Thought Leadership

Breaking Silos: Strategies for Unified Efforts in Higher Ed Admissions and Marketing

Part 1 of a 3 Part Series


Every industry or organization has them – the two teams or disciplines that are like oil and water. They struggle to collaborate, they’re quick to point fingers, and it’s never their fault. In higher education, traditionally those teams are marketing and admissions. In my role, I’ve seen this stereotype come to life and the impact it can have on the work. Don’t misunderstand me – conflict and tension inside teams are not always bad. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a requirement of high-performing teams. (Doesn’t every oyster need a little bit of sand to make a pearl?) But it needs to be healthy and respectful in order for it to be productive. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some institutions that have successfully broken this stereotype, and it’s incredible to witness the energy that a productive partnership between these teams generates. I really wanted to replicate that energy within Town Hall and am lucky to say that we have two women on our team who help us do just that. Our Education Account Group Director Erica Silbiger, EdD, has invaluable experience leading admissions and enrollment teams at schools like Columbia School of Social Work, Cardozo School of Law, and more. Our Media Director Laura Montgomery has extensive experience leading in-house marketing teams at institutions like The New School, Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, and more. The first-hand experience Erica and Laura bring to our work is invaluable. They help us understand the challenges our clients face, which ultimately means we can be more effective in helping our clients navigate these challenges.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with these two incredible women to dive into their experience on in-house marketing and admissions teams, respectively. In this three-part series, we’ll delve into the strategies and tactics that effectively bridge the gap between marketing initiatives and the admissions process, ultimately driving enrollment and fostering student success. From aligning messaging and branding efforts to leveraging data-driven insights for targeted recruitment, Laura and Erica’s expertise runs deep. We discussed the best that marketing and admissions collaboration can be, and I certainly learned a lot from this pair — I know you will too.

In this first part, we’ll tackle how admissions and marketing teams collaborate — common pain points between the two teams, what each team needs from the other, and how intentional partnership and communication between the two teams can drive collective success.

The Admission Team’s Challenges

Jordan Person: What are common pain points for higher education admissions professionals when working with the marketing team?

Erica Silbiger: From an admissions perspective, there is immense top-down pressure to hit specific enrollment goals. The senior leadership team identifies one ultimate enrollment goal and to hit that number, the admissions team monitors several specific KPIs throughout the funnel to work towards and evaluate their progress. A successful admissions team strategically monitors every facet of their funnel to create a clear pathway towards hitting both leadership’s enrollment KPIs, and most importantly, enrolling a high-caliber, diverse incoming student class.

These KPIs include high-in-the-funnel indicators like attendance at recruitment events and information sessions, to mid-funnel engagement like conversion rates (e.g., a “started application” to “submitted” or “submitted” to “completed”), down to our ultimate goal of “butts in seats,” also known as enrollment numbers. The admissions team knows where leads and candidates are in this funnel at all times and they know what these KPIs should be to reach the enrollment goal. This way they can adjust their strategy and tactics accordingly in real-time. The admissions team is hitting refresh every hour during the busy seasons to see the results of their hard work or where additional work is needed to increase those conversion rates. 

One trend I have seen at various higher education institutions is the admissions team and marketing team don’t collaborate on a marketing strategy early enough, and sometimes, sadly, not at all. So when the admissions team reaches out looking for last-minute support from the marketing team to get more applicants into the pipeline, it’s too late. 

For admissions to hit their goals, there needs to be collaboration and transparency with the marketing team before the enrollment cycle starts, and just as important, throughout the cycle — not only at crunch time. Laura and I have joked about various times of year when this tension comes up. I’ll say, “Laura! This is around when I’d be giving you a call saying, “Get me more apps!”

Laura Montgomery: And I’d say, “That’s not how this works! I needed info on enrollment goals to work towards months ago!”

Erica Silbiger: Exactly! As I said previously, the admissions team has so much valuable information to share in terms of audience targeting, lead quality, as well as years of both historical and institutional enrollment data trends. Giving a member of the admissions team a seat at the table can significantly increase the quality of your entire campaign. That information-sharing and collaboration needs to start much earlier, otherwise, it results in urgent requests for help that can’t always be met. 

Laura Montgomery: I agree, a marketing campaign for, say, graduate program intake begins anywhere from four to twelve months before the application deadline. The marketing team is planning budgets and resources well before the admissions team will ever have data in hand about who is actually applying. The two teams have to work together to see into the future a bit to set goals, priorities, and resource allocations.

The Marketing Team’s Challenges

Jordan Person: Absolutely. Laura, can you weigh in on the pain points for higher education marketing professionals when working with the admission team?

Laura Montgomery: In addition to Erica’s point about the occasional misalignment on the timing of information sharing, the marketing team has to help set expectations on what marketing and paid media can and cannot do. Marketing tactics can do a lot: raise awareness, reach new audiences, help get prospective applicants into the funnel, and reach influencers of students. 

But marketing is only one part of the enrollment puzzle. There are countless experiences and touchpoints a prospect has from the time they see marketing materials and inquire to the time they apply or enroll. Every stage in that journey is important and shaped by different stakeholders — sometimes marketing, sometimes admissions staff, or even faculty. I have seen some admissions teams rely on marketing too heavily to hit enrollment numbers, or not play to marketing’s strengths. 

Another pain point is when marketing teams aren’t giving the admissions team qualified or quality leads, because the admissions team hasn’t communicated to the marketing team which types of students will be successful. The admissions team has visibility into which students do well in which programs, and marketing needs that intel to inform strategies and tactics.

How We Can Overcome These Challenges Together

Jordan Person: With that in mind, what does a successful collaboration between the two teams look like? How can these pain points be addressed or solved?

Laura Montgomery: Like Erica said, early transparency and collaboration on achieving goals together is super important. And creating shared, realistic expectations of the role marketing can play in supporting enrollment. 

Another way the teams can work well together is when the admissions team provides data on what types of students are successful at that institution. What cities, states, and countries do they come from? What kinds of interests do they have? What kind of professional background? The admissions team knows that better than anyone, and marketing can use that to craft messaging, determine the right audience segments to target, or figure out the right media channels to use.

Erica Silbiger: I’ve had several conversations about the role of paid media on enrollment with clients in the last week. Laura makes a great point that institutions need to reflect on: What do you think the impact of paid media should be on your funnel? Are you expecting it to be the end all be all, or are you expecting it to be supplemental? That is a really valuable conversation to have between the two teams. 

Laura and I have also discussed how important it is for the two teams to sit down and walk through the strategy together. That conversation needs to include how the team uses paid media to support recruitment events, what the projections are from the Dean, what email drip campaigns are scheduled and the content to support them, and what the plan is for the two teams to communicate with each other and adjust throughout the year. Equally as valuable, is checking in regularly to see where the efforts of the two teams can be streamlined or combined. That way, when deadline season hits, everyone is on the same page. 

Laura Montgomery: Exactly. It’s so important to balance collaborative strategic planning with the ongoing maintenance of information-sharing.

Check back next week for Part 2 on how higher education marketing and admissions teams contribute to each other’s success and why successful collaboration is imperative.

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