innovations that support student success. One practical example has been the use of emergency aid as students suddenly had to scramble to go back home or find a place to live, or access WiFi or a laptop, or find food outside of the dining halls. All 11 campuses, thanks to our work together, already had emergency aid funds set up to give students “micro grants” to ensure they don’t get off track due to small debts. So, in the midst of the pandemic, we were able to raise several hundreds of thousands of dollars and rapidly deploy those to students across the 11 institutions.


If higher ed is ripe for innovation, what changes need to be made? I expect we’ll see dramatic improvement in the quality of online learning across the board, and I am also excited about the evolution of the institution-vendor relationship. Too often, it’s been so transactional—which is of no benefit to either side. I’ve observed that institutions and technologists are coming to the table to really collaborate—this spring, in a moment of crisis, but also now in a period of thoughtful design and planning for the known unknowns. Technology firms are getting real, productive feedback from faculty and students, and everyone is motivated to finally improve the digital learning experience. I think that sets us up for success.


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EDgage • SUMMER 2020


Amidst all the confusion, what advice can you share with higher ed marketers? Be a true partner. For those working in marketing on the product or services side, this is a time to step up and support your current higher education customers.


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Higher ed institutions are working tirelessly right now to manage the unknown for students, faculty and staff, while also preparing for the year ahead. This isn’t the time to try to sell, but rather to support. To listen. To help troubleshoot and problem solve. When you or your team do find

real solutions, present them in a clear and straightforward way. Institutions are having to cut through a lot of noise right now to find the support they need. Honest marketing will go a long way in building trust, and helping surface the solutions to real challenges.

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Up to Speed W SURVEY SHOWS STUDENTS WANT MORE COMMUNICATION ith the world disrupted, students are feeling on edge about their futures. 64% of students said they were slightly or somewhat nervous about an on-campus orientation, according

to the “Senior Fall Decision: The After-May 1 Deadline COVID Survey” from Carnegie Dartlet. Clear and consistent communication is crucial to easing their fears. Here is a look at how often students think universities should be communicating with them:








Multiple per week

Every other week


Only when asked


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