Marketing Columbia: college rethinks recruitment strategies

By Tessa Brubaker, News Editor

The college recently hired Chicago advertising agency SOCIALDEVIANT to create a new marketing campaign for the college, designed to help increase student enrollment.

The new campaign will target incoming fall 2019 students. SOCIALDEVIANT plans to roll out digital content starting in October. The agency plans to release the overarching campaign either by late fall or early winter, according to Stephen Mariani, senior account and strategy lead at SOCIALDEVIANT.

“We’re going to map the right distribution channels based on what our concept and target is,” Mariani said. “We know [we’re] looking at prospective students; we know we’re trying to drive enrollment for next year.”

Forming an advertising campaign for Columbia is especially challenging and different from other institutions because of its unique culture and creativity, he said. 

“[Columbia students] are creatives, we’re a creative agency. That offers a lot of opportunity for collaboration,” Mariani said. “How can we use Columbia students as a part of the ad campaign? How can Columbia students be a part of  SOCIALDEVIANT in things that we do to truly integrate our two brands?”

Vice President of Enrollment Management Michael Joseph started his position Aug. 13, as reported July 31 by The Chronicle.

Joseph said he will also take a look at how the college distributes financial aid to help make the college more affordable for incoming students. Previous campaigns have never been as big or aggressive as this, he added. 

“We’re off to a good start for next fall,” Joseph said. “It’s a 12 month process. We’re already starting for next fall and that’s a big piece of it.”

According to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, the total unofficial enrollment for Fall 2018 as of Sept. 4  is 6,859 students, a 460-student drop from Fall 2017. This is about 55 percent of the college’s total enrollment of 12,464 in 2008.

Joseph said it is unrealistic to expect the enrollment numbers to go up that high again, but the goal is to get somewhere between where the college is now and where it was 10 years ago.

“Eight thousand is realistic in terms of addressing not only what we need to do quantitatively to grow over the next four or five years, but also we want to be looking at quality indicators as well,” Joseph said. “If we could marry both of those, we’ll have an even stronger institution.”

President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim said one of the reasons Joseph was chosen for the position was his experience working at other institutions with enrollment challenges.

“Michael, as a young man, was a college athlete, and I liked the idea of someone who is motivated by the desire to win,” Kim said. “It’s not a battle, but there is that component of ‘we have to win,’ and that’s very much his personality.”

Kim said the college is changing its advertising approach by putting more attention on specific programs rather than the entire college to attract new students.

The college launched a previous rebranding campaign in 2016 to increase enrollment and awareness of the college. The campaign included new colors and media advertisements and the elimination of the “Live What You Love” tagline. The SOCIALDEVIANT campaign markets the college as a “college for creatives.”

“It’s more [about] telling the college’s story effectively,” Kim said. “At the core of that message is the idea that creatives can be widely successful in the world if the educational model gives them all the things they need: the ability to develop their skills, the ability to become critical thinkers and then the practical skills.”

Correction 9/11/18 at 11:12 a.m.:

A previous version of this story misquoted Stephen Mariani in the third paragraph and incorrectly stated the college’s new slogan was “a college for creatives.” The college has not adopted a new slogan with the SOCIALDEVIANT advertising campaign. The Chronicle regrets this error.