Lighting a Fuse
Recruitment marketing presents never-ending challenges from ever-changing media and demographics. by Mbeti Hyess
“My son was getting so much e-mail from colleges that he had to change his e-mail address,” says Helene Maddux of her son Will Holets’s experience as a high school junior and senior. “It was too much to digest. One college began to look just like another, and it became hard to differentiate among them.”
Now a first-year student majoring in outdoor adventure leadership in the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance, Holets was fortunate: his mother works in the Office of Marketing Communications at Ithaca College (which publishes ICView), understands recruitment publications, and could help him navigate through the deluge of materials he received. But most high school students don’t have someone so knowledgeable to help them through the process.
The average U.S. American with access to the Internet is hit with 500 to 5,000 advertising messages a day, depending on what report you read. High school sophomores or juniors with a good grade point average might get two or more college recruitment packages a week by post, and dozens of e-mail contacts. And that doesn’t begin to mention the times they’re targeted by branded marketing geared specifically to their age group or self-identified affinity group (such as accounting, soccer, hip-hop music, environmental sciences, or gaming) via television, the Internet, and new tools like podcasts, Facebook, and myriad other “social media.”
All this presents a challenge for admission and marketing staff. Over the last several years Ithaca College has moved to a more strategic marketing model, and even that is always changing. “We know how wonderful Ithaca College is,” says business school alumna Bonny Georgia Griffith ’92, associate director of marketing for recruitment “and it’s a pretty easy sell, once potential students actually come to campus. But until then, we are competing with research institutions, liberal arts colleges, and other comprehensive colleges like Ithaca. We have to communicate to students via the media they use, in language they understand, why we are special and different from the pack.”
In years past, admission sent a “search piece” to high school students who requested information plus a number of targeted prospects. If they asked for more contact, they’d be sent a “viewbook,” or “prospectus,” full of all the facts potential students and their parents need to know but, frankly, not very compelling. “This is an exciting place to live and learn,” points out executive director of marketing Tom Torello ’87, a Park School graduate, “so why shouldn’t we have exciting ways to share that?”
With admission director Gerard Turbide and his staff, Torello, Griffith, and colleagues in marketing and information technology have been creating recruitment materials that do reflect the excitement of Ithaca College. The admission website is full of lively, informational, and interactive content, such as 30-second video spots of students talking about their academic studies and research, internships, and campus life; photo galleries; clips from a DVD featuring students, faculty, and alumni; polls; fast facts; and a virtual tour. In a section called MyIthaca, high school students can sign up and get college planning advice, ask questions and get answers from current students, apply, and track their application process.
The marketing office regularly runs focus groups with potential and current IC students. “This is how I think we do marketing well,” says Griffith. “We’re in touch with our audience. We ask them how best to talk to them, and we pay attention. They need to be able to access information when they want it. We make it available online, so they can check in with us at 2:00 in the morning or during a break from their busy schedules. And the best way of giving them the information they need, we’ve found, is to have current students tell them directly.”
Which is why Griffith, Torello, Turbide, and dean of enrollment planning Larry Metzger, M.S. ’87, decided to leap out in front of other colleges in winter 2007 when they launched Fuse, a student-written and -produced quarterly magazine for prospective students and their families. Besides mailing more than 100,000 copies to high school sophomores and juniors, the magazine has an online version that’s regularly updated by the 18 or so student staff writers and photographers, guided by executive editor Griffith and three professional editors. The online version features stories from the print version, plus blogs, photo galleries, and video clips, all student-produced.
Fuse has been extremely well received, and that’s no surprise: it’s snazzily designed, fun, informative, and innovative — and yet another way Ithaca College stands out from the pack.