Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

October 2013 Archives

Why Are Ad Agencies Throwing out RFPs? 8 Steps for Universities to Follow

Took time today after finishing my "Writing Right for the Web" presentation for the J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference next week to read a very interesting AdAge article, "Agencies Learn How to Just Say No."

The essence of the article is simple: faced with potential clients sending out RFPs with ridiculously shorts deadlines requiring considerable commitment of agency resources without knowing anything about the potential scope of the final contract, agencies are starting to toss many of them.

And that made me think of my experiences over the last 12 to 13 years. And so without further ado, here are 8 steps that in my fantasy world I wish colleges and universities would follow more often when in search of an external marketing partner.

Think of us as partners not vendors
  • You should be looking for an external extension of your marketing team. "Vendors" sell you computers and food and light bulbs. If you think of the people you need to help you with your marketing efforts as "vendors" the relationship is not getting off to a good start.
Set a reasonable response time
  • Be realistic about the timeline to respond to your RFP. Allow at least four weeks from the receipt of your request. You're not testing rapid response time. Most agencies are already engaged with existing clients. If you want the best work in the proposal you receive, give people a reasonable time to do it.
Tell us your budget
  • Yes, tell us how much money you have to spend. Then compare the responses you receive against that budget to determine who is giving you the most value for your investment. That can prevent agencies wasting their time because you have no idea what a project will cost. And you will not waste your time reading responses at $125,000 when you only have $25,000 to spend. 
  • I'm not making that last line up. That's exactly what happened when a state university system in New England sent out RFPs for market research for each regional university. The committee preparing the proposal (not very marketing savvy) wanted to do "deep data mining" with the results and asked for a 99 percent confidence level. Every proposal received was priced between $120,000 and $150,000. Needless to say, nobody got the project. Everybody wasted time.
Do your agency homework 
  • Don't send your RFP to every agency you can find in a CASE directory. Explore agency work, clients, and staff first and try to limit yourself to 10 firms at most. If I hear you're flooding the marketplace, I'm much less likely to respond to your proposal.
Don't ask for spec creative
  • Creative staff are busy folk. Most agencies are happy to share previous work for various clients. But only the most desperate ones will do new creative work in advance of a contract. 
Don't ask for intimate financial details 
  • Most agencies will not share deep details about their financial status in a first response. If we make the first cut and you simply must know in advance of a final decision, ask us then.
Tell us about an incumbent
  • If there is an incumbent agency involved, tell us. Let us make the decision if we want to compete with an incumbent. Yes, we know that sometimes you have no intention of changing your existing agency but you are required to get new bids every so many years. Let each agency decide if it wants to compete in that situation. And don't worry that you won't get any responses. You will.
  • A friend once told me: "We have to do it and we just like to see other creative approaches from time to time." Thanks, but no thanks. Not here to entertain you.
Tell us if we don't get the work
  • And last but not least, if you don't accept our proposal, be polite enough to tell us that. Don't make us ask. We won't commit suicide if you tell us we didn't get the work. If you did your homework, we know you had two or three great final proposals and a difficult decision to make about who to add to your team.
And to the colleges and universities who already take these steps, thank you.

That's all for now.

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Conferences in November
  • November 5-7, Aarhus, Denmark: J.Bloye Web & Intranet Conference, "Writing Right for the Web" tutorial and "A Need for Speed: Responsive Design in a Mobile World." Check the entire program here.
  • November 10-13, Boston: AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. Pre-conference tutorial on "Digital Marketing Strategy: Building Brand Strength and Enrollment." Visit the Symposium website.

News and Notes for Higher Education Marketers

Fall and spring greetings to everyone, depending on which side of the equator you dwell. 

Here in the U.S. the fall recruiting season for 2014 is in full swing after a 2013 campaign that was disappointing for many schools. See the Inside Higher Ed survey below for details from admissions directors. Expect marketing efforts to intensify this year. For an inside look at how one public university hopes to meet enrollment challenges between now and 2015, visit the link here to Central Michigan's Strategic Enrollment Management Plan.

I am just back from our annual Customer Carewords partnership meeting in Berlin with Gerry McGovern and more than a dozen talented colleagues. For an intro to how our research options can help you create a stronger marketing presence online, visit 

This week I start updating my Digital Marketing Strategy tutorial for the AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education. Plan to attend the November symposium and join me for my Sunday tutorial. Details at 

At the J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference in Denmark I will update and repeat my session from last May on The Need for Speed: Responsive Design in a Mobile World. Learn more about the session and the conference at

And how here are your marketing news and notes for October.
Best Values in Higher Education: New Website to Compare U.S. Schools

The College Factual website offers visitors a chance to "Learn which colleges offer quality education at an affordable price and which ones are overpriced for the value they deliver." 

Criteria include 4-year graduation rate, average salary after graduation, loan default rate, average total loan amount, full-time faculty percent, student to teacher ratio and more. Both public and private universities are included.

Find out why Amherst College is "Good" and Bates College is "Fair" and Juniata College is "Best" when you visit 

Visitors can compare any two schools on 17 elements and influence the final rating by selecting which ones are most important to them.

