Thought Leadership

Why You Need a Paid Media Strategy for your Enrollment Marketing Campaign

A closeup with hands on a laptop keyboard surrounded by superimposed windows with icons in them.

As someone who worked in higher ed enrollment for over a decade, I’ve attended the NAGAP conference several times. It is one of my favorite conferences to attend, and arguably the most engaging and resourceful for graduate enrollment managers. This year, however, was different from any other year that I attended. This year I attended as an employee of a digital marketing agency, not a university. It was an incredible experience to be able to both intimately understand the issues facing higher education, and synthesize that understanding with what I have learned and experienced from being on the other side of the table (or Zoom call, these days). 

After sitting in on a number of informative sessions and chatting with old colleagues and friends, I wanted to share a few takeaways from my experience at the conference, now as an “outsider” looking in. Starting with, do you really need paid media?

1: Building a Lasting Relationship

A good digital marketing agency executes your campaigns, shows you the results, and then you go about your day. A great agency is an extension of your marketing and enrollment team that just happens to sit in a different office. A great agency makes it their mission to get to know your programs, your needs, and your goals on an intimate level. Your wins are their wins and your losses are their losses. A great agency empowers you to really think deeply about what your agency can do for you and your programs. A great agency is more than just a nebulous being, sometimes boiled down to an email address attached to an office somewhere far away. 

When you connect with your agency on that deeper level, when you build a strong and lasting relationship with them, your dollars can go much further and have a much bigger impact on your enrollment efforts. 

2: Cross-Departmental Collaboration is Key

When I think about collaboration, I think about who is sitting at the table. Who’s ideas and opinions are included? Can we still see the full picture if we collaborate with our agency but not across departments? Paid media is only as good as an ad that has the right message in front of the right audience. With both the expertise of your in-house marketing team and the on the ground prospect knowledge of your enrollment team, paid media efforts can be much more impactful. 

3: High-Quality Content

An ad on Facebook can bring high quality prospects to your websites, but how do we keep them engaged when they get there? Back in my admissions days, our team would keep tabs on the shared inbox to get a sense of the most frequently asked questions by prospective students. Whenever we recognized a pattern, we would find the information and add it to our website. We noticed that the more informed a prospect felt, the more comfortable they felt taking that leap and applying. 

With all that being said, bringing on an agency to help with paid media can, of course, increase your prospect pool. But at what cost? And is increasing our prospect pool all we’re looking for? Paid media has the potential to create a significant, lasting positive impact on your brand and enrollment goals when the relationship is strong, there is collaboration across departments, and our audience is engaged with the high-quality content on program websites and recruitment materials.

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