Why We Think Beyond the Academic Year for Universities

We’ve had a lot of experience with higher-ed marketing. We’ve worked with Georgetown McDonough School of Business for over 7 years. It’s always perplexed us as to why universities manage their media cycle around their academic cycle. Does that make sense?


They really have nothing to do with one another and it can definitely be argued that it’s not a best practice to schedule your media that way. It seems to be an industry standard, not just Georgetown. When talking with our media Reps on the account, they assure us that most universities advertise this way.


Perhaps this was a good calendar to follow before digital advertising, but now that so much of the budget is spent in digital, media planning calendars really should be reconsidered. Colleges and Universities need to think beyond the academic year and create an historical relationship with leads/prospective students.


Just because Universities are hyper focused on making things happen during the academic year doesn’t mean their potential audience is too. Sometimes the best time for an executive or employed manager to do research is during the summer. Their job slows down a little, more people are off, and they can finally breathe. This is when they begin to think about their career and any future moves they can make to insure success.


The way media plans run now, an executive looking for an MBA program may have a hard time finding information on a school in the summer months. They’d have to rely on search engines and ranking reports probably. They’re not going to be actively served a digital ad if schools are dark during the summer.


We feel that all marketers should create a relationship with their prospects throughout the lifecycle. In academia, this lifecycle is extremely long. It can go on for years between the first interest and actually doing an application. Not just a one hit wonder….if you’re lucky enough to get a prospect to click on your ad, you should not only jump up and down, you should create a plan that develops a relationship with that person.


You can do this through remarketing, social media, events and any number of direct/indirect tactics. Every school should have a remarketing campaign in place 12 months/year. Not just 9, all 12. This should be budgeted out for the entire year, every year. Did I say that enough? 12, not 9….just sayin’! This type of campaign will at least let you reach someone who comes to your site from another source other than just your ads. So if you do nothing else, keep your remarketing campaign going all year long.


Once they’ve gotten to your site, you want to keep “touching” them as much as possible. This prospect is a live lead; you need to nurture them. Don’t stalk them or hound them, but deliver valuable information that they can use to make their school choice. Entertain them, inform them, but the ultimate goal should be to meet them or at least have a phone conversation.


Depending on the Call to Action (CTA) you may collect their email address or phone number. Your ads should always request action. This could be in the form of downloading a white paper, attending an information session or just to be added to a mailing list. Once you have this information, plan out a strategy to keep the communication lines open. Maybe they missed the info session they signed up for (things happen, they could definitely still be interested!) so keep feeding them future info session dates. Encourage them to follow your page on social media and make it easy for them. Send an email with icon links to all of your pages.


Speaking of social media, you need to keep this active. Don’t dip your toe in and try to keep it going….jump in the pool and do a canon ball! Tell these people you’re here, you’re fun, your school is superior (and why) and continue the momentum of why this person ever contacted you in the first place! Even if they don’t follow your pages, send them interesting posts from your pages and keep trying. Make sure to cross-reference your emails as often as possible so you know who’s responding and who’s not. Don’t send someone a “please follow us on social media” email if they’ve already done so.


It’s important to treat advertising generated leads as an asset. Just as you would treat any other asset of your school, these leads need to be leveraged for a return. These leads cost money. They’re a purchase you’ve made with your ad dollar. It’s just silly not to have a plan in place that maximizes the return on your investment. Think outside the academic year and make that plan 12 months.