See what people are being told about your school. Someone just might ask at a college fair.
Admissions Director Survey: 29 percent Cheat on a NACAC Guideline

When nearly 60 percent of admissions directors responding to an Inside Higher Education survey reported that they did not meet freshman goals by May 1 this year, perhaps it is not surprising that 29 percent also reported that they recruited students after May 1 who had committed to other schools. That is a violation of NACAC professional guidelines. 

When pressure mounts, guidelines have less weight.

The survey also reports that most admissions directors believe others are reporting false data for rankings by U.S. News. Most also deny doing it themselves.

Read more about survey results and download a copy of the 36-page report at 
The Atlantic Magazine: 7 Charts on College Enrollment, Degrees Earned

The Atlantic takes a look over time at changes in enrollment and degree attainment based on ethnicity, gender, and family income in a series of 7 charts in the September 27 issue.

One finding; the relatively recent switch to women earning the most Ph.D. degrees in 2006 caps a change that began in 1977 when women first earned the majority of associate degrees and continued in 1986 when women first earned a majority of bachelors and masters degrees.

More details in the charts at 
Strategic Enrollment Management: A Public University Plan for 2013 to 2015

You do not often get to read in detail the plans of a large university to wrestle with enrollment challenges over the next three years. 

Recruitment strategies cover 8 pages in a 74-page PDF. Retention strategies fill 2 pages. Other topics include academic program evaluation, a SWOT analysis, and upcoming plans for market research to identify brand perceptions and define a "market niche." 

Compare your plan with the details from Central Michigan University at 
Mobile Marketing: New Adobe Research Report

Adobe is out with a new White Paper report the results of recent research among mobile users in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Germany, and France.

While smartphone ownership continues to far outpace tablet, the report notes that a preference for larger screens gives tablets the lead as a device to browse websites. That's an interesting data bit as we continue to struggle with how best make traditional websites web-friendly.

Four best practices are reported on page 15 of the 16-page PDF. My favorite: optimize for speed.

Download your copy of the report at 
Required Reading: Average Tuition Discount Rate at 45 Percent

Whenever I see a report like this, I wonder about the many schools that must be above the 45 percent average. Can they reasonably expect to change their demand level enough to lower the discount rate?

The NACUBO report for 2012 compares the situation of "Attraction Up" schools with those it puts into a "Demand down" class. The most common reason for enrollment and revenue decline cited: increased price sensitivity, regardless of higher discounts.

Read more from the perspective of Chief Business Officers at 
Email Marketing: 4 Steps to Stronger Subject Lines

Read about how the use of special characters in a subject line makes an email stand out on a crowded page and why subject lines as long as 100 characters might be best in this ClickZ article by Margaret Farmakis at 
Top Tech Gear in 2013

One of the ongoing challenges for marketers is figuring out what technology innovations will have most impact on what people do online. Stay current when you read this month-by-month review of what has been introduced since January and what to expect between now and the end of the year.

If you like gadgets that might influence your marketing results, visit 
Hummingbird: Biggest Change in Google Search since 2000

Google recently made a major change in how the search function works, moving away from individual keywords and even short phrases to better handle a growth in longer, more complex search requests. One element fueling this is the increase in voice search prompted by Siri and similar mobile tools.

The day is not far off when formal website navigation will be replaced by expected response to voice requests to find the financial aid estimator, pre-med program details, and the last freshman class profile. 

Meantime, the Google change is reviewed in a NY Times article at
Valuable New Blog: Higher Ed Data Stories

You know that lurking within IPEDS is much worthy information about higher education in general and your competitors in particular. But you just do not have the time to dig it out. 

If that sounds like you, you will value the new Higher Ed Data Stories blog from Jon Boeckenstedt at DePaul University. Jon has already written about endowment levels, athletic spending, and selectivity. And he did not care for the 7 charts in The Atlantic story mentioned above so he redid them and wants you to tell him if his version is better.

In many cases you can use what Jon provides to change the schools he compares to those that interest you more. This is a good place for competitive intelligence fans.

Add Jon's blog to your regular reading list after you visit 
Outside Higher Ed: A "Brilliant and Successful" Integrated Marketing Campaign

We read just about every day about the need to create effective multi-channel marketing campaigns. We do not so often read about successful examples.

For both fun and learning, visit the review of "Chipotle's Brilliant and Beautiful Scarecrow" by Jennifer Jones at 
Most Popular Topic in September Newsletter: Change in US News Rating Criteria

US News changed rating criteria this year and it is not a surprise that more people followed the link to that story to explore the details. If you missed it last month, the article by Bob Morse is 
New Conferences Presentations in 2013

November 5-7, Arhus, Denmark: "Writing Right for the Web" tutorial and "A Need for Speed: Responsive Design in a Mobile World" at J.Boye Web and Intranet Conference. Details 

November 10-13, Boston: "Digital Marketing Strategy: Building Brand Strength and Enrollment" tutorial at AMA Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education at 

Plan a custom presentation on your campus. Host a workshop on any of my conference presentation topics. Contact me at or call me at 248.766.6425.
Be a marketing champion on your campus.

Bob Johnson, Ph.D. 
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC
Bob Johnson Consulting, LLC

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