Thought Leadership

Evaluating the Impact of Paid Media


After working in various enrollment management roles within higher education for over a decade, to be “on the other side” and see the true impact paid media can have on a university’s enrollment efforts, has been an eye opening experience. It has been such a rewarding experience to be able to both intimately understand the issues facing higher education and to synthesize that understanding with the nuances and challenges of digital marketing. I am really excited to participate in and elevate these conversations and strategies to support our client’s business goals. 

After attending the fantastic and informative NAGAP conference in the spring, I wrote about “Why You Need a Paid Media Strategy for your Enrollment Marketing Campaign.” This idea came after observation of many conversations and conference workshops. These various conferences and conversations covered where a paid media partnership could be more impactful when there is cross-departmental collaboration within the institution, the content is high quality and inclusive, and the relationship with the agency is one where they are dedicated to understanding your needs and empower you and your team to think deeply about how the agency can support your overall business goals. After working with several incredible clients, I want to dive into how you can leverage paid media to support your enrollment goals.

Establish paid media as an efficient driver of quality leads.

NYU Tandon launched its Digital Learning program with the goal of attracting students with STEM and non-STEM experience by offering flexibility and ongoing support. We maximized  search conversion tactics, such as implementing cost-per-click budget caps and closely monitoring and optimizing manual budget allocations, and have successfully captured demand from competitors and reduced lead submission costs (increased media spend efficiency) by 75% over one quarter. Paid media  now drives over 50% of RFI form submissions.

Align paid media with your existing demand cycle to increase overall performance.

Going into our third year partnering with the University of San Diego School of Professional and Continuing Education, our team took a per-program approach to tactical planning and media activation. By reviewing historical application and audience trends, we identified peak moments of search intent and aligned budget across search, display, and paid social with the most impactful weeks within the application cycle to drive consideration and quality lead generation. 

Use full-funnel data to predict and optimize towards audience behavior.

Since early 2022, we have partnered with the Office of the Vice Provost for Advancements in Learning to support the launch and continued promotion of Harvard Online, a new destination for cross-discipline online certificate courses. With several course waves under our belt, we combined paid media data with Harvard Online’s enrollment info to create bespoke propensity models and data simulations. This allowed us to customize our insights in four areas: audience determinants, enrollment seasonality, international demand, and projected return on ad spend per program. Within weeks of implementing the new modeling recommendations, cost per application dropped by 26%, and we have seen continued week over week improvements in media efficiency.

As stated in my “NAGAP Takeaways” post, three keys to bringing this all together are having a strong relationship with your agency, cross-collaboration across the institution’s departments, and high-quality content that engages your audience, paid media is poised to create a significant, lasting positive impact on your brand and enrollment goals. 

Over the last few months, we’ve seen paid media drive record-breaking quality leads and applications, identify seasonal demand within the application cycle to create bespoke paid media plans, and utilize full funnel data to build propensity models that predict and optimize audience behavior. So, how can you leverage paid media to support your goals?

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