The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode 15 · 1 year ago

Dog Tours & Tik-Tok Sessions: Getting Creative with College Tours


COVID has hit higher education recruiting hard. People have spent so much time on Zoom calls that colleges and universities are having to get far more creative than just hosting a Zoom webinar in place of a college tour.

Pair that with the reduced travel for recruitment, ACT and SAT cancellations, and hesitancy to travel to institutions, it’s made building that admissions funnel incredibly difficult.

Which is why our conversation on this episode of The Higher Ed Marketer was so much fun. Collin Palmer is the Direct of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Toledo, and our conversation centered all around:

- How they’ve gotten creative around campus tours, instituting nighttime and dog-specific tours

- How they’ve kept the community involved in the admissions process

- Why they’re relying to behavioral data from more than traditional freshmen

- The different ways they’ve had to think outside of the box to maintain that admissions funnel

Know of a higher education marketing change agent you’d like to hear on the show? Does your university have an interesting story to be featured?

Connect with Bart Caylor or Troy Singer. If you’re not on LinkedIn, check out Caylor Solutions or Think Patented.

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to The Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.

You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, dontor relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to the High Ed Marketer Podcast, where we highlight higher ed leaders that we admire and hopefully then sharing their ideas, best practices and something inspiring that's actionable that others can benefit from. I'm troy singer and, as usual, with my cohost Bart Taylor, and together we're interviewing Colin Palmer today from the University of Toledo. I'm excited to welcome Colin Palmer, director of undergraduate and mission at the University of Toledo, to the show. Welcome Colin. Thank you, troy. Thank you, Bar Colin Palmer, director of undergraduate admission at the University of Toledo, where I'm responsible for the domestic recruitment of all undergraduate students, those in high school, transfer students, adults online and military. Very cool. Thanks thanks so much, Colin. It's great to have you here. I know that when we talked to kind of in our pre interview, you were doing. You're telling us about some of the very unique things that you University of Toledo and we want to make sure we kind of highlight a couple of those things that because I think it'd be really beneficial for all the audience that listens. Tell me a little bit more about the story you shared with us about the twilight tours that you're conducting. Yeah, absolutely. So next week we're kicking off our first of three twilight tours twilight meeting that they're held from thirty to eight pm on our campus. What we're really hoping to do and what the idea spawned from was a conversation that we had had with some local school counselors about how to encourage their students to visit the University of Toledo's campus,...

...because many of those students think they know what they need to know about the institution. I think many of us in higher education run into that same problem with students in our own backyard. So we thought, well, how do we make it different? How do we keep them engaged? How do we peek their interest and so we thought, well, you know, a lot of students are interested and taking the best photo that they can at the perfect time of day, whether it's for their snapchat and then want to say it to friends on snap chat, whether it's a tick tock video, whatever it might be. So we thought, oh well, golden hour, twilight hours. So we're doing that and we're really just going behind the scenes. So rather than a typical admissions presentation and a campus tour led by one of our current students, we decided to actually meet and begin the program at the parking lot right in front of our football stadium. We're going to have some food trucks. We're going to take students into a glass bowl, which is the football stadium at the University of Toledo, up to the roof of the press box actually, which were very excited about, to the fifth floor at the library, to the hallways of our university hall and just spaces around campus that we're definitely not hitting on a on a typical tour, but also not spaces on campus where their parents, older siblings, cousins and friends might have checked out on their time on campus. That's really cool. I A couple things that I really like about what you're doing, Colin, is the idea that one you're kind of meeting the students needs where they are. Certainly, I think with covid and everything else, I mean people are tired of being on zoom. A lot of students haven't been in school necessarily, but you're kind of changing things up a little bit to make it more interesting and and really, like you said, I think that twilight time of the instagram perfect photo or whatever those might be taking advantage of that and I'm sure too, making it a little bit more like a Destination Party as opposed to just I'm going to go do my college tour today. I think that's I think that's a great idea and I love the fact that you guys are taking them kind of behind the scenes. I mean, I'm sure some of them that I'm...

