University of Akron sharpens its brand image

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Barbara O’Malley
Barbara O’Malley

Barbara O'Malley, associate VP for communications and chief communications officer, University of Akron discusses the school's marketing strategy.

Q: In what channels are you direct marketing the university?

A: As always, television advertising is very effective at getting the word out. But we can't go into depth in most TV coverage, so we complement it with a strong website.

Our home page has good content that talks about the strength of the university and why someone might choose to come here. We also integrate that with social media channels — Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube — as well as traditional. Market research has shown that prospective students still like getting our printed viewbook in the mail. We don't do a lot of radio, but when we do it's more to drive people to specific entertainment events.

Q: What is unique to direct marketing in the higher-education vertical?

A: In higher education you need to have a campus that lives up to its brand and whatever you're promoting. We know the campus visit is critical. Prospective students have to feel welcome and see themselves fitting in.

Q: Have you felt the pressure of the economy and its resulting influx of the population returning to school?

A: Sure, everyone around us is feeling the pressure, so we're all kicking it up a notch. Everyone has to do better and be more effective. There is no resting on your laurels in higher ed. If you're doing a good job, do it better now. If you don't, someone else's enrollment will grow. Also, there is the added pressure that marketing has to look at the shift in traditional prospective students. High school graduation rates are down, so now we need to market to more adults and transfer students, which is a different message.

Q: What has contributed to the year-over-year increases in enrollment over the past five years?

A: Ten years ago, we were in a place where enrollment was declining and buildings were eroding. [University president] Dr. Luis M. Proenza and other leaders in the city wanted to make some changes. Proenza started to really look at the buildings, completely replacing some while renovating others. Today, our campus looks completely different. Similarly, I treat communications and marketing from an integrated perspective. I work closely with departments such as enrollment management, development and alumni services.

Q: What does the future look like for the University of Akron?

A: We're just in the process of going through strategic planning so marketing will have to follow. Our brand is going to become tighter and sharper focused around innovation and entrepreneurship as part of the University of Akron becoming more competitive and meeting the needs of the marketplace.

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