Communicating with prospects on a budget

by Kimberley Buster-Williams, Vice President for Enrollment Management at University of Mary Washington and  Assistant Director AACRAO SEM Endorsement Program

The University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown's session "Customized Communication and Marketing to Prospects as They Move Through the Enrollment Funnel: Building and Implementing Communication on Budget" was a very engaging presentation at the 2017 AACRAO SEM Conference. The presenters -- Therese A. Grimes, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Services; Director of Admissions; Brooke Bango, Admissions Counselor; and Ryan Clancy, Admissions Counselor -- shared their experience communicating with prospective students without the benefit of a CRM tool such as Hobson’s, Salesforce, etc. The session was divided into three sections: the recruitment process before new leadership, change management (new approach to communicating to students), and the current state of affairs.

Managing the change to a new approach

In 2014, Therese Grimes was promoted to Associate Vice President of Enrollment Services. She had previously served as the Executive Director of Enrollment Services at UP-J. In her new role, Ms. Grimes continued to oversee the Admissions and Financial Aid offices. In addition to these offices, the Marketing and Communications Department was added to her portfolio. Prior to this leadership change, Ms. Grimes led the Admissions team to the second highest incoming class in campus history and had been a leader on the Marketing Team and Web Team.

As was shared in the session, prior to the arrival of new leadership, the approach to communicating with students was based on an alphabet distribution. Admission Counselors communicated to students based on the student’s last name in an ad-hoc fashion. As a regional campus of the University of Pittsburgh, applications are received both from main campus and directly from students. In both instances, prospective students need (and expect) timely communication. This personalized and strategic communication model has proven to be a unique customer-service approach and one that session participants seemed intrigued by.

The rebuilding process involved making a significant paradigm shift. The old model of communication assignments by alphabet was changed to a model where Admission Counselors were assigned to a specific academic college (i.e., College of Engineering, College of Education). In this model, counselors communicated with prospective students based on areas of academic interest from the inquiry to enrolled stage. Ryan Clancy and Brooke Bango embraced the change and shared their experience in part two and three of the session, respectively. Ms. Grimes made a point to praise both Clancy and Bango for their work. She commented that this entire change was made possible by them.

Teaming with IT

Clancy shared how the Admissions team worked with IT to create the infrastructure. IT assisted with data and processing set-up, attribute extraction, the creation of user-user links, the creation of clustering details, and more. Bango discussed how various templates were created similar to Constant Contact. She took the lead in developing a communication plan which included an anti-melt/summer stage because summer was a “pain point” that they really wanted to focus on. During the presentation, she shared a sample summer gift sent to students as part of the “summer series” communication plan.

AACRAO CEMO Survey and the future of EM professionals

As I listened to the two counselors, I reflected on a session I attended Tuesday -- "So, you want to be a Chief Enrollment Management Officer, Let’s Talk." This session was on the recent AACRAO CEMO survey, results and implications. (Download the report here.) The survey touched on career aspirations, career paths, and the profile of those who currently hold the position of Chief Enrollment Management Officer (CEMO). Based on their hands-on experience with developing a data-centric enhanced communication strategy, it struck me that these young professionals (Clancy and Bango) could very well be CEMO’s in the future. This quote from the report came immediately to mind as I listened to both presenters; “The enrollment officer career path is ideal for those who enjoy strategic thinking, understanding how processes interrelate, and working with data. Being able to work with enrollment technology and capture and communicate data are increasingly important in the role as higher education shifts with the external trends.”


As the session wrapped up, the presenters took questions from the audience. Questions included:

•    How do you include texting?

•    Could this model work at larger institutions?

•    How do you incorporate faculty?

The presenters shared that they use texting in a very limited way and that faculty are encouraged to communicate to prospective students throughout the funnel. They did admit that this model (non-CRM) might be difficult to manage at a larger institution. They also acknowledged that not having open-rate and click through rata data was not ideal.

They ended the session on a high note by reiterating some advantages of this model. The biggest advantage was that this non-CRM approach is more personalized. Students aren’t receiving a message that was “blasted” to hundreds of other students. Additionally, they have been able to meet their enrollment goals and look forward to continuing with this very personalized approach.