...wondering. I mean, have you had anybody that's said, well, I've already done the regular tour, but can I come back for the twilight tour? We have actually yes, and and we have school counselors and interested in attending the visits as well, because we really wanted to use their ability to connect with students to help advertise the events, and so they're very interested and I think an added benefit of this too is it's been something different and unique for the staff at our office and it's really re energize them and the work that they're doing to just kind of express their creativity, think outside of the box and, like you said earlier, not just another zoom Webinar that's, you know, a quick overview of the University of Toledo. So we're we're very energized. My colleague who's actually kind of spearheading all of this, even referred to next week as our party week. That's really kind of how we're how we're viewing it in the office. That's great and I'm guessing that you've probably marketed a little bit differently than you would from your typical calm flow on hey, virtual tour com or, you know, sign up for the tour. Absolutely, absolutely, we've been far more active on social media and advertising. These tours. Were very fortunate at the University of Toledo to be right across the street from a residential neighborhood, and so we've really urged the community to visit our campus and kind of see the behind the scenes as well, because we know that how how the community feels about the institution directly affects our ability to engage and recruit perspective students, and so we want them to be involved in the process and learn about Toledo and be a abassadors for the university. So the way that we've thought about who we want to attend and how we're going to encourage attendance is much different than a typical admissions of it it's great try, I think another question. Yes, that wasn't the only unique event that you're having. I think we also talked about a dog tour. So could you share with us a little bit more about that? Yes, absolutely so, if you check out the University of Toledo's undergraduate admissions facebook or...

...instagram account, about an hour before the recording we posted our first dog in front of our university hall and one of the Bandanas that we purchased it says honorary admissions ambassador. And so what we're doing is inviting perspective students and, again, members of the community to bring their dogs to campus to do a lawn tour of the University of Toledo. So we'll stop outside of the Student Union, University Hall, the Glass Ball, as I mentioned earlier, the admissions building in Libby Hall, and we're going to have cookies for humans and cookies for dogs. So we're very excited about that and again, just a fun and unique way to do something a little bit different, but also bring people on campus and see the University of Toledo in a different way than what they probably experienced in the past. And because we're it's a lawn tour, you know, also very covid safe because we aren't going to need to enter any of the campus buildings or anything like that. So we're very side. I think it's interesting. I mean you're the you're the second guest on our on our podcast, that has talked about utilizing dogs. Butler University. I mean they have a they have a pet com flow. But I think what's interesting, and we talked about this when we talked to to Christia Butler, that students and families are pets are certainly a big part of their family, and the fact that you guys are recognizing that and including those members of the family and in participating in this decision to attend college, I think it strikes and strikes the chord that people understand that you guys get them, and I don't know if you've. I don't know even even as you guys start to promote the dog tour. And I mean, what kind of feedback are you getting from these perspective students? My my colleague who's really spearheading that effort is a passionate dog mom and a lot of the credit for, really all of the credit for everything that we've done around this idea goes to her and she also supervises our admission ambassador's right. So we're always talking to them about ways... stay uniquely engaged with prospective students and think outside of the box and we're very empowered at Toledo and encouraged to to not just stick with the status quo. We're do things that we've all always been doing and if I were to take a proposal to my boss or to the president and say hey, you know, we think we're just going to do the same thing that we did last year, that would not be acceptable. That would not go over well, and so we have to think about what's new, what's unique and what's different and how is that going to Pique the interest of a perspective student. As I mentioned earlier. You know, the University of Toledo is a regional institution with a national, you know, recognition, but a lot of our students come from Ohio and Michigan. But again they think, many of them, that they know a little bit more about Toledo than what they think. That with them what they really do, and so we've thought about how do we prove otherwise? Well, also empowering them and teaching them about the institution. I love the fact that you guys are recognizing that there's a there's an issue. You know couple things I don't. I think a lot of time schools might recognize it and we got a problem with that, but oh well, that's that's that's our lot in life, type of thing. But I like the fact that you guys are saying, well, we have a problem with that. What can we do about it to make it different? And you guys are being creative about that, and I probably helps a lot that you have a administration that is not risk adverse, because I mean, I'm sure a lot of a lot of our listeners would be like man, I would love to be able to have the administrators say, you know, no, we don't want you to do the same thing it did last year because a lot of administrator, I think, would say, well, that's what I'm comfortable with and that's what I know and so so that's great. I'm really glad that that's working out and it's glad that you guys are taking advantage of that. So another question I have for you is tell us a little bit about this behavioral data that we talked a little about but earlier. You know, the idea of really being able to to kind of look at data and look and see how people are behaving and then, you know what be some of the idea of what your opinions and experiences and really being able to...

