Thought Leadership

Unlocking Potential: The Power of Collaboration in Higher Ed Admissions and Marketing

Part 2 of a 3 Part Series


Did you miss Part 1? Read the first installment in the series here to learn about 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

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 second part, we’ll dive into how the admissions team and marketing teams in higher education institutions can contribute to each other’s success — and failure.

How The Admissions Team Impacts Marketing

Jordan Person: The first question is for you, Erica. Given your background working in admissions, how does admissions shape the overall marketing strategy of a higher education institution?

Erica Silbiger: A core responsibility of the admissions team is to be on the ground talking directly to prospects and candidates throughout the admissions and enrollment process. From submitting an application, to receiving their admissions letter, to enrolling in the program, the admissions team is directly involved in that nurturing process. The admissions team also works closely with the faculty and make it our goal to be deeply knowledgeable about the curriculum and the program’s nuances. This allows the admissions team to recruit and enroll candidates who are not only the best fit for the program, but to help the candidate determine if the program is the best fit for them as well.

Because of this, the admissions team is intimately aware of the characteristics of the ideal target audience for the program that the marketing team is tasked with promoting. That hands-on, direct experience with the program’s target audience is incredibly valuable information to feed into our marketing efforts to optimize our campaigns. The admissions team’s perspective of how recruitment events went, who turned up and from where, and what content prospective students are most connected with, can all be incredibly valuable information for developing a successful marketing strategy.

How The Marketing Team Impacts Admissions

Jordan Person: Thanks Erica. Laura, as someone with higher education in-house marketing experience, how does the marketing team contribute to the success of the admissions team in a higher education institution?

Laura Montgomery: I see the marketing team’s contribution to the success of the admissions team in two categories: qualitative and quantitative.

The qualitative side dovetails exactly with what Erica was saying about the admissions team having first-hand experience with students. The admissions team knows what kinds of students are a good fit, and the marketing team can translate that into images, words, and campaigns that reach prospects.

The admissions team knows what kind of questions students are asking: What is this institution? Am I going to belong here? Does it have the programs that I’m interested in? Marketing can take those questions that prospective students have and preemptively answer them through targeted marketing efforts.

On the quantitative side, marketing needs to understand the admissions team’s quantitative enrollment goals to help get those met. I have been lucky enough to have worked within institutions in which marketing worked closely with admissions. The marketing team was included and educated in all of the details admissions has access to: What new programs are launching? What are the programs that fill quickly? What are the programs that need more support? What are the numbers that each program needs to hit, and what is the context for those goals?

Jordan Person: Now that you’ve shared with us how each department contributes to the other’s success, I’d love to hear more about what the stakes are if collaboration isn’t going well. How does ineffective collaboration hurt both departments? What are some common pitfalls folks should avoid and what are some of the negative outcomes if those pitfalls aren’t avoided?

Laura Montgomery: Two main examples immediately come to mind for me when I think of the negative effects of ineffective collaboration between the two teams.

The first is message inconsistency, particularly in the early stages of the prospective student journey. Typically, the marketing team handles paid media and other marketing tactics to reach new audiences and generate inquiries, while the admissions team responds to those inquiries in emails and real-time conversations. But if the messaging or even the tone changes between those two stages, your prospects are likely going to feel frustrated or – even worse – misled.

Another example of where high-stakes efforts can go awry is with new program launches. I’ve been in situations where academic leadership and the admission team are planning to launch a new master’s degree program with really ambitious enrollment goals, but don’t necessarily consider the marketing costs needed to break into a new market. This is especially true for programs that have a lot of competition, like graduate business programs, or programs in niche or novel fields that demand a certain degree of audience education on what the program even is. So there’s a real risk of setting enrollment goals that realistically can’t be met without also funding marketing efforts appropriately.

Erica Silbiger: The horror stories that immediately come to mind all revolve around one issue – lead gen as a numbers game. There have been several unfortunate instances where the marketing team has hired an agency that promised to get a certain volume of leads and RFIs. One thing you’ll always hear me say to our clients is if an agency ever promises you a specific number of leads – run! When I hear an agency promising lead volume, what that really means is that they’re promising to give you a bunch of form fills, but not promising that they come from real humans or that they will convert to enrolled students. In my last role, we worked with an agency many years ago that was very excited about the hundreds of leads they were getting us each month only to find out that not a single one of those leads had converted to an enrolled student the entire year. This is where the admissions team gets frustrated because the accountability is then on the admissions team to do the impossible – convert bots and low-quality traffic! It is the responsibility of the admissions team to nurture and convert the prospects in their pipeline, and to be successful they need a pipeline filled with prospects that are interested in the program and likely to convert.

As I mentioned previously, it is incredibly important to the admissions team to enroll a high-quality and diverse incoming student body, while also meeting leadership’s set enrollment numbers. Admissions teams are put into a very difficult position when they don’t have quality leads yet still have enrollment goals that, as Laura said, are already a bit of a reach.

Check back next week for Part 3 on how Laura and Erica’s experience working on the client side impacts how they lead their agency teams.

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