...utilize that for your outreach for your admissions, especially the Undergrad admissions. Absolutely absolutely, and you know, I think when, from an admissions director perspective, we're concerned about the ability to generate inquiries, for example for our upcoming classes, because we're we've been severely inhibited in our recruitment travel over the past fifteen months. There have our challenges created with building the top of your funnel due to the act and sat cancelations. So we're like, well, we can still find names we can still go out and search for names and you know, I think many of us are are probably partnering with more, I'll say partners, vendors, use your word, interchangeably, than what we ever have before. But it's also very easy, from our perspective, to be overwhelmed and not know who's really doing what or what's different. And so what we're trying to do is build our funnel but also use our resources very strategically as we think about, you know, retargeting, paper, Click advertising, direct mail advertising, gifts to admitted students, which is something that this year that we've not typically done before, and we're using behavioral engagement data to inform the students that should receive those. I think we all recognize are we all probably know on the Higher Ed side that and even on the school counseling side, that encouraging a response is futile at times. You know, receiving a response has is seems to be less and less common, and so what we what we really want to do and what the goal is is to provide relevant and timely information to a student when they need it. That's really what we want to do. That that's the goal, and so we're using behavioral engagement data to do that. We partner with capture at the University of Toledo. We've been long term capture partners. It's been a great opportunity for us to...

...learn from them and vice versa, and really build some pretty advanced models to show who are the students that benefit most from our information sharing. How do we encourage students to invest in a visit to the University of Toledo? You know, we have an a beautiful campus. There are thousands of beautiful campuses out there. I would put the University of Toledo's up to any of those. But we need to get students here right where, uniquely positioned an hour South at Detroit, but two hours from Cleveland, Columbus, three hours from Cincinnati, and so it's it's kind of a convergence in northwest Ohio that we need to to occur and we're using behavioral engagement data to really align our resources to encourage that great and is that something that you are looking to expand, because, I mean, one of the questions I would have is that you know certainly some of the behavioral data on on the students. I mean, if you have behavioral data on the families, on the parents. I'm I mean certainly we all know the mom's kind of the biggest influencer and decisions like this. Is that something you guys are looking at? How to expand that behavioral data, because it seems like they're so much could be really gleaned from really understanding how students and family are behaving around your brand? Yeah, I think one way we're looking to expand is just tracking and reviewing and utilizing behavioral data for populations outside of the traditional freshman. Traditional Freshman are a little bit easier, you know, they're more predictable. But what we're interested in learning more about our online students. You know, we're seeing a lot of peaked interest in one hundred percent online degree programs at Toledo, which is probably not too surprising. But we're also thinking about transfer students and we've invested heavily in the last year and a half and in a regional enrollment model. So we have five regional enrollment managers as opposed to zero eighteen months ago. And how do we engage more meaningfully with community college students or others in those communities to...

...make the University of Toledo and a viable option for them. Parents are are interesting, you know. I think all of us would love to know the secret formula to collecting and utilizing parent data and what parents want to hear. I hear sometimes parents don't want to hear the sales pitch. They just want to know about the next steps. But then my gut sometimes tell me to the opposite right. You know, you need to get the parent on board early on in order to see or other important influencers. So we're always thinking critically about that and what those communication means are. That's great. That's great. We'll try now. You've got our our typical question for Colin. That's we like to finalize and follow up with. Yes, Colin, although you've been so generous giving us the information that you have, we do ask one thing that either something that's very intriguing that you've done or heard about that you think is worth sharing that others my benefit from. If there is something that fits that category, if you could share it now. Sure. I'm trying to think of something outside of the twilight tours and the and the dog tour, because for us that's been one of the more out of the box initiatives that we've had. I have an idea. So one of the things when we were thinking about what our spring yield plan was going to be, you know, we weren't going to go with the traditional hotel ball room. You know, we didn't think that a dave and buster's kind of thing was really going to be an opportunity because it was indoors. So what we did is we actually partnered with the University of Toledo Athletic Department and wrapped a tour of us. So we took a big charter bus, we put an awesome wrap on it and we actually went to Dayton, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland and here locally and Toledo, and we took a staff of people from admissions, current students, residence life and student involvement. We showed up at high schools solely for the fact of celebrating their students. You know, we encourage their counselors to really ow an opportunity for us to engage with our admitted and confirmed...

...students. But we wanted to talk to juniors. We wanted to say hey, you've done an amazing job. You know, we would park in their parking lot for thirty minutes and we played Cornhole, we had giant Jenga, just to take a casual approach and a celebratory approach rather than a transactional approach, which is such an easy thing to fall into during yield, because you're really looking for students to take a series of next steps. And so that bus was was great. It was very popular. We have we also hosted evening programming at some outdoor shopping centers. So in Ohio, if you're familiar with Crocker Park and Wess Lake or Austin landing and Middletown Plaire shopping center in Columbus, that's really where we were. We're hoping to be and go to the communities, but also to communities to us in a way that was safe and meaningful for students and there and their influencers. I love that and it reminds me of a quote that I'm a big fan of, Jay Bear, and he wrote a book a couple of years ago called utility, and he really talks about being a resource for your your audience, rather than, you know, something else. And so one of the quotes in there is it's the people who have success are the ones who inform people or engage with them rather than those who promote and I love the fact that what you just described was you weren't on a bus tour to Promote University of Toledo necessarily. You were out there to engage with your community, to, you know, celebrate the success of the students, to be present and be be in the communities, in the shopping malls, and I think that's a little bit at the heart of maybe some of the ideas that you're talking about there. And whether whether it's a tour bus. I mean some schools might say, well, I can't afford to rabbit tour of us. Well, it's not about rapping a tour of us. It's about being there and being present with your audience and in your communities. You know, I don't care if it's tour bus, if you're, you know, utilizing an RV and you're just out there, you know, helping out. I think it's being engaged and being involved. So Kudos to University of Toledo for for what you guys are doing and...'s been really exciting to have you. Thank you very much. I appreciate it great thanks again. Calling is someone had a question of wanted contact you. What would be the best way for them to do so. Sure I try to remain active and interested in Linkedin, so you can find me on linkedin and email or phone is as perfectly fine as well. So all of that can be found on the University of Tweedo Office of undergraduate admissions website. Thank you calling. You are definitely doing amazing things at the University of Toledo. Bart are there any less thoughts before we wrap this up? I think the only thing that I would kind of you know, sometimes I like to point out some of the the obvious, which is probably not helpful, but you know, it is what it is. I really think that a lot of what Colin has talked about today is is kind of being willing to think outside the box, being willing to really focus on your audience and engage with them the way that they want to be engaged. You know, I from the twilight tours to thinking the fact that, you know, students like to have twilight time, of being able to take those selfies, those instagram posts, those really cool pictures. They are interested in what's behind the scenes kind of what what else can I get that maybe I can't get in a normal way? Really try and then the whole idea of the dog tours and and and understanding the behavior of people, in adapting yourself to them for the behavior, and then even this idea of of being able to go on these tours with these with with this rapped bus. It's about the student. It's not about your school, and I think that the university Toledo's really kind of demonstrating that and and living that out, and I think that's where success comes and that's where their success is coming from, is that, you know, it's not about drumming the beat of you know, beating the drum about your own school and, you know, making the case and trying to make the argument of why you should go to university, of to leader rather than x y Z. it's about being who you are and being present with them and building those relationships that you're drawing people to you. So again, applaud everything you...

...guys are doing, Colin, and I think that, you know, if I were to summarize the entire conversation that we've had up, it's being selfless and really being able to focus on the others. I think is where success is going to be Ed Bart. Thank you. The hired marketer podcast is sponsored by Taylor solutions and education marketing and branding agency and by think patented, a marketing, execution, printing and mailing provider of higher red solutions. On behalf of my cohost Bark Taylor, I'm troy singer. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple PODCASTS, we'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. Until next time,.

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